If you were in London circa 2008, you might remember The Double Club: an incongruous, Congolese-themed pop-up housed in a gritty North-London warehouse. Conceived by the artist Carsten Höller and bizarrely sponsored by Prada, the temporary club/bar/eaterie attracted celebs, fashionistas and club kids alike for over an eight-month span. It’ll likely go down in history as the most bonkers nightlife experience ever witnessed in the capital.
Nearly a decade later, The Double Club is brought back to life for the 16th edition of Art Basel Miami. For only three days, this second iteration of the experiential art-installation took over a 1920s filming studio with an impressive line-up, headlined by Princess Nokia, Method Man and the Black Madonna. It launched with a performance by Wyclef Jean, rounding up the likes of Miuccia Prada, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Chloe Wise and Ricky Martin to its neon-lit, tropical garden.
The Prada Double Club Miami — in contrast with its original London edition — has an aesthetic division, between monochromatic and hyper-polychromatic. While the sandy outdoor space and its palapa bar are lit-up in perfectly proportioned coloured neons, the indoor section feels like walking into a Tim Burton film — black, white and nothing else allowed. “I take particular note of the details,” explains Höller, who’d instructed the bouncers to confiscate the coloured cocktail straws at the entrance of the second space, to preserve its aesthetic identity.
The Belgian-born, German artist is known for the interactive nature of his work — often associated to the relational aesthetics movement — where perception and decision-making are central. For his survey at the Hayward Gallery in 2015, visitors were confronted with a series of choices: between door A and door B to enter the gallery; gobbling a pill from a pile on the floor or not (think the Matrix blue and red); being flushed down the museum from one of two gigantic slides attached to the Southbank’s facade (that made its acclaimed debut at the Tate Modern in 2006). That same notion applies to the Miami club, where people had to pick from one of two drastically contrasting environments (although they were then free to travel from one to the other).
And while “fun” clearly plays a big part in Höller’s work (it’s somehow disconcerting to think that he was trained as an agricultural scientist), The Double Club goes far beyond pure entertainment. It’s a journey where art, design and music co-exist.
“I sometimes come to know cultures through music,” Höller tells us, pointing at the Caribbean and South American-centric line up of the outdoors stage (a highlight on the second day was a performance by the local, 7-piece Tallawah Mento Band). “I wanted to celebrate these communities, which are so central to the cultural fabric of Miami,” he continues. Meanwhile, heavy electronic music dominated the indoors space, courtesy of acts like the London-based Mimi Xu (aka Misty Rabbit) and Chicago producer The Black Madonna.
Similarly, back in 2008 in London, the dialogue between Western and Congolese cultures took centre stage. Höller (who divides his time between Sweden and Ghana) has travelled to Congo extensively over the past 20 years. This interest, without a doubt, was fuelled by his upbringing in Belgium, whose violent colonial legacy profoundly marked the Central African country. “I wanted to take a more positivistic approach,” recounts Höller. “The Congo is a huge place. I wanted to celebrate that culture in all its vibrancy and power.”
Now, Art Basel Miami — one of the most exclusive moments in the international cultural agenda, where the one percent flock in from all sides of the globe — doesn’t exactly make the obvious environment for genuine cultural exchange. So, had diversity somehow dropped off the agenda, in favour of the glam and brand-led, experiential experience? “You have the inherent diversity of Miami, and on top of that the international nature of Art Basel,” explains the artist. “It was a very diverse crowd, packed from the beginning to end.”
Regardless, The Double Club will most likely be remembered as the coolest thing that happened at this edition of Art Basel Miami. And, who knows, it might even set up camp in a city near you in the future: “It’s certainly a possibility,” says Höller, who considers that much of his work can be conceived of as a double club. Hopefully, the next leg will last long enough to truly mark the local, collective consciousness.