Cities are in a constant state of flux as new neighborhoods are developed, gentrification quickly changes areas and demographics, and people come and go. There are few cities where the old and the new live side by side quite as much as in London, where narrow streets filled with Victorian housing sit next to gigantic, glass-covered tech towers. For the third iteration of the city’s Art Night, the focus is fittingly on the idea of “home,” based on the context of the local area: South London’s South Bank, Battersea Power Station, Vauxhall and Nine Elms.
The inspiring annual Art Night takes place between 6PM and 6AM, and visitors can walk (or take buses, or even a Thames Clipper boat) between artworks and pop-up performances in over 60 locations. Previously held in Westminster and the East End, this is the first time the event will take place in South London. It’s an interesting area to have been chosen, where the 15th century Lambeth Palace sits close to gleaming new apartment buildings, and all-night gay clubs are slowly giving way to posh restaurants. With so many art galleries opening their doors and so many pop-up events taking place, each individual experience of Art Night will be different and it’s hard to narrow down recommendations, but below are some of our favorites from the preview.
Artist Prem Sahib’s piece “500 sq ft,” which takes a look at the area’s changing identity, was one of the works commissioned especially for the Art Night by local art gallery The Hayward Gallery. The artwork is located in Vauxhall Park and was inspired by the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, which were open 1732-1859 and located close to the park. “There is a lot of new luxury housing going up around here, and it’s disturbing that there is so much of it, considering the lack of housing in London. The Pleasure Gardens that I reference was a park for the people, but today a lot of public land is being privatized,” Sahib explains. He mentions seeing a woman being moved on for sleeping in the beautifully manicured, anodyne park area by the gigantic new United States Embassy nearby. His “500 sq ft” is a sculpture made from Valchromat, and based on the exact floor plan of one of the new luxury one-bedroom flats for sale in the area. “I want to use glass and chrome fittings to reference the corporate aesthetic, and I like the idea of a big monolithic sculpture just appearing in the park,” he says.
Another piece, Miao Ying’s VR work “Happily Contained” is shown in a radically different space—the polished, elegant marketing suite for Embassy Gardens, the luxury flats located next to the US embassy. The film looks at “lifestyle hypnotism,” and Ying points out that the space it’s in is itself a lifestyle branding experience, “These show apartments are already a kind of simulation, and now you’re there watching a fake experience.”
But home obviously doesn’t have to be a place—physical or digital—it can also be a concept to long for. One unusual places that’s opening its doors to visitors for the night (6PM-4AM) is the British Interplanetary Society, which is showing Halil Altindere’s “Space Refugee.” On the surface it’s a happy installation, a celebration of Muhammed Ahmed Faris, who was the first Syrian in space. But today Faris is living in exile in Turkey, and in a video to fellow refugees he comments: “I hope we can rebuild cities for them in space, where there is freedom and dignity and where there is no tyranny, no injustice.”
Other artworks on show during the night are more interactive, like Marinella Senatore’s “The London Procession.” It’s a collection of Londoners of all ages and backgrounds in a procession that merges art, dance, protest and sport, which will start at one point of the Art Night Trail and finish at another. There’s also Bosoc Sodi’s “Muro,” the Mexican artist’s first public performative installation in London. Sodi is building a wall of 1600 clay bricks, all made in Mexico by local craftsmen and signed by the artist. When the wall is finished, passersby will be invited to take it apart and take a brick home with them, as a reminder that a society that works together can dismantle any kind of barrier.
Art Night is not only a free event open for everyone, but is also a unique way to view art and the way it transforms otherwise familiar spaces. Visit the New Covent Garden Flower Market at night to see Tamara Henderson’s performance in the very halls where London’s flower shops and vegetable stalls usually buy their wares, or go underground in the Leake Street Tunnel by Waterloo to see a number of installations taking place in the subterranean space that’s usually used by graffiti artists. The night is young.
Images by Cajsa Carlson