I begin the 'hosting' with an interest in the work and gatherings that happen at the converse of the day, the night-shifts and nocturnal cycles of Finsbury park. Images from Berwick Street Collective's film-documentary 'Nightcleaners' (1972-5), and Sukdev Sandhu's 'Night Haunts' (2006) resonate in my research, and my instinct is to somehow reveal the spaces and narratives often obscured from a common reading of a place. My enquiry into the night has a social as much as mythical dimension. It pivots around an investigation into communal experiences of time.
Where the excesses of the day might be repaired at night, certain spaces monitored or safeguarded, activities perpetuated to become possible 'around the clock', what would happen if these times were somehow reversed?
What happens when night is exchanged for day?
"The truth that storytelling conveys is not that of facts - although specific places and events necessarily emerge in the telling - but of experience with all the contingency, uncertainty, and partiality that this term implies." - Claire Gilman and Margaret Sundell, eds., 'The Storyteller', JRP Ringier, Zurich, 2010. p9
The first walk is an early 'recce'. I meet Anna at 10.30pm by the bus timetables, just outside Finsbury Park tube. We stop at a 24 hour off-license opposite the park, a garage open all hours, a bagel shop that closes at 2am to reopen at 5am, and finally meet a group of engineers and cleaners, waiting for the last tube to leave the station, so that they can begin their work in the window of time before the trains start up again at 5am. Our conversations on that walk reveal that the impulses to work this time of night are different, but always driving these seems to be a sense of necessity; economic, social, personal. Overriding, there is a feeling of sharing a peculiar temporal space with those also working 'the night'. The city opens like a book, page by page.
Months later, Tilly and I begin again, this time at Rowan's Tenpin Bowl on Stroud Green Road. There are few staff working, and apart from a group of students in the lane 'next-door', the alleys are quiet. There is something resonant about a space 'open' for business, yet somehow in down-time. It has the effect of suspension, a kind of time travel experienced between its occupants.
"According to the sociologist Murray Melbin, night is the last frontier and since the invention of artificial lighting we have colonised it in much the same way and in much the same spirit as the Americans colonised the West in the nineteenth century. Time is a dimension of space, says Melbin, and people have moved into the realm of night as the hours of daylight have become more congested. The first night people were like the trappers, hunters and drifters who went west ahead of the pioneers; they were misfits, solitaries, criminals, people who, for whatever reason, were uneasy with the straight world and had very little to lose. Then came the businessmen, the exploiters, who realised that, with the advent of gaslight, expensive machinery no longer had to lie idle for eight hours out of twenty-four, and factories could keep producing around the clock. Shift work brought other services in its wake: transport, eating places, bars and grocery stores. Gradually, as light improved, services expanded until now there is a whole after-hours community - everything from evening classes to supermarkets, night courts, discos and massage parlours, as well as a great army of maintenance people who service and repair the daytime world while its inhabitants sleep. The defence establishment, the financial markets, broadcasting, transport, communications now work on a 24-hour-day schedule. As Melbin sees it, night and day will soon be interchangeable; as we have transformed our environment, so we will transform ourselves - physically, socially, and psychologically - to fit the new 24 hour cycle of work."
- A. Alvarez, 'Night: An Exploration of Night Life, Night Language, Sleep and Dreams', Vintage, London, 1996. p20
The more walks and encounters in Finsbury Park - with engineers, taxi-drivers, shop keepers, door-supervisors, Turkish 'Okey' players - the greater I feel a schism between between what is nominated public and private; what promises a 24-hour 'welcome', might be less accommodating than those contexts that are less immediately visible, but where the opportunities for conversation are open and generous.
The clocks go back. There are several at Finsbury Park station that are programmed remotely to adjust from BST to GMT at 2am on the last Sunday of October. It is the night before the storms hit, and the wind is picking up, blowing rain in dense clouds. Skeletons and ghouls wander the streets of Finsbury Park. Arriving on the last overground, we test the cameras and then at 1am we wait in Rowan's Tenpin Bowl. The Halloween disco-goers are somehow oblivious to the time countdown, but from conversations with staff, it's all too obvious that anyone working that night has the hour 'gained' on their mind. At 2am we return to witness a horological event, but instead of an expected rewind, the hands of the clocks hasten forwards through eleven hours. There is a kind of magic here, not least as it seems we are the only witnesses, but we are also aware of the extended, collective action, as hands and digits are set back across the country. Later I read that a team of eighteen field engineers from Derby, responsible for the upkeep of 4,750 clocks across England and Wales work intensively across four or five days to manually change the time on eighty of these, including those on Newcastle Cathedral and on Nottingham's Victoria Shopping Centre.
After weeks of phone calls and emails, it seems that it will not be possible to gain access to the 19th century clock-tower of the Hornsey Road Baths. Built in 1895, it was one of the largest public baths in the country. 125 slipper baths and four pools have since been converted into 150 flats, 62 homes, council offices and a nursery by developers Grainger Plc. The mechanism for the restored clock is housed inside a cupboard of the now privately owned top-floor flat.
Safari Mini Cabs is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It occupies a shared building on the Seven Sisters Road. Abdul - one of the drivers, who also runs the business with his sons, Heysam and Hadi - is a keen photographer. For the last couple of weeks, I have been leaving a 35mm film compact camera that they might use during their shifts, returning a week later to collect the film for developing. The delay inherent in this material process seems somehow in sync with the waiting familiar to the shift work as a driver. The photographs that are developed necessarily express this, we talk about the image as stand-in for those in-between times. I think about Alan Sekula's slide work 'Waiting for Tear Gas' (1999-2000) on display at Tate. The piece consists of 81 images presented as a timed-projection, taken by Sekula during protests against the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Seattle. Sekula talks about the idea of photography as a process of labour, action, and engagement, that goes against the autonomy of the single image.
"The idea was to move with the flow of protest, from dawn to 3am if needs be, taking in the lulls, the waiting and the margins of events. The rule of thumb for this sort of anti photo-journalism: no flash, no telephoto zoom lens, no gas mask, no auto focus, no press pass, and no pressure to grab at all costs the one defining image of dramatic violence." - Alan Sekula
"24/7 announces a time without time, a time extracted from any material or identifiable demarcations, a time without sequence or recurrence." - Jonathan Crary, '24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep', Verso, London and New York, 2013. p29
'Day for night' is the "technical process whereby sequences filmed outdoors in daylight are shot using tungsten (artificial light) or infrared film stock and underexposed (or dimmed during post production) to appear as if they are taking place at night." I keep thinking about the possibility of this interchange expressed in the image, how we 'read' light as belonging to a particular temporal space. The 35mm film that both Abdul and I have used is 'Kodak Portra', 400 or 800 ASA. It returns really interesting and unexpected results with the colour, and the way it deals with fluorescent light. It almost appears as if it has been cross-processed. Colour also comes through in my research into light-wavelengths, particularly around in studies that show white or blue light capacity to re-set or shift the circadian rhythm. There are a number of articles, including one published in 'The Journal of Neuroscience' (7 August 2013) that suggest the use of red-light, at certain times of night-shift, or for the diurnal towards their 'natural' sleep pattern, could have positive effect. - Abstract from The Journal of Neuroscience and NY Times
It is late on Saturday when Anna and I meet Ali at N7 Cars on Berriman Road. Since the beginning of the night-walks in Finsbury Park, just short of two months ago, it has only ever been possible to see the mini-cab office from the outside-in. Despite being closed for this entire period, it appears as a beacon, red mini-cab light still glowing in the window, as if the controller left only minutes before and would return. The cab office will be the temporal 'host' for a double 35mm slide projection next week. The two sets of slides comprise a 35mm photograph - cropped over several slides to a minute detail - taken by Abdul at Safari Mini Cabs, and my photographs taken over the last few weeks that somehow chart the 'keeping' of time in Finsbury Park; clocks in some instances, but also objects and materials, monuments, that somehow act as stand-in. I want to suggest this material passage of time, a dense fabric as opposed to something linear, to consider an experience of waiting, where encounters might occur in this lag. The slide-projection forms 'part I' of a two-channel response, 'part II' will be a short text developed through the numerous conversations and encounters over the last few months, published on the dot-matrix screen upstairs at Rowans Tenpin Bowl. The week previous, Tilly and I meet Sam at Rowans, who is responsible for the maintenance of the machines that restore the pins as they are knocked down. He describes having worked in the bowling industry since he was 16 years old, originally competing in championships, and then as engineer and technician. It is strangely peaceful back here, despite the constant cascade of pins.
After the event on 16 December at N7 Cars and Rowans Bowl, some time passes before I return to write. The delay is always there for me, as a sort of necessary coming-to-terms with a period of work and its dimensions. It now seems that there were multiple spaces that NOCTURNES moved through and opened up however briefly; the physical location of narratives in the mini-cab office and bowling alley; the experience of recognising images from the 35mm slides in their 'real' sites along the Seven Sisters Road; and then again, the annex of these same images through the script on the dot-matrix screen. Most enduring for me has been the experience of witnessing these 'sites' change over a number of months; an awareness heightened through the process of becoming familiar with a place. The many conversations, and the images made independently and in collaboration with others, have somehow become a collective testament to Finsbury Park and its night in this time.
"In her essay on 'D'Est', Ackerman famously declared that she felt the need to make the film 'while there's still time' (tant qu'il en est encore temps). In one sense she meant that she had to finish the project before it was too late, before cultural and economic forces transformed the subject of her work into something different, even unrecognisable. But, given the choices she made of what to record, 'while there's still time' is also a way of saying: while there is still a world of time-in-common, a world still sustained by collective inhabiting and sharing of time and its rhythms, in the older sense of the word 'quotidian'." - Jonathan Crary, '24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep', Verso, London and New York, 2013. p122
*Abdul waits. His eyes pass slowly over the familiar objects before him. The dashboard interface blinks seconds and minutes, emitting a narrow band of blue light. The photoreceptors in his eye absorb this information. He is a model for internal desynchronisation. His clock, or many clocks, calibrated by these wavelengths of light, photic input pathways responsible for circadian rhythm. At some point we hand a camera between us. His son Hadi confides that these images are already "in their blood". Our interaction is more intermittent than continuous. Each moment that we live exists, but not their imaginary combination. Inside the car time can only exist as object and light. If the car door is held open for long enough, perhaps whilst a passenger alights slowly at 3am, time attempts to bleed onto the street, pushing its way into crevices in the pavement. It finds a hole in a wall, slips inside the bulb of a street-lamp, sticks to the soles of shoes. The night suppresses these ideal details, and soon enough it buries time. In this way, time is without time, extracted from its material essence. We are dispossessed. Except in this place. Each lane here is an hour, each hour ends with pins that are replenished. Each hour is dense, layered, and thick. We tunnel down to find another twelve beneath our feet. Back at the mini cab office the drivers talk about the image they made as a miracle. They have performed some accidental magic. The image is a night time spectre and we are its witness. We wait together now. Night is the last frontier. This is our cue.
Project Assistant: Harrison Moore
Abdul, Heysam and Hadi at Safari Mini Cabs
Terry, Dave and Sam at Rowans Tenpin Bowl
Ali at N7 Cars
and to all those working the night in Finsbury Park, who through conversation and generous exchange, have contributed to this research.