Project Year: 2021
Location: San Francisco Bay
After premiering in the waterways around New York City in 2018, Night Watch later travelled to San Francisco Bay, where it was on view along San Francisco and Oakland’s shorelines in September of 2021.
As in New York City, Night Watch was a floating media Installation that circulated, this time, in the San Francisco Bay.
The artwork featured a 20ft-wide hi-resolution LED-screen which travelled in the Bay aboard a large, slow-moving barge and tug boat. Displayed on the screen were silent close-up video portraits of 12 new Americans whose lives have been saved by recently being granted political asylum in the US.
The Installation combined contemporary LED-technology with a dated, anachronistic mode of transport to create a complex and layered artistic and sculptural tableau. Night Watch activated and animated the San Francisco Bay as both a literal and metaphoric site and landscape for escape, rescue, safe-passage and the offering of safe-harbor for those most vulnerable. The artwork thus engaged one of the most urgent issues of our time – that of welcoming or closing our doors to asylum seekers and refugees.
Night Watch thus also reflected San Francisco Bay’s long history as one of America’s first port-of-calls for those most in need. This included engaging and being in visual dialogue with some of the Bay Area’s most resonant and relevant landmarks, such as Angel Island -sometimes referred to as “the Ellis Island of the West”, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the Bay Bridge, among others.
As was the case in New York City, The artwork received major press coverage, including being featured on the PBS Newshour on Dec 22,2021, as part of PBS’s Canvas (Arts and Culture) Series, which may be viewed here.; the cover story of SF/Arts, the monthly arts insert for the Sunday New York Times in Northern California, which can be read here; A major feature in the San Francisco Chronicle, by arts critic Tony Bravo, which can be read here; A review by Genevieve Quick in 48 hills, which can be read here; and finally, being included in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Best of 2021 art events, which can be read here.
During Night Watch’s run, the Installation travelled very slowly and closely hugged the Bay Area’s shorelines, allowing for intimate and sustained “I-thou” encounters with viewers on shore. The piece also often docked at pre-publicized locations and times. This allowed for longer viewings to take place, and was also timed and coordinated with related pre-planned events and symposiums on shore dealing with refugees and asylee issues. Needless to say, Night Watch represented a distinct counter-narrative to our current zeitgeist.
The individuals displayed on the screen are from 5 continents, and are largely members of the international LGBTQI communities, as well as unaccompanied minors, who fled tremendous violence and discrimination in their homelands. The individuals displayed in the work arrived from Nigeria, Honduras, Columbia, Russia, Kazahkstan, Jamaica and Peru.
The video documentation (by Ido Bartana) and still art photographs show how Night Watch functioned visually and aesthetically under a wide variety of environmental conditions. They also capture how the piece interacted with the natural landscape of the Bay Area, as well as with different elements of the near and far cityscape.
Night Watch’s presentation in the San Francisco Bay was produced by two arts non-profits, BOXBLUR and the Immersive Arts Alliance, and was realized in collaboration with 40 local partners, including Bay Area refugee and asylee organizations, arts institutions, and others.
The presentation of Night Watch in San Francisco Bay coincided with a solo exhibition of Shimon Attie’s work at Catharine Clark Gallery.