Artists: Kader Attia, Fiona Connor, Danilo Correale, Alexander Deprez, Jos Jansen, Mathew Kneebone, Klara Lidén, Frederik Lizen, Melanie Manchot, Lieven Martens & Simon Van Honacker, Sam Meech, Karl Philips, Ann-Sofi Sidén, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Dennis Tyfus, Oriol Vilanova
Venue: Extra City Kunsthal, Antwerp
Exhibition Title: Daily Nightshift
Date: March 21 – June 28, 2020
Curated By: Kunsthal Extra City in collaboration with Simon Delobel and Olivier Goethals
Full gallery of images, press release and link available after the jump.
Images courtesy of Extra City Kunsthal, Antwerp
In recent years, the night, and the urban night in particular, has been intensively discussed by city residents, policymakers, researchers and artists alike. The group exhibition Daily Nightshift casts a spotlight on this discussion, exploring a number of the complex tensions of urban nightlife.
“Going out” and partying go hand-in-hand with nightlife. Simultaneously with the dimming daylight, people start to relax and share elation. They gather as friends or like minds in places where they can express themselves freely and in confidence. In addition to the usual ports of call, important “safe spaces” are also being created to offer marginalised communities a place where they feel they belong. What is suppressed by day, can be let out at night; dusk offers just that little bit more tolerance and concealment than the light of day.
A padded nightlife offering is also vital to the vibrant image that so many cities seek to emanate. Of course, the economic impact and cultural influence of nightlife establishments is not to be underestimated. Cities that bristle with life at night seem to hold limitless promise.
Nevertheless, this story of nights drenched in euphoria and economic profit is not entirely unproblematic. In their article from 2014, urban geographers Tim Schwanen, Irina Van Aalst and Ilse Van Liempt poignantly outline the changes many city districts are going through.2 After these somewhat neglected areas are made trendy again (often due to the arrival of creative industries and hospitality businesses), large franchises start to appear and disseminate their standardised experience. These changes rarely benefit less-well-off, non-white and non-mainstream consumers. Rather, it is all done with a view to maximising profit by attracting relatively risk-free, wealthy consumers (such as “young urban professionals”). The consequences of this feed back into the same problem: gentrification always benefits the same, universally similar activities; the new residents of the redeveloped areas aren’t so pleased with night-time nuisance; and unwelcome visitors are moved onto other places in the city, spatially spurned.
The latter social differentiation is characteristic not only of nightlife but also of night-time work. In Belgium this is defined as the labour carried out between eight in the evening and six in the morning. Recent figures from Steunpunt Werk show that only 3% of Belgian employees carry out nighttime work.3 This percentage is strikingly lower than in neighbouring countries: in the Netherlands 9.3% work at night, while in the UK it’s 6.3%. In cities such as London, where there are many statistics available regarding the night-time economy, the percentage is increasing exponentially, DAILY NIGHTSHIFT 1 ARUP, “Cities Alive: Rethinking the Shades of Night”, 2015, p.13 2 VAN LIEMPT, Ilse, VAN AALST, Irina en SCHWANEN, Tim, “Introduction: Geographies of the Urban Night”, Urban Studies, October 2014 3 BAERT, Denny, “Belgen blijven bij minst flexibele werknemers van Europa, alleen weekendwerk zit wat in de lift”, ‘VRTNWS’, 6 August 2019 accounting for as much as a third of all employees.4 Even more remarkably, up to a third of these night-time workers in London are from BAME (Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic) backgrounds. Compared to day workers, there are almost twice as many night workers earning below the London Living Wage. There is a sharp edge to the night economy: who can afford to play and who must work to make ends meet?
In some parts of the world the market for night-time employment is growing significantly faster than the market for daytime employment. Mobility is a good barometer of this: the City of London found, for example, that half of all night-bus travel was for employment purposes, and that the largest growth in the use of public transport was between ten in the evening and seven in the morning. Many companies are operating more and more on a 24/7 basis, necessitating a solid urban transport network to get their workers to their locations.
Night work is nothing new, especially since the Industrial Revolution, when artificial lighting made it possible to keep people working longer. The difference with today is the increased digitisation of a globalised world. As essayist Jonathan Crary writes in his already-iconic book 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, there is no moment, place or situation in which one cannot shop, consume or exploit.5 The notion that everything is always possible touches every part of our personal, social and professional lives. It is a realisation of the dream of the (late-)capitalist system to never have to stop production or consumption, but rather to allow them to flow into each other infinitely. Time is indeed money, and time can no longer be spent on “doing nothing”; it has become too expensive not to profit from it, to paraphrase the artist Jenny Odell.6 However, this hyperactivity ignores the responsibility that people take on when they choose to be complicit in this system and is driven by artificial desires that can never be satisfied. The division of the 24-hour rhythm into a life by day and a life by night is coming under great pressure from our non-stop, 24-hour society and “the incontestable priority of getting, having, owning, coveting, envying, all of which inflames the restlessness of the world, operating without pause.”7
All this refers only to the official, legal economy. The night-time is the time favoured for the illegal economy: drugs, prostitution, the smuggling of contraband, gambling, restaurants and shops serving as covers for illegal (or at least sketchy) practices. Such activities may flirt with the limits of legality, but that doesn’t make them any less profitable.
In some places and for some people, these clandestine activities, combined with the occasional nuisance caused by revellers, contributes to a feeling of being unsafe in the city at night. And this is on top of the fact that the darkness of the night is already associated with danger and fear. The concern arising from these factors has resulted in new forms of surveillance and preventive measures, such as CCTV and ID (card) scanners at clubs. In this way, the “undesirables” are expertly excluded. Everyone behaves according to the social codes of the (local) government, police, and public health service, which are prescribed with a view to safeguarding the well-being of each individual and group (and encouraging spending, of course).8 Ironically enough, this approach often has the opposite effect. Historian Bert De Munck calls this the “prosthetic paradox”: the more surveillance technologies that appear on our streets, the more anxious people feel 9. In addition to this, more and more people are becoming aware of their right to privacy, something that seems hard to reconcile with these technologies.
There seem to be two opposing ways of dealing with the convergence of leisure, labour, the (illegal) economy and (un)safety in the city at night. In some places the urban nightlife is encouraged, with the ultimate goal of cultivating a marketable 24/7 city. In other places, the nightlife is becoming more strictly regulated, sometimes leading to the dimming of the city’s lights, both literally and figuratively. A combination of the two approaches is also possible. There is a constant negotiation taking place in cities regarding how their nightlife is to be regulated. Besides, the urban night-time and its economy have recently become the subject of intense debates, some of which can be enriching, but others of which overlook the real, slower developments unfolding in cities. It is these connections and sensitivities that the artworks in the exhibition Daily Nightshift question, respond or refer to. The combination of works in the spatial landscape of the exhibition tells a story about how the urban night is used, experienced and regulated today. Every day, every night, shift after shift.
The exhibition Daily Nightshift is the result of a collective project. The project began in May 2019, when a broad range of people living and/or working in Antwerp, including representatives of various organizations, were invited for a workshop at Kunsthal Extra City. The goal was to come together and reflect, across our various disciplines, and to build a bridge between what was going on in the art world and what was going on in the city of today. We assessed the urgent themes of today’s cities. These would go on to serve as inspiration for Kunsthal Extra City’s artistic programme in the future. The theme of ‘nightlife’ was chosen for this first exhibition of 2020. In this brochure you can find more information about each artwork. The exhibition follows a fixed route; in this brochure the artists appear in the order you will encounter them in the space. The numbers assigned to the artists in the following pages correspond to the numbers on the labels in the exhibition.
1 ARUP, “Cities Alive: Rethinking the Shades of Night”, 2015, p.13
2 VAN LIEMPT, Ilse, VAN AALST, Irina en SCHWANEN, Tim, “Introduction: Geographies of the Urban Night”, Urban Studies, October 2014
3 BAERT, Denny, “Belgen blijven bij minst flexibele werknemers van Europa, alleen weekendwerk zit wat in de lift”, ‘VRTNWS’, 6 August 2019
4 GLA Economics & Mayor of London, “London at night: an evidence
base for a 24-hour city”, https:// bit.ly/2wYYAQp; London Night Time Commission, “Think Night: London’s Neighbourhoods from 6pm to 6am”, https://bit.ly/38cITCl
5 CRARY, Jonathan, ‘24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep’, Verso, 2014, p. 30
6 ODELL, Jenny, in: COOK, Sarah, ‘24/7: A Wake-up Call for our Non-Stop World’, Somerset House Trust, London, 2019, p. 13
7 CRARY, Jonathan, in: COOK, Sarah, ‘24/7: A Wake-up Call for our Non- Stop World’, Somerset House Trust, London, 2019, p. 137
8 VAN LIEMPT, Ilse, VAN AALST, Irina and SCHWANEN, Tim, “Introduction: Geographies of the Urban Night”, Urban Studies, October 2014
9 DE MUNCK, Bert, “The Prosthetic Paradox”, ‘Angst & Ruimte / Fear & Space’, NAi Publishers, Rotterdam, 2004, pp. 8-15