A night of free, edgy, thrilling events, scattered across several locations in the ostentatiously hipster corner of London that is the East End. On Saturday 1st July, from 6pm till 4am (4am!), loads of people flocked to Shoreditch, Whitechapel, and surroundings, whether with the intention of making the most of the event, or simply enjoying a night out with an artsy twist.
Featuring dozens of exhibitions and associate events, the scale of Art Night was undoubtedly admirable. In the words of Cheyenne Wesphal, chairman of Phillips (main sponsor), “Art Night is now well on its way to becoming an established part of the contemporary art calendar in London”. With internationally renowned artists such as Anne Hardy, Do Ho Suh, Lawrence Lek, Charles Avery, and Ian Whittlesea, the line-up list was rich and inviting. Shout-outs should be made also to the pre-event organisation: from the chance to download the event app to a comprehensive paper guide, every effort was made to make it easy to navigate the seemingly endless variety on offer.
Truth be told, I only managed to visit three exhibitions on the night. First I decided to head over to The Whitechapel Gallery, where the hype created by Benedict Drew’s installation ‘The Trickle-Down Syndrome’ had gathered large crowds. The queue to enter the gallery, however, as the French would say, “allait vite”, so I got in after a very modest wait. Once in, though, the installation itself left me rather disappointed.
Heralded as a multimedia installation “transporting the viewer to a reflective or ecstatic space”, the artworks didn’t seem to have that effect on me. The first couple of rooms were rather anonymous, with plastic red walls built around a television screen where some muddy steps are shown on a loop. The centre piece of the exhibition was a stage with live music, where performers explored “electro-acoustic free-improvisation”, surrounded by screens with flashing, psychedelic images. The work was supposed to speak of the “handmade, idiosyncratic, provisional, fantastical”. What I could see on stage was a bunch of musicians looking bored, producing an haphazard series of sounds. At times, this led to flashes of melodies, but most of the time it was just uninspiring noise. Even the accompaniment of images didn’t add much. They were not as radical and life-changing as they were marketed to be; in fact, they were rather inconspicuous, and overall almost dull.
Benedict Drew, ‘The Trickle-Down Syndrome’ (2017)
With a bitter taste in my mouth, I ventured to the second stop of the evening, Do Hu Suh’s installation at Christ Church Spitafields, which brightened up the evening a great deal. In the beautiful interiors of the church, the silent video ‘Passage/s’ and ‘My home/s’ showed interiors of dwellings, on a loop. The rooms rolled out one after the other, as if located on adjacent apartments in the same block. What I found compelling about the work was its polite rhythm in showcasing the rich variety men can create in the spaces they inhabit. I felt it spoke truthfully of ‘horizons’, this years’ overarching theme of Art Night. The video also was in tune with Suh’s previous works, as exhibited at Victoria Miro, in particular in his iconic geometrical, rational, vertical lines.
Do Hu Suh, ‘Passage/s (2013-16), My Home/s’ (2014-16)
The last event we had the chance (/strength) to go and see was Melanie Manchot’s ‘Dance (All Night, London)’. Her piece was a collective dance performance, involving all sorts of dance styles, from Irish Dance to Reggaeton. In addition, Exchange Square was taken over by a temporary stage, where dance lessons were offered to the public thorough the night. And when it got too late at night to be loud, the crowds were given headphones to enjoy a silent-disco experience.
It was neither an art exhibition per se, nor did my friend and I actually take part in the performance, but it was as fulfilling as if we had done so. Watching all these people having the time of their life dancing Flamenco, Tango, and 80s Flashmob was an infusion of enthusiasm. It reminded me how much dance can bring people together and create connections; make you aware of your own body and of others’; flesh out the notions of collectivity and togetherness in the most palpable, visceral way. Making my Art Night culminate with an inspiring sight, Manchot’s work fully embodied the ethos of the event: open, exciting, and fresh, Art Night had the power to blend culture and entertainment, (literally) bringing contemporary art to the street of East London.
Melanie Machot, ‘Dance (All Night, London)’ (2017)