In thinking about how to approach the 2019 Edition of an Evening of Performances, the context that the works would be experienced in was an important decision for me. Having worked across a host of different spaces - producing projects in institutions to theatres to office buildings, railway arches, semi-derelict churches, former power stations and everything in between - I knew how important location would be in the experience of the performances.
Historically taking place at the David Roberts Art Foundation exhibition spaces in London, the popularity of an Evening of Performances outgrew the original venue and it moved to KOKO in Camden in 2017. Taken out of the context of a gallery space, the performance programme took on a new life, with works suddenly being experienced in the context of a revered and much loved theatre and gig venue.
Now, in 2019, during my hunt for an appropriate venue with the DRAF team, I was confronted by the reality that London’s nightclubs, in particular LGBTQ+ spaces, have been shutting down at an alarming rate in the last number of years as the result of an increasingly conservative political environment. Both tighter regulations and the intensive real-estate market for new developments have compromised what was once a rich London nightlife. As a place where many creatives are forging a sense of community and identity through music and performance in the form of club nights, I felt it was important to highlight the necessity of these spaces as an important meeting ground and wellspring for creativity, radicalism and uncensored self-expression.
Looking at the the history of nightclubs in the UK brought to mind a similar era the UK faced in the late seventies and early eighties, when many important subcultures were born, in contrast to increasing conservatism under Thatcher’s Conservative government. Given the recent rise in populism and nationalism since the Brexit vote, this moment in time has strong historical resonances with current political, economic and creative conditions.
Housed in the iconic Ministry of Sound, part of the fabric of London’s nightlife since the early 1990s, each artist in an Evening of Performances thoughtfully addresses this tension to question social norms, representation and censorship with live performances that incorporate cutting edge music, dance, video, installation and poetry, weaving club culture in with the current socio-political context of the UK. The artists include a number of UK-based artists alongside international names, producing site specific work and new commissions especially for the night.
Opening up an Evening of Performances, Kai-Isaiah Jamal’s poetry will offer a personal perspective on the difficulties faced in particular by trans black bodies. Jamal uses his poetry to reclaim and reimagine safe spaces where ‘realnessʼ and ‘realityʼ – words that we also find in ballroom voguing and queer subcultures – can collide. Jamal is also a member of BBZ, a curatorial collective that create safe spaces to celebrate the experience of queer womxn, trans and non-binary people of colour.
Marijke De Roover will share an iteration of her new operatic performance Live, Laugh, Limerence, which will debut at an Evening of Performances. Using humour as a tool, De Roover questions the impact of how we choreograph and culturally organise the performance of love through heteronormative structures. This will be followed by NY-based performance duo FlucT in the bar at Ministry of Sound. Their raw choreography and cut-up and sampled soundscapes aims to bring awareness to imposed systems of power and control, particularly in relation to consumerism and the female body.
Coming from Berlin, Jimmy Robert will be creating an intervention into the night that addresses the context of the art fair and that of a club, acknowledging the night’s programming alongside Frieze. Working with a photograph by Valie Export (Body Sign Action 2, 1970) borrowed from the David Roberts Collection, his performance seeks to explore how we position ourselves in relation to works of art, and how the environment of a club can be used to disrupt the politics of spectatorship, objectification and representation within the canon.
Hannah Perry, meanwhile, will debut a major new commission where the sculptural meets the ephemeral through the use of inflatables, smoke and sonic components, accompanied by a live score. Scripting for the first time, Perry writes based on research into tropes of masculinity and representations of class culture in a divided Britain, with a performance that looks to test the limits of physical exertion.
Closing the programme, Haroon Mirza, Jack Jelfs and musician and rapper GAIKA will present a new reimagining of The Wave Epoch, originally conceived during a residency at CERN. Incorporating multiple video channels, live performance, incantation, and musical instruments built from discarded scientific equipment, the work brings belief systems and club culture together for a performative installation. This will be followed by a DJ set from Elijah, a previous collaborator on The Wave Epoch. One of the founders of Butterz, who specialise in Grime music, Elijah has been instrumental in establishing Grime as a force within electronic music globally.
Apart from an incredible line-up of performances addressing the times we are living through I think it will be important that everyone has a good dance too. We will be in a nightclub after all!