It’s a shame that the rhythm of publication of La belle revue, in its paper version, does not allow us to pick up a text from where we left off in the previous issue, in the manner of a serial novel in a nineteenth-century Parisian newspaper, with the mention “To be continued…” at the bottom of the column. “Ask for La belle revue! Discover what happened to the zombies that wanted to start a revolution!” we’d hear, early in the morning, on the streets of Clermont-Ferrand… When it is a matter of meeting once a year to decide on the theme of a dossier that will be published nine months later, naturally we’re no longer all that sure of how we got to where we are now, but ultimately we must agree that the relationship between the theme chosen and any burning “hot topic” is purely coincidental. And while we’re on the subject, a certain continuity is palpable in this rubric, which, for four or five years has plucked out a recurrent theme from the field of vision of today’s art, deeming it to be a paradigm for the period or for what we can expect from artistic creation – and this has been done within a perspective that is increasingly clearly political. In other words: how do these themes that are treated in art present themselves as themes of resistance? How do they open up critical spaces and suggest pathways towards emancipation?
And so we parted company in 2021 to the tune of Afrika Bambaataa, by imagining a community of zombies on a dancefloor. So we can appreciate the constancy of the editorial committee – in its plurality and mutability, since its new director came on board for this issue – passing from the Night of the Living Dead to the night in general, which, celebrated here, reminds us that it does in fact belong to the living. This was before the European continent slipped into the shadows of war and the threat of the great nuclear blackout re-emerged for some. Far from that current reality, the theme imposed itself at the time owing to the observation of the many references to the nocturnal world within contemporary creation and in particular among a young generation who borrows, among others, from the figures and artefacts of drag communities or BDSM practices. Setting aside for now the questioning of these mimetic procedures or the legitimacy of these appropriations – although the question is raised – we would like to know, or remind ourselves, what the night offers us. So the designated context was in fact the long closure of clubs and the successive periods of curfew, rather than outright war.
The subject of the night is no less serious, given the extent to which the experience we have of it reflects the state of the capitalist world and of democracy, if we refer respectively to the renowned 24/7, Le capitalisme à l’assaut du sommeil1 by Jonathan Crary and to the French philosopher Michaël Fœssel, author in 2017 of La Nuit. Vivre sans témoin.2 For him, the night acknowledges relationships that are more egalitarian than the day, which relies on a logic of the visible and, for us, is aligned from the outset with an aesthetic approach to nighttime. Unlike the light emitted from a source around which everything gravitates, darkness, Fœssel suggests, has no centre, or else a multitude of centres. Furthermore, the differences would be perceived with more tolerance in nocturnal life, since the altered view can no longer function as an instrument of discrimination or comparison.
Whether they take the side of the night owl or the sleeper, Crary and Fœssel simultaneously alert us to the risk that the night might disappear, insofar as productivist and consumerist logics are gaining new ground, as well as security-driven policies. Both accuse white neon lighting, which “abolishes the natural rhythm of sunrise and sunset to give rise to a third time, allocated to consumption and continuous work. [In] this light,” adds Fœssel, “which creates no shadows and facilitates identification via videosurveillance […] there is no more shelter in which to obtain experiences of self-abandonment.”3 For his part, Crary evokes a “world identical to itself” under “the effect of this fraudulent brightness that is meant to be extended to all things and nip any mysterious or unknowable element in the bud”.
The night is apparently becoming extinct, by flattening the world beneath the white light of neons and the blue light of screens, in which there is no longer any difference between that which is exposed and that which exists. Which may explain why there has lately been this manifestation of the nocturnal in the field of art, through fetishes or reactivations, sometimes at the risk of museifying the night. It is this ambiguity that we can see skilfully expressed in the “Cruising Pavilion” devised by a collective of curators and artists4 for the Architecture Biennale of Venice in 2018. At the margins of their exhibition in its back-room format, they evoked the digitization of drag practices in which, along with the experience of the unknown, certain nocturnal and transgressive habits of urban architecture are being lost.
It is indeed in terms of experience and not representation that the authors of the texts that follow consider the night – not as the simple opposite of day, but as a specific space and time to inhabit and practise. Hence the title of this dossier suggests moonlight as a verb: moonlighting, which refers both to undeclared work and to paid overtime. Artist François Durel has clear ideas about darkness, whose philosophical and political aspects he unpacks in an interview with Lou Ferrand. Together they probe the night, starting with an urban promenade, providing an opportunity for the author to convoke situationist dérives and their nocturnal side, thanks to Michèle Bernstein’s narrative,5 one of the very rare women from the group, who reminds us of the extent to which the project of making life more interesting was aligned with libertine practices, to the detriment of the social order.
Fallon Mayanja has also often strolled through Paris by night. With Marie Bechetoille, she analyses the relationship that her work maintains with the night: which she “brings down” along with the order of the visible, in favour of profound listening, drawing on the whole body. The aesthetic experience that she develops in her performances and sound installations chooses night and the conditions of perception that it offers, where sight gives way to the intensity of the other senses. This again provides an occasion to consider the traditional notions of aesthetics pertaining to nighttime, which resists mechanical reproduction – also, some clubs ban photographs. All of the artists brought together in this dossier concur that night also resists any form of theorising, that it is experienced more than thought, including when it aims to become the realm of experimentation for notions such as identity or the collective. It is in this sense that Gérald Kurdian works on the night, and not just by night. His multifaceted project under the title Hot Bodies offers a site of collective experimentation whose social or political efficacy cannot be separated from the practice of dance, discussion, or sex. Finally, curators Liza Maignan and Fiona Vilmer bring us back into the world of objects via a text written in tandem that reads like a dream exhibition. They reflect on their project Sleep No More, organised in 2021, and extend their thoughts into a kind of imaginary dormitory, in which the bed is brought to mind as an intimate and political object.
- Jonathan Crary, 24/7 Le capitalisme à l’assaut du sommeil, (Paris: La Découverte/Poche, 2016).
- Michaël Fœssel, La Nuit. Vivre sans témoin (Paris: Autrement, “Les grands mots”, 2017).
- Michaël Fœssel, interview with Damien Dubuc, “Michaël Fœssel: La nuit est propice aux expériences égalitaires”, lemonde.fr, 30 June 2017 [DOI : https://www.lemonde.fr/tant-de-temps/article/2017/06/30/michael-f-ssel-la-nuit-est-propice-aux-experiences-egalitaires_5153463_4598196.html, consulted on 11 March 2022].
- Composed by Pierre-Alexandre Mateos, Rasmus Myrup, Octave Perrault, and Charles Teyssou.
- Michèle Bernstein, La nuit (Paris: Allia, 2013 ).