The streets of South London saw a magnificent convergence of the capital’s clans on Saturday night (7 July). Jubilant football supporters celebrating England’s victory over Sweden mingled (and frequently overlapped) with Pride marchers, with both affiliations represented in the massed ranks of the art world who were out in force, maps in hand, to take part in Art Night—the one-night art fest which this year occupied more than 70 venues stretching from the South Bank to Battersea.
The official programme was curated by Ralph Rugoff, the Hayward Gallery director and the curator of next year’s Venice Biennale. It included Halil Altindere’s installation devoted to the first Syrian Cosmonaut in the British Interplanetary Society; Prem Sahib’s maze-like sculpture in Vauxhall Park based on the footprint of a new build, one bed apartment (blocks of which are proliferating with indecent speed throughout the area); and a caravan by Lara Favaretto dangling from a crane near the new US embassy. Tamara Henderson filled the New Covent Garden Market with moving sculptures and flashing lights; Cécile B Evans was shooting a TV series featuring actors and a scarily realistic puppet in front of a live audience; while Marinella Senatore led a full scale procession featuring a gospel choir, drummers, acrobats and fleets of volunteers along Art Night’s entire South London spread.
But the highlight for your correspondent was Jeremy Deller’s politically astute contribution which took place in the shell of a new development on Prince of Wales Drive in Battersea and involved the South London-based Melodians Steel Orchestra repeatedly—and brilliantly—playing the Specials’ ska classic Ghost Town. Set in one of the area’s new buildings, many of which are being shamelessly constructed for profit rather than occupancy, this community steel band’s stirring rendition of the Specials’ comment on 1980s de-industrialisation, urban decay and inner city violence took on a new resonance as an anthem—and a lament—for a capital having its community life sucked out by the ravages of an inflated and speculative property market. Among the many visitors enjoying the wall of steel sound was Jerry Dammers, founder and keyboard player of the Specials, who wrote the song with the band and was, I am happy to report, utterly delighted with the repurposing of his song.