Voluminous Arts Presents a Halloquium, a Sacred Pause for the Nightlife Scene
Gavilán Rayna Russom has spent most of her life in the nightlife scene. Nightlife is how she has found community, refined her politics, earned a living as a musician and a DJ, and gained a deeper understanding of herself as an embodied being. Her work “fuses theory with expression, nightlife with academia and spirituality with everyday life.” She not only uses synthesizers but also uses synthesis as a structuring principle of her work, "weaving together highly differentiated strands of information and creative material into cogent expressive wholes."
When nightlife in New York City (and elsewhere) ended overnight in March, Rayna saw an opportunity amid the loss. She saw an opportunity for people for whom nightlife is meaningful to take a “sacred pause” together, to get together and talk about what it is that they get out of the scenes they’re a part of, and what they can build to better meet collective needs.
Over Halloween weekend, she is organizing a colloquium through her label Voluminous Arts–appropriately called a Halloquium–to encourage conversation, connection, and shared unearthing of knowledge. Halloquium 2020: Breathing the Worlds that Are, Dreaming the Worlds to Come, Weaving the Bridges Between, the queer- and trans-led gathering will combine discussion, performance, and ritual.
Unlike other conferences, the Halloquium will prioritize knowledge as a shared process of unearthing through conversation.
Rayna shares the inspiration behind the Halloquium, what she hopes it will accomplish, and why it matters that it’s going to be held over Halloween weekend.
Photo Credit: Guarionex Rodriguez Jr.
Tell me about the inspiration behind the Halloquium.
The Halloquium was inspired by two different threads, one of which is my own biography and my own evolving trajectory and the other one is COVID and quarantine. I'm a person who for a very, very long time, since I was probably 13 or 14 years old (I'm 47 now) found nightlife spaces to be really meaningful in lots of ways. I've found myself gravitating towards them as a place to connect with people, to build community, to understand who I am, to unearth my identity and innovate. When that basically disappeared (more or less overnight) in terms of being able to physically be in space with each other, it really hit me quite hard.
And I also got COVID very early on, which was a humbling experience for sure. I just started to really reflect and think a lot about why was I gravitating towards nightlife? What was I getting out of it? And pretty quickly [realized it was because] I had a lot of unmet needs: as a trans person, as a queer person, but also just as a person, as a human being, walking around in this sort of very warped world that we live in. I had a lot of needs that were just not met by what life in the daytime looked like. And I brought those to nightlife.
There [was] this big repository of unmet needs that I've been bringing to nightlife and [quarantine] gave me the opportunity to really think a little bit more about that. And also think about how well was it actually meeting my needs? How well was that actually addressing these things?
This experience with having COVID and realizing just how critical like a community network really is. Because I [couldn’t] do anything, I needed somebody to bring me food. And at the same time, I was watching the Ridgewood Tenants Union transform into the Ridgewood Mutual Aid Network. That was lifting my spirits every day to watch the way that they were coordinating. I was able to also participate in a lot of that as a volunteer. That was the ground.
And then I was also really, really saddened because so many, especially younger folks in the nightlife scene we're posting this stuff [about], “I can't wait til we’re all back together again.” And I was like, I don't think that's what we're doing here. And even if we are, this presents such an incredible opportunity to take a sacred pause together.
I was having such incredible conversations one-on-one. There were people like I'd seen for years in clubs, through the haze. I was just like, oh yeah, I love that person. But we'd never really talked. And then in the quarantine, we [would] go sit six feet apart in a park or we talk on the phone for like 90 minutes, two hours. And it was just so powerful.
I have always believed in like the conversation as a very powerful thing or powerful mode of creation. And of course, it's so much what happens in clubs; these sort of conversations that we get to have off in a little space that's far enough from the speakers. So the Halloquium was really a way to facilitate being able to do that in this time where it's not happening in that natural way that got handed down to us.
We're all really creative. [In the] 30, 32, 33 years that I've been involved in nightlife, [the] creativity and styles of music and technologies? It's unbelievable. So that was part of the idea, too, is to like be able to apply that creativity of building something for ourselves. Corporations have increasingly infiltrated nightlife space. That's led to a lot of real flattening, a lot of homogenization, a lot of whitening and a lot eradication of the things that are so fertile and important about it.
For people that aren't involved in nightlife, it's a real shift in perspective just to start to think about it as a space that can be healing and generated and community-based. I think there's this perception that it's just putting on your tiniest dress and getting absolutely drunk out of your mind. What does nightlife offer?
Oh, wow, okay, yes! People have had different experiences than I have and have different perspectives on this! And one thing that I like about nightlife is that it's a lot of different things at the same time. And it is putting on your tiniest dress and getting as drunk as you can. You know, that exists within this framework. And putting on your tiniest dress, in my personal experience, is also a very healing experience and a very important experience.
Nightlife illuminates so many things that are actually heavily dysfunctional about our culture. And that's one. That type of misogyny and patriarchy that says that's hedonistic or self-indulgent. That's the very kind of thing that gets upended in nightlife where you have a concrete embodied experience that things just work differently than the overarching structures that we live under say they do. For me, that's deep feminism.
I think one thing that is simple, but it illuminates a lot of it is that things are really different at night. Just in a visual way. You know, the edges between things blur, if you take a walk at night, it's a little harder to see where the tree ends and the sky begins. Everything gets a little more blurry and that also happens in social frameworks. You can be in a club at night and be interacting with people who might not interact with each other during the daytime. Across racial lines and gender lines and economic lines. And generational lines.
Especially as a young person, I had this incredible experience of really being connected to lots of older generations and mentorship and knowledge that was getting passed down in these social frameworks that happen in clubs. It wasn't happening in work. It wasn't happening in school. Those things really happened for me in clubs. That's where I learned how to be in the world. And what was important. That's where my politics got refined.
There's moving your body to music in a space that's permissive and oriented towards that. For me—as a queer person and as a trans person—that was very important because there were understandings that I had in my body. Our culture's very gendered and I was constantly bumping into that. And again, that nightlife space, in the dark, things get a little more blurry. There was a structure of permission where on the dance floor I could move my body and move my body to sound. And when I began to move my body, information began to come up. And I began to understand things. And also other people began to understand things about me because of the way that I moved my body.
I think it's part of the commodification of nightlife that often gets framed in this very Eurocentric transcendence model of [going] into this space and then [losing] our identities and becoming one. That just isn't my experience. What I experienced is actually I became much more connected to myself, much more in my body. Much more aware of my identity. My identity developed because of what I was understanding in those spaces. So it was much less transcendence of the ego and much more like a real affirmation that these things like that I knew and felt were actually real and could exist in a physical space with other people.
I think that's the power; that all these things happening at the same time. A lot of them are not great. And I think that's part of the Halloquium's idea. For somebody like me, I've been bringing these needs to nightlife. And it did an okay job, but in this moment where we don't have that, what a cool thing to ask how well was it doing? And are there new structures that we can innovate that might do that even better, meet those needs better or remove some of the liabilities and the sort of general unsafety?
What I've realized for myself is nightlife actually structures rest into my life. You lay low the day of, and then the times that you're out and about, nobody needs anything from you. You're not looking at your phone. It's probably turned off anyways. And then you have a day of recovery. So you actually build in the rest that you need. That’s what's hard for me to replicate right now!
What are some of the ways that you want to see nightlife moving forward or ways that you think that we can continue to push our communities to better support ourselves and each other?
Possibly the most important thing is that I don't know and I don't think any individual person knows. And if they did, I think that would be a problem. One of the things that happened for me in the quarantine [was I was] observing and looking at like social media and stuff is when somebody would like post or say [with] really clear perspective, this is what's going on, this is what we should be doing, this is what astrologically is happening. That is totally uninteresting to me. I had zero interest in that. But the people with perspectives of wow, I feel scared and I'm confused and I don't know what's happening, is anybody else going through it? That's really rich.
I have some thoughts and ideas, but my main idea is that I know that people in conversation with each other is how new structures get built. People being honest about what their needs are and what their experiences are. That's how change happens. That's how revolutions happen. And that's how innovation happens. It's through conversation. Conversation is such a powerful mode of creating, an incredible creative act. It's an unearthing act. I mean, we're having it now—the discovery through conversation of, what do I actually think what's important to me?
I think the conversational model is woven throughout every aspect of my life. The best music to dance to works on a conversational model. The kick drum is talking to the bass line. That conversational model that really comes out of black trans-Atlantic traditions. And you also have that sort of conversational model on the dance floor. A dance floor where everybody is facing the DJ and all moving together, it's not an interesting dance floor to me. A dance that's conversational with everyone sort of moving in different ways...That's an interesting dance floor. An interesting DJ set is a DJ set that's conversational and a bartender that I want to keep going back to the place where they work is a bartender that's conversational. A conversational model, just really is everywhere in what's been meaningful to me about my life. So that's the sort of starting point for me, is, you know, to really move into the conversational.
It also forces us to decenter figureheads and talking heads. To build together, to gather.
That's an opportunity that for me really existed in nightlife spaces. During the daytime, it's generally like to pay attention to this one person. At night and in nightlife space, there's a lot of different things going on here. There's a DJ playing and you could potentially make that person into the one person to listen to. But it's not the most interesting option.
One thing I've certainly witnessed is that as corporate interests have infiltrated nightlife spaces, there has been this shift towards like that singular focus, that figurehead of like, this is an amazing DJ, you have to see them. At worst, everyone's filming the DJ.
And one conversation [that] I think is important is the way that that duplicates a fascist model. Because folks are having fun and partying, one sort of doesn't quite realize what's happening or the structural model that one's reinforcing and participating in. But it’s a fascist model that everybody faces the DJ and everybody moves as one thing and this idea of [tapping] into this group mind and we all become one thing. I think it's critical to move away from that and to really, first of all, be aware of it. And also, really prioritize building structures that don't fall prey to that tendency.
Back to the Halloquium, as you're thinking about facilitating these conversations, what has that process of curation or invitation or programming looked like?
I'd like to get people talking. And I know that when it's dark and you're in a room full of fog and there's lasers and there's loud music playing, sometimes it's easy to talk because you can't quite be heard. It's dark. And then those edges are blurring. And that, you know, in my experience it's facilitated some pretty cool conversations over the years. But I know that in a framework where conversation is really sort of the primary thing, like a conference, it can sometimes be difficult. And when it becomes difficult, it's certain voices that drop out of the conversation for whatever reason, because their voices of people who are, you know, not represented on a wider scale or because, you know, people are shy. People are anxious. People feel like [they] don't really know what to say. So that was one real impetus; to create a space where people really feel comfortable talking to each other. But I know that that's not going to just happen if I just say let's get together for two days and I'll talk about nightlife. It needs a lot more care.
And it grew a little bit out of when I took my film, No More White Presidents on tour because the main reason I made that film was to stimulate a conversation. When I did that film, when I taught that film, what I ended up doing was bringing together people (usually people who had very strong activist backgrounds, but also were very rooted in the creative arts) to just have a conversation with me after the film.
To some degree, like a panel, but not really a panel, more just like people talking. To model for people like this is an option. There's this possibility for us to sit, talk, not really have a bunch of amazing points, but unearth a lot of really amazing points. And that worked really well. It was really cool. And it did bring people who came to seem to film into conversations. So based on that model, I thought, well, it would be cool to have some folks that I want to hear from, that I want to talk to model some conversations and create some themes and create some ideas of what are some of these conversations that would be cool to have?
I drew from really like my own experience. Who are the people I've been really engaged by when they post something? When they put something out on their label? When I go see them play? [I] really tried to remove the idea of a genre-based approach or even a draw-based approach. [I] made a lot of lists. A lot of lists of people I'd like to get involved. I started planning it back in April, and it was just that over and over again, making a list, revising it, trying to think of who could be a cool combination. Then starting to get some focused themes.
Then this fall, this volunteer committee came together and that was really productive. We began to meet once a week and actually model the thing that I'm talking about. We just had conversations and from those conversations emerged a much more focused version of what this thing is.
And Hill Donnell came on as assistant curator. First of all, they were an incredible sounding board for the ideas that I had, but also brought a couple of the crews that were part of it. They brought in Ascendance which Gypsi and Aaron are gonna be on the first panel and a couple other people too.
And one of the critical things is that there needs to be like not just land acknowledgment but really, really comprehensive land acknowledgment. Partly because I think that's just baseline important. But I think in particular, we all party in these contested spaces. For generations we've been partying on this land that not only has a history, but has a present and has an Indigenous presence. And that's really critical, again, especially in taking a sacred pause. In that framework of night, opening things up in the body, that's where the energy of the dead really starts to become a concrete and palpable reality. And again, in terms of things that are sort of inadequately dealt with in the nightlife space. I think that's a big one. [There’s] this really unreconciled ancestral energy that exists in the present. It's not something that happened in the past. I think it's very important to start reconciling it and dealing with it.
When people do land acknowledgments, it's as though there was like one monolithic people that lived in a physical location before and I think that that really disregards both history and the present.
So often people do land acknowledgment from this idea of “this land belongs to the Lenape,” which is, you know, that's a colonizing statement. Because until the Dawes Act of 1887, the land didn't belong to anybody. People are actually forced through violence and genocide into land ownership. What existed before was a really different concept of what it meant to live on land. And I think, you know, when it's cast in terms of ownership, it's reinvigorating this capitalist model of things.
If every event starts with not just land acknowledgment, but really comprehensive land acknowledgment that engages some of these things that you just mentioned, then how does it build from there?
How do you want people to leave this Halloquium and what you hope they leave with?
In the short term, I think it's about building connection and community. This has been an extremely intense time. Because of the heavily minimized way that we're able to interact with each other, there hasn't been a ton of opportunity to just talk about what's been happening. Particularly around nightlife. What is it like to lose the vessel in 24 hours? To be able to connect around that and to use that conversational model to unearth stuff.
It's not like a traditional panel. What it is, is some people that I think are interesting and that, hopefully, other people think are interesting talking to each other and just modeling what it's like to have a conversation and what have they been thinking about. There's not a Q&A. There's not everybody asking the expert what they think. What we're gonna do is working groups. We're going to move from those moderated conversations, directly into here's some stuff that came up, here's a few questions that came up during this panel.
And that's why we're using Remo rather than Zoom or another platform, because Remo is a very visual platform. It allows people to meet together in small groups in a really easy way and to move from table to table. It doesn't work in this hierarchical way of I heard that experts speak on the panel and I'm going to ask them questions to show off to them how much I know.
It's really built on like people actually getting to connect to each other and talk to each other and meet each other and also meet people that they don't know, and discover that they have no common interests with somebody and really build community.
And then in the longer shot, my hope is that this creates a way that folks for whom nightlife is meaningful can genuinely build some new self-determined, bottom-up structures for ourselves that aren't beholden to the corporate juggernaut.
So, why fiscal sponsorship? What has Fractured Atlas supported this project?
One of the things that happened early on was understanding that it is a big event and it takes money to put on and not wanting to do any kind of corporate sponsorship. Voluminous Arts is a label and to some degree a brand. But it's a label that is built with the idea of finding a different approach than the branding approach, really based on this conversational model. Talk about the infiltration of corporate interests into nightlife. Direct corporate sponsorship is a huge part of what I've seen grow over time. And it's really sinister; it goes far beyond just the fact that there's a logo on the flyer or sometimes even a logo on the club. It sits there in the structure and it infects it in these ways. And for me, those have been very problematic. And sometimes it's necessary. And I've certainly done things which relied on corporate sponsorship sometimes. But in building this and also looking at this opportunity of taking a sacred pause together. It was critical that there's not a bunch of logos; there's not a corporate sponsor. And so that required building an alternative way to fund it.
We were able to build a different model where essentially we were able to fundraise from individuals, from queer individuals of means. Fractured Atlas is what really enabled us to do that, because through a fiscal sponsor, we were able to have those donations be tax-deductible. And also those donations are all facilitated in a single place.
We built the host committee, which has been amazing. Inferno Party, which has moved online, did a fundraiser as well, and so [Fractured Atlas] was a central place where we could just direct people to say, if you'd like to support this event, here's where you go and the donation is tax-deductible.
That continues to be really powerful because one of the really important things is that this event is accessible to anybody, regardless of how much they are able to pay. If you have the means, buy a full-price ticket, it's absolutely worth it. It's necessary to buy a full-price ticket. But, this is a conversation and that conversation really can't happen unless it's accessible to everybody.
Fractured Atlas also gave us the opportunity to say, here's a sliding scale; tickets are available. No questions asked. Regardless of your financial situation, you can get a ticket. If you're a person of means who wants to buy a full-price ticket and pay a little more, go to Fractured Atlas, make a donation, balance out the sliding scale tickets. So that was a lot of what we're able to build using fiscal sponsorship. And again, to just have it all be tax-deductible, have it happen in a single place and have it be easy and streamlined.
Did you plan it to be over Halloween or Samhain? Does that have an energetic pull on you in some way?
I'm a witch. I'm born on Beltane. Samhain is the far side of the calendar for me. It was a moment of inspiration and I'd just gotten over COVID. I'd just written a couple different texts, one for Love Injection about having and the necessity of community building and nightlife. And one about commodification and techno and genres. So this stuff was very fresh in my mind and on the surface. There was just a spark of inspiration, like I want to do something where we can get together and talk about this, because from what I know, like something really rough just happened.
Initially, I thought that might be something that happened this summer. And as I thought about it, I was like, this is going to take some time to put together and October's about a minimum amount of time I need to put this together. And I thought, well, damn, you know, Halloween can sometimes be really disappointing. If you like clubs, Halloween, it’s like New Year's. [There’s] a lot of expectation. Sometimes it can be amazing. It's a holiday I really love. And, this year there's not a lot going on. I think a lot of people would like to do something, but they're not really doing stuff. Because [the Halloquium] is virtual, it's an international event. There's places where COVID is really high right now and presents an opportunity for people in those places to do something.
But also, it’s a time when the veil is thin. It's akin to that stuff I was talking about, about nighttime, where the edges do blur the sort of realms of possibility. The dead are very present in our waking life. This stuff that we do in nightlife is so ancestrally relevant. It really is about lineages especially for queer people. And it is built on people who have passed on and it's built on a lot of contested spaces. There is so much of the ancestral that's upfront in what we do including the fact that these sounds that we so enjoy moving to have been passed down through sampling; reused, reinvigorated. There's so much of the ancestral that I think bears not just honoring but engaging with. And doing it on Halloween and All Souls Day...these are resonant dates. These are important dates and. Then, of course, when I realized that you can take the word colloquium, cram together with the word Halloween and it would be a Halloquium. The deal was sealed.
Is there anything you want to add that I didn't already ask that you want to make room for? I can't tell you how good this conversation is for my heart.
That's beautiful. I mean, that's one thing. Since this started, every time I've had a conversation with somebody about it, there's been a proof of concept that it's like this really does work; people talking to each other especially people talking to each other in this time and people talking to each other for whom, for whatever reason, it's been meaningful to be out there in the middle of the night breathing in fog. The lasers, getting pounded with base, you know, like something happens and it is really healing for the heart
Come. That's what I want to say to anybody, you know, come and be part of this. If you can buy a full-price ticket, great. It's really not so much about the money as it is about having as many voices in the room as possible doing this thing together so that we can connect.
When I sat down and started to talk to the committee members, one thing that came out was like, what was I really seeking out? What did I continue to seek out going to clubs? And it really came down to this connection with my body. And in a deep way, connection with myself as an embodied being. Connection with my sexuality in its authenticity and connection with other people that was able to unfold in really radical and really queer in really interesting ways in the club. And that's what is sort of on a little bit of pause right now. And that presents this cool opportunity to just share that with other people and find different ways to make those connections.
And the other thing is just to say that this is queer- and trans-led. Not everyone that is speaking identifies as a queer person or trans person. And that's really important because it's important to have a lot of different voices. All of the people speaking are people who have done really meaningful work in my community, even though they may identify as part of that community. It's so resonant and meaningful as a queer and trans person to lead an event, but also to participate in that. Queer and trans folks see things that other people miss. Because we have to. And also, we've had to innovate a lot just in our everyday lives just to survive. I've had this amazing privilege of being able to do this, you know, being able to build something. And I'm excited for it to be a building block to greater and deeper things.
You can purchase tickets to the Halloquium and support the Halloquium on its Fractured Atlas fundraising page. Follow Voluminous Arts on its website and on Instagram.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.