Silencio, Paris. How artist member clubs are changing the scene

World Off, we are in – is the future experience ‘all inclusive’? Silencio in Paris, Kafe Mockba in Helsinki, Soho House all over the world. Inclusivity and a feeling of past

A pungent pine like almost metallic smell pervades the air. A black and dark staircase brings the visitor to some kind of underground heaven. We are inside Silencio, the Parisian creation of American director and artist David Lynch. In the website’s ‘about’ section the space is described as a kind of ‘chiaroscuro’, a 700 m. journey through the discovery of an intimate cinema, a secret backroom, a leafy smoking room, a photo gallery, a library, a large scene framed with red velvet, a golden corridor and mirror bars. Chiaroscuro, initially an ancient painting technique, is used in cinematography to indicate extreme low key and high-contrast lighting to create distinct areas of light and darkness in films. It is the magic patina which you can find here floating in the air.

Lynch has been practicing TM (transcendental meditation) since 1973 and is a big advocate of the effects it had on him and his artwork. He got to cinema through painting, feeling one day a certain wind coming from a paint itself. There he understood he needed painted movements. It’s almost surreal not to feel intimated by the dark smartly scented atmosphere. It is metallic, it is woody, it is soft, it is hard. There’s no nature, but the breeze (perhaps the same one which Lynch felt when he started doing cinema?) feels like fresh forest air. It is somehow home; a meditative kind of pure buddhist jungle in center Paris.

Although the peace conveyed to the 5 senses, it is easy to sense that Silencio is an hybrid. It was founded in 2011 in one of Paris’ most alive arrondissements, in the heart of the historic city, the number 142 of the rue de Montmartre. Built in 1883 by architect Ferdinand Bal, the building served as a publishing press for over a century, successively home to leftwing newspapers la Francel’Humanité and l’Aurore. Émile Zola printed there his manifest against anti-semitism in 1898, J’accuse. 17th century playwright Molière was reportedly buried there, and socialist leader Jean Jaurès was murdered just across the street, in 1914. A place which speaks of art, rebellion and the city’s development throughout the years.

Silencio is a private club dedicated to creative communities. It was designed by Lynch in collaboration with designer Raphaël Navot, architectural agency Enia and light designer Thierry Dreyfus. All the furniture has been custom made for the club by Domeau & Pérès. The name comes from the ambiguous Silencio Club presented in ‘Mulholland Drive’ (2001). “The idea of designing something and making a mood that was warm and safe, where a person could feel good just sitting and being in the space. I am not a nighttime person. I love to stay home. But I like the mood at night. Time gets funny at night”, reported the cinematographer and artist in an interview with Nowness about the opening back in 2011. The (approximate) cost is of €1,000 membership a year for the artists who will be working here and after midnight anyone can get in and hit the dance floor with a music you most likely wouldn’t hear elsewhere. No pictures allowed.

Even when it is around us, we can perceive the sounds of our heart system and those of the nervous system. Silence does not exist, it’s an utopia, a refuge. “Silence is filmed” – thinking of David Lynch and his club Silencio. Today he no longer believes in cinema, like others of his generation, he paints, sculpts, creates music, experiments in series, and imagined  a club in which the arts and people meet, where silence is the sum of all sounds. Do not look, when you will enter, for the disturbing atmospheres of his films, Silencio represents the most meditative Lynch, the one who sees and seeks the good inside and outside of us. Last June 2019 was time for last orders at Corona, Dubrovnik and Kafe Mockba, as the Helsinki complex, co-owned by Finland’s best known eclectic directors, Aki and brother Mika Kaurismäki, will close down for good in June. After undergoing complete renovation, the building on Eerikinkatu will then be turned into a hotel.

The decision to serve eviction notices to one of Helsinki’s most beloved spots provoked a general outcry. It is now final, with Andorra Culture and Entertainment Center – consisting of Corona Bar, Dubrovnik and Kafe Mockba, as well as movie theatre Kino Andorra – shutting down for good. Starting in 1987 with Kino Andorra, the original idea expanded five years later with the addition of Corona Bar. “Corona was the first bar in Finland that didn’t have a doorman, which was obligatory at the time. The authorities gave us a special permission and soon, all the other bars followed. This place changed many things in Finland. It was avant-garde» noted Mika Kaurismäki. Dubrovnik, now known as a ‘public living room’, came shortly after, owing its name to a leftover sign from Aki Kaurismäki’s 1996 film ‘Drifting Clouds’. One of the reasons why the bars became such iconic places has been also the fact that they actually didn’t bring anything new: it is the paradise of happy decadents. So are the lovers of Aki Kaurismäki’s cinematography as well.

Kafe Mockba, a Soviet-style bar brought to perfection by production designer John Ebden and spotted in the likes of ‘The Man Without a Past’ and ‘Three Wise Men,’ arrived in 1993. “In the early days they had a printed list of instructions for the staff to be as rude as possible. But they are too wonderful, so it became a game where everybody’s smiling on the inside while performing a semi-cynical Lou Reed routine. As for that dreaded menu? As dry and dusty as it is, it’s actually life-saving. It was a first-aid kit for the lost souls” commented Aki Kaurismaki on the opening. Corona Bar and Kafe Mockba closed their doors on Eerikinkatu on June 16, but the two brothers declared that the dream was going to continue elsewhere in the city. One day, without any of us even noticing, characters like Werner Herzog will be back sitting at the bar with a vodka glass. Aki himself is a ‘brand’ which is really hard to forget and potentially endlessly reproducible.

What all these places have in common is a general feeling. A feeling of past which feels like future. It is the time to recreate small communities linked by a common sensibility, in addition to the exclusive vs. inclusive dichotomy,  places of enjoyment of art in all its forms, but also of sharing ideas and perspectives as they used to be in Paris cafés, Zurich or Venice back in the days. Accessibile arthouses, easy to reach, easy to enter (but never too much), out of the ‘commercial’ cage but not reserved only to professionals. Clubs in which to mingle without exaggerating, trying to experiment with moderation, perhaps a chance to live outside of one’s own home and the Web. There is also a commercial side of memberships art houses, greatest example of which is the chain boutique hotel Soho House. The world dominating franchising is planning to open in Italy in 2020. Milan and Rome were the potential locations for the first Italian opening, but in the light of the new Renaissance that the Milanese capital has been experiencing in recent years, the famous member club Soho House preferred the Lombard city. An exceptional location, via Brera 19, right in front of the Art Gallery in what was just an abandoned building a few years ago. The renovation project, which should come to light within the next year, includes a panoramic swimming pool modelled on that of New York, Spa, gym, cinema, library and lounge bar.

Resident in 18 capitals with 65 thousand members in 23 international clubs scattered in cities such as London, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin, Istanbul, West Hollywood, Miami, Chicago and Toronto, the English group, which in 1995 opened its first home in the British capital, represents a particularly coveted brand by professionals, designers, photographers and financial gurus who choose the club also for private events, creative workshops, or business dinners. A place to shop, eat and be, with the artsy vibe the new young creative entrepreneurs love so much. A place which promises to ‘feel like home’ anywhere you would be.

After the never ending exploration of new flourishing art houses and clubs we are left with a thought. Surely the new arthouses are doors to the world of an artist, a brand, a pop star, an artistic philosophy. Sometimes we are only users, in other cases we can establish a multi-directional exchange. It is no longer time to tell stories as everyone can tell their own. It is the power of technology, sharing, our century’s Zeitgeist. There is no longer the general public and there are no longer places; cinema and art as great narratives have lost their centrality. There small post-modern ancient worlds are born, where the imagination, which has renounced its power, is content to materialise small, pleasant, totalising utopias.