Spare Rib’s Paradise Lost was certainly not an event to be slept on. Instead, attendees spent their night dancing to heavy house and disco beats, immersed in an underworld filled with ethereal contemporary art. The event takes inspiration from its namesake, the epic poem written by John Milton, which tells the biblical tale of the fall from grace of Adam and Eve. This set the scene for a night full of drama, rebellion, and temptation.
Organisers Tabi Hull and Rupert McMinn aimed to create a new environment in which to experience art, removing it from the ‘traditional and often stifling’ gallery setting. The ‘whitecube’ mode of the display was once revolutionary: starting the early twentieth century, groups like De Stijl and the Bauhaus began to exhibit their works against white walls with the aim of minimising distraction. This aesthetic has now attained complete dominance in museums and commercial galleries. However, critic Whitney Birkett worries that the white cube has ‘come to feel static as well as potentially off-putting to modern audiences’.
Nowadays it is rare to experience contemporary art outside of the four walls of the gallery setting. In contrast, music has never been constricted to such a clinical space: it is experienced in nightclubs, at open-air festivals, in concert halls. By bringing the two together, Spare Rib has established an alternative way to view interdisciplinary art practices. The closure of all such venues throughout the pandemic meant that art and music became limited to our computer screens, but this night represented a joyous return of music and art in the flesh.
As hoped, the event succeeded in creating a safe space for performers, DJs and artists, and encouraged interdisciplinary art forms to interact in weird and wonderful ways. The Caves was an excellent choice of venue: the main stage accommodated for performances throughout the night, and while guests wandered up the stairs, they discovered artworks tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the historic vaults. Tapestries, video projections, ceramics, and luminescent paintings donned the cavern walls.
A ‘beautifully ritualistic’ performance by Ophélie Napoli and Shawn Nayer commenced the night. Rupert commented: ‘I loved the way the two artists united and built the work throughout the organisational process’. Later on, Freaky Deeks collective held an impromptu life drawing on the main stage, which Tabi felt ‘really encapsulated Spare Rib’s energy of attempting to break down traditional notions of art’. My personal favourite performance was by Emma Lake, who created a synesthetic artwork on stage, applying bright colours to a canvas in response to a set from DJ Harvey Furness. This interaction between impulsive and expressive brushstrokes and the ecstatic electronic house couldn’t have happened in a gallery setting. As the night progressed, Seren Seo and petFood took over the decks, and the dancefloor filled, evoking the heavenly chaos of Milton’s cosmos. The crowd, decked out in outfits befit of the biblical tales, danced euphorically.
The party seemed to be mostly made up of ECA students, and the people chatting in the smoking area were friends of exhibiting artists. Although the event was a great success, perhaps it didn’t reach as far beyond the walls of the art school as the organisers had hoped. Paradise lost provided the freedom to experience art with no restrictions.
Photography courtesy of Phoebe Janes