Since its launch in 2016, Art Night has established itself as one of the most exciting free art festivals in London. With an emphasis on edgy and participatory art, it brings the work of some of the most adventurous practitioners to different parts of London. Art Night does not simply give us the opportunity to discover parts of London that we may be encountering for the first time, but also to do this at night, when everyday activities have ceased, and most areas can become a terrain where alternative narratives can be played out.
This year the programme centred around King’s Cross and Walthamstow, and there were projects for every taste: poetry readings, workshops, performances, film screenings and installations. Even if you’d been able to stay all night, it wouldn’t have been possible to check them all out. From the General Programme I loved Beth Kettel’s performance at the Vestry Road Playground and the concept behind the Bank Job project, but allow me to focus on the Curated Programme, which every year brings together a number of new commissions and gives us the opportunity to view existing works in a new context.
Curated by Helen Nisbet, this year’s Curated section was loosely inspired by East 17, a pop band originally from Walthamstow that achieved chart success in the 90s with several songs including “It’s Alright”. This particular song resonates well in the current social and political climate of conflict and uncertainty and with this tune in mind, Nisbet commissioned a number of established and emerging artists, to create works that offer new ways of thinking about art, participation, community and the future.
Barbara Kruger’s imposing new outdoors commission Untitled (look like us, talk like us, think like us, pray like us, love like us) is a typical example of the artist’s practice that seeks to undermine the language of authority and to critique consumerism and power structures. It is installed in Walthamstow Town Square, in close proximity to the big chain cafés and shops, making its message more relevant.
Emma Talbot’s mystic paintings are installed in two wonderful venues: the William Morris Gallery and the Mirth, Marvel and Maud. The latter is an entertainment venue with an impressive 131-year history. A favourite of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mirth, Marvel and Maud features a splendid art deco bar, a mezzanine restaurant and an auditorium. Plans are in place to restore the cinema to its former glory. At the moment, the visitor can admire Talbot’s complex works which raise questions about spirituality and alternative realities that are installed high up behind the fancy bar, and watch The Magic Flute animation by Frances Stark in the auditorium. As its title suggests, the work is an interpretation of Mozart’s famous work by a group of young musicians aged 10-19.
I leave the Mirth with a smile and head to the Empire Cinema which presents a new work by Shiraz Bayjoo, a co-commision with Iniva. Bayjoo’s Pran Kouraz (take courage) is made in collaboration with students from the Mission Grove primary school in Walthamstow, who wear costumes that have been inspired and devised by the Mauritian dramaturg David Furlong. It is a powerful and emotional art film that deals with ideas of migration and displacement, loss and pain in the most original manner.
The Contemporary Art Society has been a long-time supporter of Art Night and this year supported a participatory performance by Oscar Murillo. Murillo’s performances or “actions” consider globalisation, labour, migration, displacement and cultural and economic hegemony. This particular one titled Letter from America is a cross-generational investigation of the changing nature of place. The piece was extremely well received by an enthusiastic audience queuing throughout the night. Walthamstow Trades Hall, where it was taking place, was buzzing with a 20-piece band and different generations coming together.
Cory Arcangel and Hampus Lindwall invited a number of artists and musicians to compose music for organ that was played late on Saturday evening in St Mary’s Church. The programme included playfully subversive compositions by Pierre Bismuth and Hanne Lippard but also an arresting piece by Haroon Mirza that routes a basic frequency pattern of electronic signals: it was accompanied by an LED light show that turned the whole thing into a dystopian experience. The 90-minute programme was an intense minimalist liturgy and definitely among the highlights of this year’s Art Night.
Rosie Hastings and Hannah Quinlan’s Gay Pride float that was installed in the town square was one of the most successful works, as it both defined and questioned our notion of community. The work extended the artists’ questioning of gay culture that has entered the mainstream, contributing to a new homogeneity. The artists, who also showed a new video work, had invited musicians and DJs to perform and the sounds of disco, Hi-NRG and techno pop united different crowds into a passionate celebration of community.
It is worth noting that Barbara Kruger’s piece will remain installed over the summer into September, while Emma Talbot’s silk banners have been acquired by the Vestry House/ William Morris permanent collection and as an outcome of our support of Art Night, four drawings by Oscar Murillo will enter Bristol Museum and Art gallery’s collection. Finally, Zadie Xa’s immersive installation that was co- commissioned by Yarat (Baku), Tramway (Glasgow), and De La Warr (Bexhill-on-Sea) will tour to all three venues, so even those who didn’t make it to Art Night last weekend, will have the opportunity to see some of these newly-commissioned works.
Curator of Programmes