Reclaiming the night in the name of contemporary art this coming Saturday is Art Night, a new annual festival that promises to transform London's forgotten, abandoned or ultra-private haunts into public spaces of unforgettable experiences. If it sounds like a fanciful idea that's because it is – but it's one that has been hard won and meticulously planned by Unlimited Productions' Ksenia Zemtsova and Philippine Nguyen.
'The idea was to create a company that works at the crossroads between the arts and urbanism, staging cultural experiences that take place outside the gallery walls,' explains Zemtsova. 'Accessible art for people who don't usually go to the opera or museums,' adds Nguyen, citing their previous project, Urban Tales, which brought contemporary opera to a younger audience by taking over London's only lighthouse.
Expanding from Urban Tale's sole venue to an ambitious ten locations, Art Night will feature the work of 11 artists working on ten projects. ‘Like Paris' Nuit Blanche ('sleepless night'), Art Night will take place over one night. It is a contemporary arts festival in unusual locations, but for London we decided – because of its complex geography and size – that we would explore one new area and partner with one cultural institution to curate the programme each year. This year we are collaborating with the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) around Westminster. Next year we'll work with the Whitechapel Gallery and go to the East End,' says Zemtsova.
Taking up curatorial duties this year is Kathy Noble, who among other achievements was behind the Tate's ongoing Tate Modern Live series, which explains why the performance arts are so prominent this year. Ultimately, location is key. 'It has to be perfect match between an artist and a venue,' says Zemtsova, 'and capacity, and accessibility.' (Not to mention availability and willingness.)
Among this year's participants is octogenarian artist Joan Jonas, who will take over Southwark Cathedral for a rare performance of Reanimation, with jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran; Linder's contemporary fairytale will claim the ICA's Duke of York Steps as its stage; while hundreds are invited to take part in Physique of Consciousness by Xu Zhen and MadeIn Company, a 'cultural fitness exercise' in Somerset House's central courtyard. In another participatory project, Jennifer West will invite the public to share their memories of movies against a backdrop of her own film exploring the history of cinema at St Mary le Strand.
Alexandra Bachzetsis will fill the neo-gothic rooms of Two Temple Place with new works, while Nina Beier's Still Lives will finally be presented in its intended setting – a luxury flat – provided by St Edward's 190 Strand. There's more, too: a disused Jubilee line platform in Charing Cross Underground station will be transformed into a sensory installation by Koo Jeong A, co-commissioned with Art on the Underground; while an installation by Turner prize-winning artist Laure Prouvost will throw open the doors of the iconic and uber-exclusive Admiralty Arch. Celia Hempton's site-specific wall paintings in collaboration with The Vinyl Factory and The Store will do the same for the brutalist building at 180 The Strand.
If the artists, projects and locations are not enough to impress, the number of major cultural institutions they have enlisted certainly should. The collaborators and supporters of Art Night reads like a who’s who of the the London art scene – from Somerset House to the ICA and the National Gallery – as well as sponsors Phillips and the Art Fund, among others.
Bringing it all together into a cohesive and interesting image is Studio Frith, who collaborated with Unlimited Productions to create the brand identity and campaign for Art Night. 'We listened to Patti Smith’s Because the Night and realised the thing that makes the night exciting is possibility; the empty space normally occupied by sleep,' explains Studio Frith founder Frith Kerr. Playing on the idea of negative space and London life after dark, the resulting typeface 'works on a two dimensional page as well as be a three dimensional object', explains Kerr. 'It is robust enough to have stature but empty enough for the complexity of the art world.'
Festivities commence at 5pm and will last into the early hours. 'Well, 2am because of the borough's regulations,' says Nguyen. 'But next year it'll run through the night, until 6am at least!' For such a young festival, there is so much to look forward to already.