Art Night, an annual festival of – you guessed it, art – has broken free from the bounds of London where it used to dwell and settled, for a brief moment, in Dundee for an evening of artful revelry.
The free contemporary art festival was held in venues across the city, with commissions from artists from Dundee and beyond, plus a whole network of events outwith the commissions (the Wooosh Flower Show in Miller’s Wynd Car Park was especially compelling, with its rigged barrow competition plus free beer and bananas: a strange but effective bribe).
The most stand-out commissions include Dundee-based artist Saoirse Amira Anis’ breach of a fraying body and symphony for a fraying body. For the piece, Saoirse shape-shifts into a striking sea monster, borrowing from folkloric traditions that hark to her Morrocan and Scottish heritage. In her film symphony for a fraying body, we see the creature dancing amongst the waves, leaving trails of rope-like tentacles in their wake. It seems that the wearable sculpture (made in collaboration with designer Sabrina Henry and textile artist Dr Sequoia Barnes) becomes more beautiful as it is dragged through water, sand and dirt, and made heavy with wear, its pillow-box red darkened to rust by water weight.
The two-part piece included Saoirse’s performance on the day, where she began by watching this film, a strange thing watching her watch herself, and danced her way from Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre to the HMS Unicorn. I have to admit that I only managed to catch her at the beginning of her journey, but I encountered traces of her as she shed her costume on the way.
Heather Phillipson’s Dreamland was a fever dream of woodland flora and fauna. The film recasts archive BBC wildlife footage, projected on a back wall and fluttering, translucent sheets. A bed of woodchips on the floor fills the room with immersive cedar smells (which made for an uncomfortable sitting situation for those who didn’t manage to nab one of the log seats provided). The narration is at once mundane (a bed-bug climbing among sheets, complaining about tourist hotspots), and ethereal as we watch fungus decompose a dead mouse, its metamorphosis into something altogether more spiritual.
Those who managed to queue in time were lucky to catch Heather’s one-off performance, Mourning Song. Flanked by two howling wolf sculptures that cast vast canine shadows on the walls, with strings drawn tight on her hoodie (I use she/her pronouns here, but would like to mention that she considers herself more of a ‘mammal than a female’, which is excellent), she delivered a haunting spoken word. This was accompanied by visuals (collies running together through fields) and pop music interspersed with animalistic sounds flavour her exploration of how death is not the end, but a new beginning (in more of a Pagan sense than a Christian one, mind). Though wonderful, I did wish that she wasn’t reading from her phone, as it jarred with the performance. However, as one who has dabbled in performance poetry, it’s no easy feat, especially when tackling something as long and intricate as hers.
The evening was topped off with music in the Arctic Bar by the effervescent Nabihah Iqbal and Co. As bodies piled in the pokey pub, sunburnt and sore-footed from tramping around the city in pursuit of art, we writhed in an amorphous mass to the music, occasionally coming up for air (and/or Tennents).
Pro tip for next year: if you have to wear synthetic cowboy boots, bring plasters. The end of the festival saw this writer hobbling about with blisters on the bottom of BOTH feet. All in the name of art, reader.
Unlikely, but fingers crossed Art Night returns to Scotland in 2024: it looks good on her.
More info on all things Art Night here