I am at the entrance to a famous Milanese club, Plastic. Along with Jacopo, I organize a party night here every fourth Friday of the month, in the privé. The party is called M.I.L.A.N.O. — the acronym is false; in our opinion the dots between the letters give the name a testamentary tone when it is pronounced. For each episode of the party we choose a slogan that appears on the corner of the flyer. Tonight’s slogan is actually a question: “Lack of a scene or lack of a space?”
Beside me, at the door, are Vincenzo and a girl whose name I do not know but whose entire love life I am fully aware of. They are clutching a bunch of A4 sheets, held together with clips, and folders; they cross out names, take note of numbers. I have an iPhone with a Google Docs file open and an app called Clicker Counter. The file has a list of a hundred names. They are mostly acquaintances, plus a small number of people I do not know who confirmed via Facebook. The Clicker Counter screen marks 27, which means 135 euros, in other words 15 below the 150 that represents our share, which we use to pay the DJ fee. A friend arrives, then another three. At this point, I decide to wait a bit and pocket another 20 euros to cover the cost of the MDMA we bought. Four friends arrive together. It’s done. I also enter.
The evening’s guest is playing in the privé, an American artist and friend who we’ve brought to Milan from London, where she has a show in a gallery. We met her last year and I heard her play at a party during a fair — a shy set, derivative of all parties in New York’s LES, R&B that gradually turns into Trap. In fact, I care little about her musical taste. But she’s a fun person, and kind-hearted. She approaches her DJ “practice” in a carefree way; and in fact uses several aliases, which she asks us to list on the evening flyer, as though she were not really interested in conveying an alter ego to suit that specific activity, but instead in assuming as many identities as there are ways to experiment with music as well as with art.
Slowly I slide onto the dance floor, toward a vantage point from which it is possible to scrutinize the whole room. Familiar faces are few, and those of friends even scarcer. Most are drop-ins from the main room who come to enjoy the dancing in the privé, but haven’t got a clue what M.I.L.A.N.O. is, who the guest DJ is, who Jacopo is, who I am. This is probably the fifth M.I.L.A.N.O party and the fact that there still isn’t a deep-rooted community around this event is fine by me — and if there never is one perhaps that will be fine too. In the end, this club is in the middle of nowhere and it’s too expensive — to get there, get in, drink, go home. It’s a gay club too, where it’s not like you can pretend that everyone feels at ease. And even if, according to its Wikipedia page history, it was frequented by the likes of Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, and today by Maurizio Cattelan and Francesco Vezzoli, our artist friends are not in the least bothered by this art history. But can we really blame them, in as much that they consider themselves artists that need no recognition from society? Or that their art has nothing to do with society, night, dance music, drugs? Maybe it’s just that they don’t like dancing in the first place. Jacopo and I, however, we love dancing. And we like to dance to the same music, which is basically the music that Jacopo plays.
M.I.L.A.N.O has become for me, above all, an opportunity to listen to Jacopo play and at the same time to dance with Jacopo. It is a psychophysical experience that has little to do with sex, and can instead be better explained by certain theories, some of which Jacopo has told me himself, like the advent of the Age of Aquarius. I have always found it hard to get interested in Jacopo’s theories: generally speaking, they all emerge from new age culture, and new age culture repels me. In fact, I am generally disinterested in his discourses about astrology, spiritualism, theosophy, esotericism, shamanism, and so on and so forth. But then there’s the music he plays, that is, his “musical sensibility,” which transforms all those theories into something that is concrete and positive. I always think of the title of that Venice Biennale, “Making Worlds,” which in the end was a bit of a silly way of distinguishing the forms and ways in which artistic practice is actualized, but maybe captures what a good DJ does: that is, create parallel scenarios, in which on a Friday night people disgruntled from their work week can for a few hours exit themselves and encounter other human beings who dance around them in an undefined elsewhere, and can feel good there with those others and with themselves. The theory of the advent of the Age of Aquarius says that humanity is entering a new astrological age, characterized by the values of comradery, solidarity and empathy. When Jacopo plays, I see in him and in his music the possibility that that age for us has already arrived.
American friend concludes her set and Jacopo plugs into the console. The transition between her last track and his first is not very smooth. And in fact, even the atmosphere on the dance floor changes quickly. The smoke machine kicks in and saturates the environment; the lights become more calibrated and warm. I notice that the movements of those dancing around me become more fluid, more sensual. Limbs, bodies, if they touch slightly, linger: hands cling, hips get girded, backs push against each other. Eyes — some eyes — close. I cannot define the music that Jacopo plays. It is a form of EDM with qualities that are more “spatial” than “temporal.” It defines the architecture and permeates a fluid substance in which minds and bodies float and inevitably meet. Gradually, I lose the sense of observing the room, watching the people dancing around me; I try to keep my eyes open, but I do not see anything. I know that Jacopo is behind the console because this is his music, but I do not know exactly where the console is. And I know that somewhere there is a guy that I like, that I would like to put my hand under his shirt, on his back, to feel the sweat, but I also do not know exactly where he is. Maybe that guy is Jacopo, or maybe not. In this moment I feel “joined” to both of them, and perhaps, for convenience, I want to think they are the same person.
I dance. I dance to Jacopo’s music; and when that is not enough I create my own, using that imaginary that I have constructed in years of clubbing. I stratify rhythmic patterns, I extend melodic themes. A strobe light flashes and shows me the room and the individuals in it. It’s like seeing an installation view of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Minus Objects; paintings, sculptures, micro-architectures that jostle against each other in the studio, united only having nothing in common — an atomized community, as indeed we are, here, dancing on top of each other, together we sweat heavily, as if in a CrossFit session; and together we delight, get excited, we feel emotions, like hooligans at a stadium, like spectators in group sex. I think of myself as “one less,” a singularity subtracted from the singularity of those who dance beside me, and subtracted from the singularity of the gathering of people gathered in this place. Even the person who dances beside me, however, is “one less,” taken from me, and also subtracted, like me, in this place on this evening. Perhaps what unites me and those who dance with me at Plastic, tonight, has something to do with both generality and contingency. I wonder if this is enough to make us a community: being in the same place at the same time, each in one’s own way. And if this “anarchist” description does not make what I am describing a critical mass, of course, we are, inadvertently, and temporarily, nevertheless critical. Critical also only by virtue of the subversive potential of a social aggregate that manifests after sunset and is ready to break up before dawn — without a trace.
Jacopo prepares for the conclusion of his set. I feel the descent, because the tracks become even more open, almost like ambient music. The dance floor is half empty now; the club is about to close. The lights and the neon all come on. It’s a traumatic moment: a wave of cold sweat, dirt, ugliness, truth and horror vacui. I run out and lock myself in a hooded sweatshirt. Jacopo drives me home. Waiting at a traffic light, I read him part of an interview with an R&B singer in Dazed & Confused. “Emo and rave have been a thing since early on!” says the singer. “It’s that euphoric, crying-in-the-club moment. It’s drugs without the drugs — just the music.” Back at my house we split the party’s earnings: 15 euros each. “We can afford a pizza,” he says.
A slice of pizza, bitten here and there, placed on the right of my laptop is one of the greatest pleasures of my day. It’s dripping in oil. I am sure that the paper in which it is wrapped, as absorbent as it is, could never hold all the dough’s. In a greedy and slightly rude manner, I bite into it without thinking about making the mess, and now the blacks keys on which I am typing have become slippery. It’s 9:19 am and a healthy breakfast is what you need after a morning jog. Normally I run at sunset. But this morning I went for a run when the sun was still rising, in the semidarkness. The streets of Dergano are always filthy, spattered with abandoned waste, despite the fact that they are regularly cleaned by the garbage heroes. While I steer clear of the woody junk of some ramshackle object and pass along the little ramp that leads to the first segment of the park, I think of Switzerland — the surgical cleanliness of its footpaths, the muffled silence of its streets and moderate traffic, its calmness. After a few minutes of running and conforming my body movements to a synchronized, harmonious and steady motion, it is easy to get distracted and think freely, something that does not please me at all.
I would like all the power of thought to accumulate in one specific spot, so dense and concentrated that it becomes solid, as if to make reality spring out of reality itself.
For the next stretch, I focus on the single point in the distance farthest from me: a road sign, a tree. Whatever it is, it will remain at the center of my vision for as long as possible. I also try to keep a solitary thought, to repeat it. For example, I try to visualize a figure, an amount, of an economic nature: 10,000 euros, and to break it down into many smaller notes such as 500 euros, which, summed up, bring me to the predetermined amount. Five hundred, a thousand, fifteen hundred…
As I continue, I skirt the left side of the highway that leaves Milan; to my right, a river of cars swells as rush hour approaches. To my left there are a few apartment blocks, a vacant soccer field, more houses with their Persian shutters still lowered and an electric light that filters through the slots on this icy January morning. I have cold hands, especially my thumbs, which I clutch in my palms. Seven thousand five hundred… Yesterday the sales were on, and I went to the Stone Island store on Corso Venezia wanting to buy a wool jumper. The center was quite crowded, so my companion guided me along less frequented routes, showing me new streets and squares and shops and opportunities in the center. I can’t find the right words to describe a liter of bottled mineral water that costs eight euros.
There is an overpass that rises up and over the highway. I stare at the street light that is turned off — over there, in the distance.
The slope slows me down. Then there is the long descent down the straight path that leads to the foggy park. I increase my pace now that my muscles are warm. The descent helps. I keep on track. Straight down, fast. Silence reigns in the park while the mist rises above the cold frost-covered ground. I come across an occasional runner. For a while, I get the impression that there is a crow following me, playfully landing and taking off in front of me. The loud sound of my breathing distances it. Slowly, I sweat off yesterday’s vodka.
The last running session was two weeks ago. I do not run often because otherwise I risk losing the little body fat that I have accumulated with such effort over my strained muscles, nerves and the bones of my body type — at once gaunt and fragile.
It snowed yesterday. It’s freezing cold outside the blankets when you get up in the morning. I sold a work last week, and the adrenaline of necessity has now gone, leaving me in a winter torpor that I struggle to shake off. I go running to restore the right degree of oxygenation to the brain, to resume contact with the fatigue that I have successfully avoided for some days, maneuvering between excuses and invented appointments.
There is sleet, the sun is emerging from behind the clouds and the light of car headlights passes through the dense web of semi-frozen droplets swirling in the atmosphere.
In the park, the melted snow forms invisible water traps that threaten my extremities, easily penetrating the thin microfiber cladding of my Nike Free RN. At first I try to avoid them. I run on the white and compact snow that covers the grass, leaving dark furrows in the pure surface with small dull yet rhythmic thuds that fade away into the silence before they even reach my ear. After less than a minute my breathing is regularized and I can begin my focus exercise. My mind is not yet clear, and I have to mentally decide how much money I want to accumulate, for which the cutting of the pack of banknotes will constitute the final step. While another minute of running passes, uncontrolled thoughts and evaluations as to what is the best method still hover in my mind. I begin the path near the busy boulevard, which I hate because the oxygen quality drops dramatically and running while breathing in CO2 becomes difficult. Finally, I decide that visualizing hundred-euro banknotes makes no sense, that I have to make money by working and not by visualizing it, and that the exercise of concentration should be done by itself, in the pure act of keeping one’s mind fixed on a goal.
So I start to count inhalations. I establish a limit: one thousand inhalations. Once I’ve reached a thousand I’ll turn around and go back. Every inhalation is a number; in a moment two digits, suddenly three. The park slowly disappears. At around the 250th inhalation there is a pedestrian crossing and I have to slow down to make sure that the cars see me and decelerate on the road that crosses the park. At around 300, my mind no longer has trouble counting, whereas my gaze expands at the first open area of the trail. The thermal contrast between the warmth of the earth and the cold of the coming night creates a dense condensation; a pale mist surrounds and envelops me. I feel like I am the only human on this colorless planet whom God has given the capacity to move his legs and count.
Far away there is some shade mixed in the fog, a dark figure of a person and a dog. I’m not sure. Shortly after, around the 390th, a fallen tree forces me to move onto the snow for a few meters. I continue, I feel less fatigue as the mantra takes possession of my mind and in certain moments I have to check that the count really follows my inhalations and does not proceed according to its own independent rhythm. Around the 634th I approach another avenue. There is a frozen path and I almost lose my balance. The count is affected, and I definitely skip a few numbers, or count them twice. Now the snow has penetrated all pores of the microfiber and I have soaked and frozen feet. Around the 745th, I stare at my feet and numbers chime in my head. I hear a familiar voice approaching. I look up and another runner whose face I do not see passes. He has the voice of a famous TV comedian, I think. This number thing is making me lose my head. The path descends, then rises, then falls.
Usually, when I take the long route, I arrive at a concrete structure situated above a little hill, which resembles an open-air theater. It has a nice view and is a great refreshment stop before heading home after about 45 minutes of running.
I chop decisively the snowy grass that separates me from the heights, counting the last numbers from 900 to 1000. I climb up, but there are still 50 inhalations. Then I come down. My breathing is broken with the change of pace. A runner in fluorescent green greets me. Another 10. Another field and on the left a new landscape, what seems to be a tram station. A considerably large iron arch marks my arrival. 1000. I immediately decide: 999, 998, 997…
Counting down is harder than counting normally, we are less used to it, so even if you wouldn’t think so, maintaining concentration is much more difficult. Now the numbers are a kind of amalgam of sounds in my head and no longer have any meaning. I lose the thread several times on the change of tens. 732, 731, 730, 731. No. Seven hundred and twenty… eight, 727…
Once again, I encounter the comedian’s voice. That’s really him, running and talking on the phone with headphones. He has a forced grimace on his face and yells into the iPhone’s microphone. His last film was released a few days ago; it seems to be a flop.
I begin to feel fatigue in my knees, and I decide to visualize a kind of counter — like those of the old train stations — as if it were in front of me and the numbers were flowing like wheels driven by a mechanical gear. It is transparent, and through the numbers I see the concrete road that I’m following. It works for less than a hundred. Visualizing an image becomes impossible because my legs begin to fear the ice, and I have to watch every step in order to avoid falling. Now it is day, and with a last effort I increase my pace. My knees screech. I want to reach zero at the exact point where I began. I keep the speed, I raise my knees and I slow my inhalations of which I am now totally in control.
(Excerpted from Gasconade’s forthcoming work Le Petit Jeu. Translated from Italian by Vashti Ali.)
Gasconade is a project space founded in Milan in 2011.