For queer people, is there a more spiritual and sacrilegious place than the nightclub? “As someone who grew up in the Midwestern United States in a black Baptist home, the club was an oasis,” says the assistant professor of gender and sexuality studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and lifelong resident night at The Kitchen in New York, madison moore (whose pronouns is she/he/they). “It’s a place where I couldn’t feel the pressure of the fire and sulfur surrounding me. The club becomes a kind of refuge, a space of possibility and emergence. To be in a queer club is to be united under sweaty, spinning flesh, in communion with the DJ set, faithful to the righteousness of the moment – despite the threat of violence (public or police) that has never ceased to haunt homosexuals. the spaces.
These dichotomies of queer nightclubs (spaces in constant decline) bring the work of Sadie Barnette to the fore The new Eagle Creek Lounge, a new installation presented at The Kitchen in collaboration with The Studio Museum of Harlem that reimagines the first black-owned gay bar in San Francisco. The installation (on view now until March 6) works in conjunction with Moore’s residence and focuses on the bar which was owned from 1990 to 1993 by the artist’s father, Rodney Barnette, who also founded the Compton chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Far from being an exact replica, the artist’s recreation transforms her family history into a pink, glittery fantasy that both honors her own personal archive while creating a collective one. The installation shines physically through neon-lit signs and figuratively through photos from Barnette’s own archives, enshrined in the glittering counter. As they sit at the bar, surrounded by the gleaming tape recorder, beer cans and stereo equipment, patrons are invited to ask themselves: who came before? Who were the black and gay activists who paved the way for the availability of this bar stool?
“This light shines for my queer ‘elders’, especially those who ride
their eyes on this title, who made love and fought hard to create the world I now walk in,” says Barnette. ” I present the New Eagle Creek Lounge in the channels of existing queer histories, but I also manifest its own archive, which recognizes the limits of official histories and celebrates the unknown and the unknowable. This archive is alive. Holographic and magical, the installation evokes history while transcending it, resurrecting it like a Frankenstein of all the bar’s old and lost patrons to set a new, otherworldly tone for the present and the future.
These “ghosts of nightlife’s past,” as Moore calls them, are brought to life again during his Saturday sessions, intentionally curated rave environments filled with fog, projections, and DJs (including Shaun J Wright, Nita Aviance, Juana and TYGAPAW) to activate and respond to the setup. Open every Saturday that the Salon is on the bill, these sessions “respond [Barnette’s] expose in a way that articulates the need for queer nightlife spaces, color queer nightlife spaces, and black queer nightlife spaces, while attempting to present a tapestry of contemporary queer nightlife landscapes moore tells us.
Each Saturday session features a different DJ representing a different geography and therefore a different nightlife history. During the daylight sessions, artists selected by Moore will speak about queer nightscapes, particularly the role gentrification plays in closing down many queer spaces run by people of color. “There is no national repository for queer nightlife, no national archives. Because it’s a culture that’s ephemeral, that trades in the ephemeral, sometimes those stories don’t get told. They just disappear, so I really wanted to bring in people who could bring up ghosts from previous locations, DJs or girls,” Moore continues.
Over the weekend during the installation’s first Saturday session, DJ Shaun J Wright’s performance pulsed down 10th Avenue, enchanting unsuspecting pedestrians on the street and attracting glamorously dressed guests. Walking into The Kitchen from the sunny sidewalk to the dark, dimly lit room of the facility was like intentionally falling down the rabbit hole. The remains of a nightclub – people sailing, dancing alone, or strutting on the floor – await on the other side. In the black box, time loses its meaning.
This is what the fight for queer nightlife has been like from the 20th century until today: to literally be in a space to dance
For Moore, there couldn’t be a better way to honor queer nightlife. Moving the body provocatively in ways or with people “you’re not supposed to” has historically labeled dance as rebellious. “Dance represents what people fear. When you look back at the turn of the 20th century and the dawn of the nightclub as an institution, you start to see these kinds of class wars where one place makes working class people dance and dance. It gets scary because of the way it mixes classes,” Moore explains.
“The battle for queer nightlife is really the battle to dance in a space. This is what the fight for queer nightlife has been like from the 20th century until today: literally being in a space to dance,” they tell us. “This is reflected not only in the reality of space, but also in its absence, due to the rate at which all space is co-opted by capitalism. So dance is really central to all of these things.
“The club is one of the most interesting ways we allow ourselves, as Maxine Waters would say, to recoup our time,” he says. Contrary to the capitalist impulse to work and be productive, the club – like the Saturday Sessions – is all about fun, play and performance.
Together, Sadie Barnette’s installation and Madison Moore’s activation work together to dig deep into queer nightlife history to celebrate and recreate the true magic of these spaces. Whether it’s a Saturday session or any other day of the week (where a glow of the DJ’s performances can be felt through the captured audio), the installation honors the club as a creative hub. ultimate or “laboratory”, as moore calls it. Walking among the light of the bar and the remnants of last weekend’s festivities, the exhibition recalls the nostalgia of kisses in the dark and nights of confidence, euphoria and unabashed freedom – fleeting but crucial moments that are all produced at the club.
Hero image courtesy of The Kitchen