A Review of Art Night, East London
Many of the world's leading artistic institutions are uniting in a universal attempt to question the patriarchy of how we see, and participate in, works of art. Artworks are being liberated from the walls of galleries to habitats strange and new. However, it is not just the places within which our experiences are being challenged. Wave goodbye to conventional visiting hours and start seeing art at night.
Galleries, when experienced at night, adopt an agency vastly different to their daytime counterpart. Our imaginative sensibility, when picturing their rooms dimly lit, belongs to a 1990's spy blockbuster, thronging with lasers. Or most notably for me, the 1966 film How to Steal a Million, which involved a lot of rattling around in a broom cupboard. Thankfully, today, the traditional way of seeing has been firmly turned-on-its-head.
Initially heralded by Late at Tate, galleries are opening their doors to a demographic that is unable, or less inclined, to visit them during day time visiting hours. Art is not only becoming more available, but more interesting, to a greater amount of people.
London’s Art Night, held on the 1st of July this year, positioned itself as today’s vanguard for contemporary artistic consumption. I went along to experience for myself how they went about doing this. Running from 6pm-4am, a long night was in store. However, with no less that 70 exhibitions to see it promised to be a busy night nonetheless. Performances, talks and interactive sessions were combined to create an all encompassing experience.
The official programme of Art Night was curated by the brilliant Fatos Ustek, who in collaboration with the Whitechapel gallery invited artists to take over unconventional sites and public spaces. Crowds were seen participating in Melanie Manchot’s silent disco dance performance in Exchange Square just behind Liverpool Street station, Charles Avery reconstructed an imaginary island straight from the pages of his eponymous book “The Islanders” at London’s only marina in St Katherine’s Docks. Lindsey Seers video installation allowed us entry to a secret Masonic Temple of Andaz Hotel. The celebration continued until early hours at Village Underground courtesy of Boiler Room and artist Carsten Nicolai aka Alva Noto.
This year Art Night for the first time invited artist, curators and local galleries to participate in the festival as part of its Associate Programme. Amongst the arrays of exhibitions, The Huntington estate, for me, contained two stand out shows.
I stood in UNIT9, listening to the artist Soojin Kang talk about her multifaceted works Growth. They were suspended from the gallery’s ceiling; four large pods woven from linen, silk and jute. Emphasised by the austerity of the rooms whitewashed walls, the cocoons held a strange presence. We, the audience, were somewhere between the buildings garage-like-facade, and the brown organic matter that hung with aloof candour. Listening to Kang’s softly spoken words while gazing at the works, I was far removed from the urbanity of Shoreditch.
She described the works as being agonisingly multi-faceted; never finding an aesthetic resolve. Each pod was left at a different stage of completion, some worked on more than others. It made for a humble aesthetic with an emphasis on the handmade. The works arresting nature is emphasised by the austere space within which it is shown. It is the organic juxtaposed against the clinical aesthetic of the modern art space. Yet, in vein of this dichotomy, a member of the audience posed the question “do you think the works naturalism would be as stark or as shocking if suspended in a forest.” The organic in the organic. It begs the ever present question of the position of the gallery in our aesthetic interpretation of a work of art. Kang believed that the works integrity would not be undermined by the change in setting. It would certainly be interesting to see.
Below UNIT9, in Unit 4, The Emalin space, directed by Leopold Thun and Angelina Volk, presented Megan Plunkett’s solo exhibition I bet you wish you did and I know I do. Entering from the street I was first confronted by the blockade-like partition that was placed close to the door. Its presence, once escaped, opened up to a sublimely curated room with a series of sixteen works by the artist. All were entitled I live by the River.
At first glance the photographs seem to be all the same, and in this vein the photographs “like pop art, reassures [the] viewer that art isn't hard; it seems to be more about subjects than about art.” The images being a lucid attempt to understand the objects they depict. In this case a set of plaster casts of tires, produced by the artist, and cast upon them a linear shadow. From this, the work finds “Its success is in its ad hoc assemblage of multi-faceted, multi-sensory art works.” The plaster casts have been beatified by the celestial rays of the river-side sun. They have gained an autonomous beauty, one that takes them away from their menial materiality. Something only a photograph can achieve. As Minor White said “The photographer projects himself into everything he sees, identifying himself with everything in order to know it and to feel it better.” And us, the viewer, are certainly able to understand the objects that Plunkett shows with increased empathy, through this medium. Yet to understand further the empathetic value of the work, we would be lost without the captions that override the evidence to our eyes. We know through them that the work is positioned next to the river, yet we are conditioned to believe the the artist, too, lives by the river.
A series of images that, at first glance, seemed to be a repeat of one, reveal themselves to be more, and produce more, and give more. Plunkett’s "photography is the paradigm of an inherently equivocal connection between self and world.”
Written by George Morgan, a Contributor to Arteviste.