Pleasure Communism By Portland Artist Vera Rubin Reminds Of Rave’s Revolutionary Roots

Pleasure Communism Vera Rubin art review
Pleasure Communism installation by Vera Rubin//photo: Antonia Basler
Pleasure Communism Vera Rubin art review

Pleasure Communism installation by Vera Rubin//photo: Antonia Basler

In Vladimir Tarasov’s 1989 satirical short animated film Shooting Range, a young couple in a cut-throat capitalist city takes refuge in a firing range as human targets. Every aspect of their lives, from courtship to graveside, is played out in front of bulls’ eyes, dodging bullets with their morning tea, rocking the cradle amidst Luger fire and Tommy gun. It gets particularly bleak when you realize the younger generation being born into the line of fire. The greedy capitalist landlord even advertises the child as a selling point. Luckily, this is a Marxist moral play, and the couple regain their dignity and walk away. They are soon replaced, however. There are always fresh victims, those willing to play for cash and prizes.

In his slim 1956 treatise on love The Art Of Loving, the social psychologist Erich Fromm argues that love and capitalism are antithetical to one another. I.e. it’s just not possible to love under the yoke of late capitalism. Fromm criticizes modern love in a time of commodification – ““Modern man has transformed himself into a commodity; he experiences his life energy as an investment with which he should make the highest profit, considering his position and the situation on the personality market. He is alienated from himself, from his fellow men and from nature. His main aim is profitable exchange of his skills, knowledge, and of himself, his “personality package” with others who are equally intent on a fair and profitable exchange. Life has no goal except the one to move, no principle except the one of fair exchange, no satisfaction except the one to consume.”

Pleasure Communism Vera Rubin Portland art review

Pleasure Communism by Vera Rubin detail//Photo: Antonia Basler

While we’ll not delve further into the author’s rather rigid and strict hierarchies and definitions of love (nor their rather limited view on pronouns), The Art Of Loving has a point about the possibility of true connection, of actual caring and empathy when the clock is always ticking. When we’re racing against the clock like Run, Lola, Run to get to our third job, the time to talk and listen, to dream and remember, disappear. And we wonder where they went, or whether goodness, kindness, and charity were just a heat mirage in the radioactive desert.

The politics of Love, pleasure, and imagination are excavated in Pleasure Communism, an art installation currently on display in Portland State University’s White Gallery by local Portland artist/musician/DJ Vera Rubin. In Pleasure Communism, Rubin recalls the chill-out zones of Rave Culture and grimy concrete warehouse pleasure palaces as autonomous zones of True Revolutionary Love & Pleasure.

To do so, Rubin re-imagines Rave flyer aesthetics and techniques to create thought-pinwheeling mantras of Magickal desire, cognitive calls-to-action, and militant dismantling. ‘Everything Must Be Decolonised – Even The Future’ is one prominent slogan. ‘Liberalism Doesn’t Listen’ reads another.

Vera Rubin Portland
A large screenprinted poster emblazoned PSYCHIC TECHNIQUES is most telling of Rubin’s intent.

‘Calling All witches, All queers
Freaks, subIIcultures
For a revolution and a new
Vision of a secret world.
A collective consciousness the
Last is first and the first
are last
Mysteries + Unknown
Act Now
dial immediately
Psychic Techniques.’

Pleasure Communism brings to mind the consciousness/spiritual revolutionary possibility of Rave Culture. It once was about transcending the flesh, overcoming differences, making do with limited means. It was genuinely futuristic, yet echoes of queer and POC cultures rang out through the ages, as well, serving as a time capsule, offering new appreciation during times when it was safe to show their beauty. Rave Culture – and Techno in particular, of which Vera Rubin is an acolyte – is/was/(will be) futurist and full of possibility again, but it often takes a turn towards commodification, as do most things. It becomes a lifestyle culture and contest. You’ll notice Vera Rubin decries Liberalism in her screenprinted manifestoes. Neoliberalism doesn’t leave a lot of room for the poor folk, for the disenfranchised, aka most everybody. In this rubric, everyone must be either celebrity or nobody.
Pleasure Communism is admirable – and necessary – in its critique of both sides of the argument. Techno isn’t about being shiny and plastic and perfect, it’s about being raw and crunchy and soulful and real. Vera Rubin reminds us of a time when back alley fractal flyers and perforated Call Me sheets could offer portals to Steppenwolf’s Magic Theater, where yr mind would be blown by the most beautiful, strange human/cyborgs you’d ever seen, while anti-gravity drum machines and warp drive turntables would kick us into kaleidoscopic new galaxies.
It’s beyond refreshing to see a small through-way gallery on the second floor of PSU’s Smith Memorial Student Union transformed into such a sanctified subcultural space. Rubin reminds us to take it easy, take a stroll, talk to yr neighbor. Let’s get together, get to know one another. As Rubin puts it, ‘Calling all witches, all queers, freaks, subIIcultures.’ Calling to the faithful, to those who still believe in a beautiful, strange future.
Pleasure Communism is on display at PSU’s White Gallery until January 31, 2018.
Pleasure Communism artist statement:
Pleasure Communism is an installation that explores new visions of love and connection in and out of a dying world. Part visual art, sculpture, and polemic, Pleasure Communism seeks to place itself at the table in conversations surrounding the violence of liberal individuality, the radical nature of the underground, the revolutionary potential of the collective consciousness, and the imagining of a liberating cyborg future. Pleasure Communism has been informed by the love and lessons learned from seedy backrooms of nightclubs, the pits of chronic trauma and despair, inside trance states, outside in the desert. Step inside, the pain is over.
Vera Rubin is an visual artist and musician residing in Portland, OR. Their weekly radio show Shadow Cruising focuses on dark, experimental, avant-garde and techno music. She has worked with artists such as Hercules and Love Affair, Silent Servant, White Visitation, and Light Asylum. Their visual art has been featured across the country in various nightclubs and underground galleries. They are a self-taught artist, autodidact, and anarchist. Listen more at
Vera Rubin IG: @pleasure_communism
Littman + White Galleries IG @littmanandwhite
Pleasure Communism was curated by Andrew Jankowski

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J Simpson

J Simpson occupies the interview between creation and critique. J regularly traces the echoes of horror, supernatural, and the occult through music, media, books, comic, and film.
Operating out of Portland, Or., J makes electronic music and DJs as dessicant, hosting a weekly radio show on Freeform Portland, Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness. He also plays in the band Meta Pinnacle with his partner, the visual artist/illustrator Lily H. Valentine, with whom he co-founded Bitstar Productions, a visual arts collective/production company.
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