The London Borough of Waltham Forest is the birthplace of 1990s British boy band East 17. Helen Nisbet, artistic director of the curated programme for this year’s Art Night, has turned to them for inspiration – specifically, their 1993 track ‘It’s Alright’ – to instil a sense of optimism in the 12 commissioned artists. In this age of political despair, she suggests, let’s take some reassurance from the lyrics: ‘Don’t you worry, cos it’s alright, don’t you worry, child of the night.’ While the curated section is unthemed, music remains a constant, with Nisbet advocating its democratic possibilities for broad audience engagement. Art Night is a peripatetic festival that links with a different organization each year to deliver two programmes, which unfold over the course of a single, ambitious evening. For 2019, Art Night has partnered with London Mayor Sadiq Kahn’s new Borough of Culture scheme, which was awarded for the first time to Waltham Forest. In addition to the curated section, a further 42 projects are happening as part of Art Night’s open programme.
In an active community centre, a short walk from Walthamstow’s main square, four dancers will enact structured moments of intimacy. Moving in circles, shifting between stances and gestures, they will use their individual and collective body to explore how the performance of queer relationships alters in public and private. In collaboration with musician JD Samson, choreographer Julie Cunningham’s compelling work draws influence from the writing and lesbian affairs of US author Gertrude Stein.
Emma Talbot’s intricate silk painting hangs like an enormous bright centrepiece above the interior staircase of bar and arts venue Mirth, Marvel and Maud. Talbot is a local artist whose works tap into a history of spiritualism via self-taught artist and medium Madge Gill. The dilapidated venue is where Alfred Hitchcock once screened his films and the inside remains unchanged, like an incredible relic to faded glamour, with peeling plaster, worn-out seats and dusty fixtures.
With one of Art Night’s core aims being to embed itself fully in the local area, the festival offers the opportunity to experience work outside of a conventional gallery setting in libraries, breweries, cafes, car parks and on moving vehicles. In the historic reading room of Walthamstow Library, Zadie Xa presents a meticulously researched installation that builds on her investigation into Korean folklore and the transfer of ancestral knowledge through matrilineal social structures.
Late at night, a group of modified cars and their owners will meet in the rooftop car park of a local supermarket – not an unusual occurrence in north-east London. However, this time it’s different: the cars will be connected to form a synchronized sound system in what will be the eighth iteration in Joe Namy’s ‘Automobile’ series (2012–ongoing). Over four hours, the collaborative soundscape will develop gradually, before going literally underground at midnight.
Using the motif of a moving parade float that will journey through Walthamstow, Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings continue their investigation into the changing attitudes towards Pride. Their work often repurposes artefacts from LGBT+ histories in a way that expresses their ambivalent position towards the commercialisation of gay liberation causes. For Art Night, they are surveying a history of queer music, which will include a performance from Jesse Hultberg, a founding member of the cult 1980s New York group, 3 Teens Kill 4.
Alongside Art Night’s full programme of events, be sure to catch frieze recommended shows across the capital.
Liz Johnson Artur
South London Gallery
13 June – 1 September
Tall bamboo structures support a multitude of analogue photographs printed at different sizes on cardboard, textile and tracing paper and spread throughout the gallery’s main space. Liz Johnson Artur has spent the last 27 years photographing people from the African diaspora in London, in venues ranging from queer dance parties to black-majority churches as well as on the streets. Collectively, her ‘Black Balloon Archive’ (1991–ongoing) constitutes an extensive and deeply personal exploration into the complexity and richness of Black British experience.
‘My Head is a Haunted House’
5 June – 10 August
Frozen in a moment of surreal high drama, in a darkened room lit by deep green and purple neon lights, a giant swan mounts the back of a screeching fabric hyena. Writer Charlie Fox has curated a macabre collection of sculpture, installation and film by 20 artists – including Robert Gober, Mike Kelley and Marianna Simnett – creating the uneasy sensation of being inside a horror scene from a 1980s slasher movie.
‘Artists I Steal From’
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac
5 June – 9 August
Curated by Alvaro Barrington and Julia Peyton-Jones, this extensive group exhibition – incorporating work by some of the 20th century’s leading practitioners – explores the concept of artistic theft. It probes the ways in which 49 contemporary and modern artists, including Louise Boureois, Denzil Forrester, Willem de Kooning, Issy Wood and Purvis Young have been both the product and source of creative inspiration.
Main image: Zadie Xa, Iridezcent Interludez, 2018, performance documentation, Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Courtesy: the artist, photograph: Guillaume Lebrun