The dire state of Central London nightlife is no secret to anyone who has attempted to get a drink in Soho past 11pm. But there is a saviour, in the form of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), which, thanks to a 6am late licence and its recently appointed director Bengi Unsal, has begun staging all-night events that collaborate with the worlds of fashion, music and dance. The most recent of these was the launch of the latest edition of the gay underground culture magazine Butt last month, which rented the space for a knees up.
The party raised the important issue of what happens when fringe cultures are introduced to established institutions—is the former forced to bend to the latter’s shape, or can it be an agent of transformation? I am happy to report the latter, evidence of which can be found in the screening of a film programme during the event, curated by Sam Ashby, the founder of the queer cinema magazine Little Joe.
For his programme, Ashby chose a selection of nine fringe flicks, mostly pornographic in nature. “I was concerned that showing these films in an ‘art space’ would neuter them. But reports of couples getting intimate in front of a lesbian fisting video reassured me this was not the case,” he says.
And indeed, by 5am this lively spirit had extended to a variety of dark corners in the Regency building where revellers were found to have liberated themselves of their clothes in order to “converse” more freely. Before leaving, I spoke to Kate Price, an ICA employee who served as a welfare assistant that night. She was enthusiastic about the ability of such nights to create much-needed new revenue streams for the ICA, while helping keep the 77-year-old institution relevant and edgy. It seems then that from all parties involved, the ICA’s endeavour gets five stars—or should that be fingers?