Running for just over a year, Nights of London was a thread of projects exploring the nocturnal life of the city. It ran through cinemas and galleries, was hosted on websites, burned onto CDs, written into letters, performed in nightclubs and broadcast via radio channels, before concluding in an old East End town hall that – for one night only – was filled with bat experts, musicians, cabaret artists and paranormal researchers. We heard stories from the unorthodox side of nightfall. We learned about ways of life that, despite their physical proximity, are all but invisible to most of us, most of the time.
It started in 2005 with Radio Nights, a documentary film exploring the intricacies of West London’s pirate radio culture created by artist David Blandy, working with young participants in the Avenues Youth Project in Queens Park.
In early 2006, Sarah Woodfine collaborated with adults using the services of Wandsworth MIND for When Night Draws In. Their beguiling, unsettling photographs came to fruition via a fantastical repertoire of drawings, model landscapes and pop-ups.
Later that year, the writer Sukhdev Sandhu embarked on several adventures with the nocturnal Londoners who drive the city’s pulse – from night cleaners and security guards to avian police and exorcists. His encounters informed Night Haunts, a nocturnal journal which can be read at the immersive, experiential website, or in the complete book, published in 2007.
July 2006 saw the launch of NightJam, a musical and visual journey by Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud) in collaboration with young people who had been homeless and were based at the New Horizon Youth Centre in King’s Cross.
Janice Kerbel’s radio play Nick Silver Can’t Sleep premiered in October 2006 with a cast led by Rufus Sewell, Josette Simon and Fiona Shaw. She worked with insomniacs, sleep scientists and botanists to develop her project, which was produced and broadcast by BBC Radio 3’s The Verb.
Autumn 2006 also saw the presentation of artist George Chakravarthi’s To the Man in My Dreams, a collaborative letter-writing project developed with members of SW5, the advice and information service for male and transgender sex workers. The project culminated in two live events.
On 15 November 2006, hip hop theatre artist Jonzi D presented A Night Sublyrical, a unique dance and poetry performance in the dark at the Electrowerkz club, co-created and performed by non-professional dancers recruited through London’s evening-classes.
The complete Nights of London series was celebrated on Friday 24 November 2006 with Because the Night at the old Bethnal Green Town Hall, London, featuring performances, readings and films dedicated to darkness by Sukhdev Sandhu, Scanner and special guests.
Whatever happened to the London night? London at night has always been seen as a lawless orgy of depravity and pestilence. But has it become as bland and unthreatening as any new town?
A collaboration between Sandhu, website designer Ian Budden and sound artist and musician Scanner, Night Haunts unfolded in monthly episodes on a specially designed website. The website’s visual and sonic textures are in constant flux; they are randomly triggered so that each experience of the site is unique.
In 2006, Sukhdev Sandhu journeyed across the city to find out whether the night has been neutralised by ASBOs and CCTV cameras. His forays saw him prospecting nocturnal London with the people who drive its pulse, from the avian police to security guards, from urban fox-hunters to real-life exorcists. Sandhu waded through the sewers, hung out with fugitive grafitti writers, and accompanied the nuns of Tyburn as they prayed for the souls of Londoners.
In the course of this episodic journey, Sandhu reflected on the nature of the urban night: does the quality of night change between 1am and 4am, and between the East End and the West? Has ‘night life’ been gradually corroded and colonised by light and entertainment? What are the invisible economies that pulse through the sleeping city? Does the Thames change its character at dusk? Is authentic darkness impossible? Do we need darkness?
Night Haunts formed part of Artangel Interaction’s series of artist-led projects, Nights of London, exploring the nocturnal city with the people who inhabit it. Selcted essays are available to read on the Night Haunt's microsite.
Image: Night Haunts, 2006
A narcotic tale of thwarted desire for love and sleep set in an urban garden on a moonless night.
Its characters are all nocturnal plants. Nick Silver (Nicotiana sylvestris), a nocturnal subtropical perennial in bloom, longs for Cereus Grand (Selenicereus grandiflorus), an exotic climbing perennial who blooms just one night a year. The two plants are destined, botanically, never to be together.
Kerbel developed her project in conversation with insomniacs, sleep scientists and botanists. The premiere of Nick Silver Can't Sleep, directed by Ariane Koek, was broadcast on 28 October 2006 on BBC Radio 3 show The Verb. The cast is led by Rufus Sewell as Nick Silver, Josette Simon as Moonbeam (Ipomoea alba) and Fiona Shaw as Cereus Grand.
Image: Night Blooming Cereus. Selenicereus grandiflorus [as Cactus grandiflorus] New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus and the temple of Flora, or garden of nature, Thornton, R.J., (1807) on Swallowtail Garden Seeds Flickr. Creative Commons License.
NightJam was a musical collaboration by acclaimed artist Scanner (Robin Rimbaud) with young people who have been homeless. NightJam presented two music tracks with the voices of MC Utta, MC Marcel, MC Quick Latino, MC Magic & MC Sweetie and a photographic montage, plus a limited edition CD distributed for free through the project's original website at www.nightjam.org.uk.
Over the aching beats and lonely piano of Sleepless City, three soft voices spin bitter words of exhaustion and despair in the dark underbelly of the city: “I’m in the depths of London / Straight up in the depths of a dungeon.” In the elegiac breakbeat song S’alright, two people in very different parts of the night reassure themselves everything’s going to be fine.
NightJam formed part of Artangel Interaction’s Nights of London series of artist-led collaborations with people who have a special view on a hidden side of the nocturnal city. Scanner invited young people at New Horizon Youth Centre in King’s Cross to collaborate on a creative project that expresses how the city at night looks and sounds to their ears and eyes. Through music and voice workshops they explored the sense of freedom and fear, celebration and solitude of the concealing darkness. Meanwhile, they captured their nights on disposable cameras, taking images that are at times eerie, startling, contemplative and funny. NightJam presents two elusive visual and musical journeys through the city’s ‘quiet’ hours.
Image: Have a Safe Night from NightJam: a music and photo project exploring the London night led by Scanner with MCs and photographers from the New Horizon Youth Project for homeless young people in King's Cross. Commissioned by Artangel Interaction, Summer 2006.
In spring 2006 artist Sarah Woodfine collaborated with eleven adults who were using mental health resource centres run by Wandsworth Mind, an organisation that provides community based social care for people who experience long term mental health issues. Woodfine and the participants undertook a creative journey in workshops exploring the familiar yet fantastical terrain of the night.
Beginning with concepts and processes rooted in Woodfine’s drawing-based practice, they collectively experimented with the transformation of drawing into pop-ups, model landscapes and theatre sets. The final photographic works play on the apparent three-dimensionality of these dreamlike worlds. From eerie forests glittering darkly in the moonlight to bats swarming around a gothic castle, from prowling urban cats to peaceful country scenes, the work reveals personal tales about what lies in the night.
The final works, alongside drawings and objects made during the project, were exhibited at the Digby Stuart Chaplaincy, Roehampton, from Friday 9 to Sunday 11 June 2006. A limited edition 28-page catalogue of the works was also published.
Image: Reality of London Nightlife, Corinne Aldous, 2006.
To the Man in My Dreams is a collection of letters between someone who calls himself ‘Father’ and his offspring ‘George’. In each letter, the identities of the writers change, their stories seem stranger and more unfinished. Is George more than one person? Is he a man? Is ‘daddy’ his real father? When were these letters written? And were they ever sent?
George Chakravarthi developed To the Man in My Dreams in collaboration with members of SW5, London’s advice and information service for male and transgender sex workers at the Terrence Higgens Trust. The letter writing project emerged during workshops led by Chakravarthi as a form of imaginative role-play where identities could be swapped and recreated. He also invited contributions from visitors to bars and pubs in Soho and readers of QX and Boyz magazines. The only rule was that each letter should be between ‘Father’ and ‘George’.
The project was completed over the course of an ordinary pub evening, when Chakravarthi wrote the last letter from George to Father. A live video transmission of the performance was projected nearby. People were invited to watch as he wrote, read the collection of letters, speak to the artist and add their own letters to his archive. Chakravarthi then presented a memorial to that last letter as a new work titled Also Known as John.
Image: George Chakravarthi and Neil Bartlett in conversation at Madam Jojo's in Soho, London, 2006. Photograph: Thierry Bal
Radio Nights is a documentary film by artist David Blandy and young people from The Avenues Youth Project in Queen's Park, London.
It investigates the invisible world of the listeners and broadcasters of West London's rich radio culture, from late night call-ins to underground MCs tussling for airwaves, from the pirate innovators of the 1980s to the Grime stars of the future. It uses the West London Trellick Tower as a visual metaphor for the invisible connections created between people by radio.
The film was developed over 15 weeks from November 2004 to March 2005 and the project evolved from David Blandy and The Avenues' previous collaboration with Artangel: Backslang. Many of the young people who helped to make the film Ya Get Me? for Backslang went on to work on Radio Nights. The full documentary features interviews with a wide spectrum of pirate radio boradcasters and listeners, with contributions from Trevor Nelson, Sweetie Irie and Jazzie B amongst many others.
Radio Nights formed part of Artangel Interaction’s Nights of London series of artist-led collaborations with people who have a special view on a hidden side of the nocturnal city. The film was premiered at The Gate Cinema Thursday 14th April 2005.
Image: The Trellick Tower in west London at night, reimagined as a radio. Image by David Blandy, 2005.
Bat experts, paranormal researchers, musicians and cabaret artists celebrated the close of Artangel Interaction’s Nights of London series. Passionate nocturnalists Sukhdev Sandhu and Scanner provided a spin-off from their Artangel web projectNight Haunts in a special live performance entitled Haunted Lullabies: A psalm for London's night souls; and, in A Little Night Opera, Gentlewoman Naturalist Bridget Nicholls exposed to our ears the sonar clash of the feuding moth and bat that hatched the evolution of the butterﬂy. She performed with Master Gentleman pianist Nathaniel Woodcock as the moth (on melodic and percussive piano) and Mark Pilkington as the bat (on keyboard).
Ghost expert Alan Murdie and sleep scientist Julia Chapman provided talks, while amateur astronomer David Arditti invited guests to join him stargazing in the Library of the Night Project Space.
A cabaret hour was performed by experimental comedian Simon Munnery with magician Christian Lee, artist David Blandy, who presented his White and Black Minstrel Show: The Dark Night of the Soul and artist Donald Urquhart, who was Judy Garland in The Stars Have Lost Their Glitter.
Between performances, guests explored the faded beauty of Bethnal Green's former Town Hall; watched Hitchcock’s The Lodger (A Story of London Fog) through the fug of the smoking cinema; commissioned shadow-portraits by roving silhouettist Charles Burns; and sipped gin distilled by artist collective Puss & Mew while browsing the books and curiosities of the Library of the Night.