The night has many faces
… and some of them are being shown in the cooperative exhibition “In the Spotlight of the Night” by Marta Herford and KAI 10 | ARTHENA FOUNDATION in Düsseldorf. In two places at the same time it tells about the scintillating actors of nocturnal cities and about life in the semi-darkness.
The invention of the light bulb in the 19th century put an end to the natural alternation of night and day: glaringly illuminated cities, shift work and night clubs are just some of the facets of this changed way of life. The time-honoured concept of the night has lost none of its fascination. But what is the (artistic) appeal of this subject? While the Düsseldorf exhibition “Cities never sleep” is dedicated to the scintillating actors of the city, in the exhibition “Life in the Gloom” the Marta Herford spans a bridge from the end of the 19th century to the present with a historical partial takeover of the exhibition “Peindre la nuit” (Painting the night) from the Centre Pompidou-Metz. This tells the manifold story of a night without boundaries that began with electrification and has continued with current symptoms to the present day.
In the following, Friederike Fast (curator Marta Herford), Julia Höner (artistic director KAI 10 | ARTHENA FOUNDATION) and Jean-Marie Gallais (curator Centre Pompidou-Metz) answer questions on the common aspects and the differences between their exhibitions, and explore the (artistic) topicality of this complex theme.
How did the cooperation between the Marta, the KAI 10 and the Centre Pompidou Metz come about?
Friederike Fast (F.F.): I have known my colleagues, Julia Höner and Ludwig Seyfarth from KAI 10, for several years now. We have high regard for each other and talk regularly about our projects. That’s how we got the idea of realizing a project together. After discussing several themes, we ultimately agreed on the multifarious life in a night without boundaries. It is an exhibition theme than not only invites people to dream, but also holds up some current social phenomena for discussion. While we were still in the preparation stage I spoke incidentally to the artist Navid Nuur about the night project, and he told me about the exhibition in the Centre Pompidou in Metz which was on about a year ago. Of course, I had to take a look at that. And when the curator of the exhibition, Jean-Marie Gallais, gave me a guided tour, it was immediately clear that it would be a great idea to combine a historical core from Metz with contemporary contributions in the Marta Herford. The special challenge for me then was to create a big totality from these different approaches which looks at the theme from a contemporary perspective while spanning the arch back to the 19th and 20th centuries. The exchanges with the other colleagues were fundamentally important here.
Jean-Marie Gallais (J-M.G.): It is always a pleasure and excitement to see how several museums and institutions work on the same idea, each one developing a different concept with common works and intentions, but also with clear differences. The dialogue makes each exhibition richer. It also makes it possible to show works which couldn’t be borrowed if they’re available afterwards, as this is the case here since the Metz exhibition closed in Spring 2019. It’s very vivifying to see the same point of departure, the revolution of the modern night, and to see how different contemporary artists developed it in different ways.#
Jean-Marie Gallais, how does the recently ended exhibition in the Centre Pompidou-Metz differ from the present cooperative exhibition?
J-M.G.: Already in one exhibition, there are as many nights as there are works shown! Night can be only approached by facets, every night is different from the previous and the next one. The exhibition in Metz was probably more historical with works from the late 19th century and early 20th century, and most of the contemporary artists were shown in the “cosmic” section, with the idea that night and abstraction have something fundamentally connected. This “abstraction” of the night was maybe the specificity of the Metz exhibition, compared to the two German exhibitions.
Why are these cooperative exhibitions dedicated to the subject of the “night” in particular now?
Julia Höner (J.H.): In KAI 10 we knew at an early stage that we wanted to make a very contemporary exhibition on the myth of the urban night. Of course the night visits all places, but the city in particular functions as a collection basin for the many, often contradictory facets of the night. A contemporary diagnosis cannot fail to mention that the city is extensively controlled at night so that the freedom of movement of the individual is restricted when it comes to the security of the general public – the fact that this is related to the nocturnal illumination of the public space is one of the themes of the Düsseldorf exhibition. But against the background of contemporary social debates about diversity, intergroup understanding and a future beyond the binary gender model, the nocturnal city has another important role. Because here it can be said and done what the day doesn’t allow: despite increased public control, it is still a guarantor for thinking against the current of political and social rules and an experimental approach to physicality. Today in particular, the urban night stands for social change but is simultaneously a symbol for the profound existential uncertainty of many people.
F.F.: The night is a motif that has a very long tradition in literature and art. Nonetheless, particularly in recent years, totally new social phenomena have become associated with it. What started with widespread electrification is continued in the form of shift work and the use of newer means of communication in the recent past – in the so-called 24-hour society, the classical principle of order of bright and dark seems to increasingly dissolve, giving way to a multifarious life in semi-darkness.
The night has many facets – which of them are illuminated by the exhibition in the Marta Herford?
F.F.: With almost 100 works, the Marta Herford is spanning a broad arch from the end of the 19th centry up to the present. A first section in the Herford exhibition deals with perception, because in the semi-darkness of the twilight the world looks different than by day. One example is the light work of James Turrell, who makes the condition of sunrise and sundown apparently go on for ever. A second section addresses the far-reaching consequences of the invention of the light bulb. Alongside a supposed safety that is often associated with nocturnal street lighting, there is a certain anxiety which occurs in the nocturnally illuminated metropolises of the world. A third aspect shows how the night becomes a stage: with cinemas and theatres, an artificial darkness was created in modern times as an antithesis to artificial light that offers new space for fantastic apparitions and the colourful masquerade of the “night owls”.
… and what can the audience expect in the KAI 10?
J.H.: In KAI 10 the show is concentrated on ten artistic positions, some of which are represented with larger groups of works; some of the artists even created completely new works for the exhibition. At the centre stand the scintillating actors of the urban night, including people, animals, hybrid apparitions and machine-driven things. A genuine highlight of the Düsseldorf exhibition are the signs from the 18th and 19th centuries. In juxtaposition with the contemporary works, they bring to mind the continuing fascination of people with the nocturnal city, which represents an important reservoir for experiences beyond the everyday.
Can the big and small visitors to the exhibitions become nocturnal actors themselves?
J.H.: With Claus Richter and Alona Rodeh, the visitors themselves become nocturnal actors as their room installations are like nocturnal street scenes. Elsewhere our guests will also meet the mysterious night owl by Ann Lislegaard, who whispers encoded messages to them and, like the spooky faces by Matthias Lahme, belongs to those scarily beautiful creatures that one only encounters at night. Working together under the name FORT, Jenny Kropp and Alberta Niemann take us right into the heart of Berlin’s club scene. Their work, “The Shining” alludes to the world-famous Club Berghain in Berlin. The interaction of bass rhythm, video projection and mirrored dance floor transforms the room to a stage where urban nightlife can be recreated.
F.F.: The exhibition design by the Münster Büro Bok + Gärtner allows the audience to become nocturnal flaneurs – for example by the selective use of different light moods. Numerous installations and artist contributions such as the filling station by the art collective FORT, or the room installation by Martin Boyce, transform the galleries into an urban space. At the end of the tour awaits a participative installation by the Israeli artist, Alona Rodey. Here you can develop your own light choreography at a kind of gaming console. With the humour of a Jacques-Tati film, the artist appeals to our playful instincts while at the same time posing questions about night illumination as a means of control and monitoring. In addition, there are numerous events planned to accompany the exhibition where we will certainly be nocturnally active even well into the next morning.