Art Night 1 wooosh
Wooosh Gallery, Perth Road, 2023

In the first full iteration of Art Night outside London, ‘Dundee’ is as much the theme as it is the location for this edition of the event: director Helen Nisbet urges audiences to listen to the city’s own Michael Marra and Billy McKenzie from the Associates, and to eat fudge doughnuts. It makes a change from rattling off jute, jam and journalism, the three mainstays of Dundee’s historical industry, and instead draws out alternative reference points for visitors and riffs off the local pride of Dundee’s living culture. Art Night also makes a welcome shift in its celebration of contemporary art in the city, moving away from the focus on design which has somewhat dominated since the V&A Dundee first landed. With commissions sited at familiar city visitor sites such as the Discovery and DCA, the programme leads attendees from (literal) flagships to places ‘off the beaten track’, while opening up opportunities for local people to experience their city in a new evening glow.

Without an overarching theme, the night’s offering has been devised around artist ‘commissions’ and a community-centred ‘Inwith’ programme. Inwith contrasts with the inferred ‘outwith’ of the commissions, engaging variably with local contexts and including one Dundee-based artist, Saoirse Amira Anis. Performing in vivid red costume through the night, Saoirse processes from her solo-exhibition symphony for a fraying body at DCA to the waterfront. In her last performance of the evening as an amorphous sea creature, she leads on-lookers along the glistening moonlit river Tay to another ship, the historic Unicorn. Here, she submits her own creaturely headdress to the water and whips discarded tendrils around the interior of the vessel.

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Saoirse Amira Anis, Breach of a Fraying Body, 2023. Photo: Tom Nolan. Courtesy Art Night

A few projects arrived as seemingly straightforward presentations of welcomed elsewheres, while opening up interesting conversations about crossovers in venue, audience and access between contemporary art and local theatre. Slick single-channel films screen through the night by Maria Fusco in collaboration with Margaret Salmon at Dundee Rep Theatre and by Tai Shani at the home of the Dundee Dramatic Society, the Little Theatre. In the heat of the surrounding, hectic activity, viewers could take time to sit back and watch these artists’ worlds open up. Tai Shani’s My Bodily Remains, Your Bodily Remains, And All The Bodily Remains That Ever Were, And Ever Will Be could also be viewed on the TV in the Little Theatre’s comfy bar with an ice cold drink.

At Baxter Park Pavilion, Richy Carey’s project {stereo - type - music} draws directly on the rich publishing history of Dundee, producing a newspaper publication with visual scores and delving into the original meanings of words that came out of processes on the printers-floor. [2] Assembling a group from community choirs and interested willing participants through open workshops (I must say here I join this category), the work plays with ideas of stereotype and cliché, and how difference is held and valued amid a clamour for attention in the political and public arena. Voices in the glass-fronted pavilion soar, packed out for the first performance, the sound set up to spill out into the park. At the end, Richy persuades the audience, handing out newsprint scores, to join the choir.

Close by in Stobswell, at the historic Carnegie Arthurstone Library, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s installation The Lack: I Knew Your Voice Before You Spoke takes the form of a video game: visitors become players navigating (or watching) a ‘mid-apocalyptic’ world. Intertwining lived experience with fiction, Braithwaite-Shirley’s work aims imaginatively to retell the stories of Black Trans people—here, dance-mat style plastic-y floor buttons in a black crater and a microphone in the corner act as the interface for participants to react to scenarios, questions and prompts that pop up on screen. In a shop-front back in town, NEoN Digital Arts invites visitors to create their own narrative through zine and poster making, and to read Danielle’s zine [3], a component of her Art Night project.

Art Night The Lack by Danielle Brathwaite Shirley 8
Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, extract from zine The Lack, 2023

Here, in the Keiller centre shopping mall, a recent transformation has been underway. The space is becoming somewhat of an arts hub and is now home to Federation Gallery, Volk Gallery and NEoN. This is where I bump into the Dundee Cycle Hub tour group, daubed in sweat-smudged face paint and watching glamrock kick-jumping guitarist Connor Liam Byrne and his band The Bad Kisses, where Federation Gallery had turned its shop front into a stage for the occasion.

Later, I experience the evening again, playing it out on social media, with its insights into performances missed and realisations that people who you hadn’t caught up with, were there. There’s an image of artist David Sherry in the Keiller centre—as part of his Volk Gallery commission—caked in margarine all up his arm and gleeful face. At Generator Projects the very idea of the function of art events as a social arena feels close to the surface in The Hi-Visit, a project from Dundee artist Euan Taylor AKA Inefficient Solutions. Much of the gallery is dedicated to a queue for a take-home photo opportunity: dress up in hi-vis vests, hard hat and glasses, and shake hands with a man (an actor) wearing the same thing. This is all enacted against the backdrop of a mountain of rubbish—a discarded Art Night leaflet sitting on top—gathered from the streets by Generator’s committee and volunteers wearing caps reading ‘Dinnae be a mink’ and branded jumpers. Following Art Night a fairly uniform stream of these photos fill Instagram, showing in a congratulatory pose, who was there. More here:

Just along Perth Road at Wooosh Gallery the question seems to be: what is the ‘nature’ of a park, what can be nurtured? Spurred by a rebranding of the ‘carpark’—which the group use for frequent, impromptu paste-ups and satirical critical discussion—to a ‘park’, the artist-run project coordinates the arrival of wheelbarrows festooned with plants and decorations, each put together by a different community garden in the city. ‘Awards’ cut from Art Night leaflets are doled out with much laughter while drawings of flowers by the audience are added to the brick walls. Nearby, the West End Community Fridge stays open late.

Over at another car park, the Greenmarket, artist Emma Hart invites us to dance the night away among her cardboard sculptures. BIG UP embraces the freedom and flexibility of temporary materials and venues, in contrast to the longevity of the ceramic sculptures like BIG TIME (currently on show at Hospitalfield) that she is known for. BIG UP puts a giant two fingers up at taking things too seriously, and tells us to ‘have a good time’.


Art Night Photo credit Tom Nolan BIG UP
Emma Hart, BIG UP, Greenmarket car park, 2023. Photo: Tom Nolan. Courtesy Art Night

Art Night felt somewhat like a coordinated opening night, generating that ‘openings feeling’ that makes it hard to focus on any work at all. In these circumstances, we usually say, ‘I’ll come back for a proper look’. This one-off occasion did not offer much opportunity to do that, save at a few choice venues. On the other hand, it’s hard to deny the positive buzz of specially late-opening cafes, music in bars and shops as well as aboard the Discovery, one of Nabihah Iqbal’s commissioned musical interventions. All added to the feeling that something is happening—everywhere. This celebratory air was accentuated by the coincidental same night scheduling of the University of Dundee graduation ball (a whole funfair set up on campus) and a major Scottish independence conference in the Caird Hall: in this small city these big events were very visible to each other. Art Night’s less bombastic, quieter, perhaps felt a little lost against the clamour of this city wide programme. Though a real enjoyment to hear about visitors’ encounters with work by recent DJCAD graduates in The Binn—wheelie bins containing artwork by Jade Smith, Connor Leslie and Anna Brodie—the event, in highlighting them, also illustrated the lack of space available for the city’s emerging artists.

It felt a bit like participating in events like Glasgow International. Something on this scale does not usually happen in Dundee: it’s a rare thing to experience this scale of art-buzz in your library, shopping centre, or (car)park, though that is not to say nothing happens in these places at other times. At the core of the Art Night Dundee approach, is an amplification of place: collaborations with year-round organisations and local projects, a local team on the ground. A week or so on, as Dundee settles back into its usual rhythm, streets quiet with students gone for the summer, I am left with a sense that I would like to have seen more of this event available for longer.

‘Festivalisation’ and its particular hallmarks of super-programming and spectacle—is a much written about phenomenon within contemporary art and cultural life in Scotland more generally, such as in the context of Edinburgh Festivals [4]. Particularly, the pace and resources taken by festivals can feel at odds with a desire and appetite for year-round support of the arts and communities [5].

This particular programme seemed to ask, what does a functioning or even thriving civic realm look like? In a place like Baxter Park, gifted to the people of the city, how are resources collectively used and managed? Using venues like Arthurstone Library and collaborating with other civic spaces against the backdrop of widespread cuts to social and cultural services like libraries and struggling town centres, what does it mean and take to be ‘open’ to all?

Hearteningly, some of the work produced for Inwith will be around for a while. The billboard made by Dundee Women’s Aid and one at Perth Road’s EH9 cafe can still be spotted; Volk Gallery’s edition by David Sherry can be dispensed to you for 3 x £1 coins at the Keiller Centre; ​​Dundee Heritage Trust’s Creative Communities Network poster project adorns hoardings at Slessor Gardens (exploring an array of local and global issues raised by climate change); hopefully more consequences from this event will have a lasting effect.

In the immediate aftermath, I visit Hospitalfield in Arbroath, where Emma Hart’s ceramic sundials BIG TIME take in the long summer sun until September. I go back to Cooper Gallery (I had missed the live event Mourning Ritual, Heather Phillipson’s ode to the spirits of dead/dying creatures), to see the full run through of her new film Dream Land: archival wildlife documentary footage re-hashed into a fragmentary narrative of existential apocalyptic dread. At V&A Lucy McKenzie’s new film Náhrdelník (Necklace) lingers discreetly on a box monitor in the Mackintosh Oak Room. I wander back to Wooosh to see the remnants of the paraded plants and paste-ups. And at DCA, Saoirse Amira Anis’s new publication, made to coincide with her solo show, lost on its launch night, is available there now.

Director Helen Nisbet writes of her programme’s communal spirit, its boosting of city morale and economics, its offer to enjoy some Dundee cultural events. This happened: people gathered, stayed in hotels for the weekend, bought pints and fudge doughnuts and Clarks’ 24hr bakery goods, buzzed between groups of friends, moaned about sore feet and lack of time, oo-ed and ahh-ed, danced and laughed and gazed at the midsummer night’s close sunset and sunrise. Following restrictions of the last few years it really did feel ‘special’ to have full houses of guests, reunions in the streets, and packed venues, unimaginable not so long ago. Watching so many handshakes take place at Generator Projects threw visions of pandemic hand-hygiene protocols further back into time.

The good will of the local art scene towards a moment like this was clearly evidenced in cross-organisational collaboration and the tireless efforts of the dedicated local Art Night crew. What was also visible were the usual strains on small teams and festival hierarchies, of how VIPs and press sporting bags and wristbands could skip the queues and enjoy a precious extra few hours in the afternoon to make their way round the commissions. It was after all a big occasion and there would be some big guests, expectations and demands. For punters anyway, the evening hours were fast and light-hearted.

Trying not to get bogged down by the feeling of missing something is tough when you want to show up for people and organisations. In a small scene reciprocity and making an effort is an important part of supporting the continuation of spaces and practices you want to see thrive, and I’m glad that many of these were able to welcome the throngs that night. Perhaps it is better to see the night as one big performance of what can be possible in Dundee—with the injection of more money and energy. This perspective allows a view of the event as a test, while playing out some of the usual dramas, the highs and lows, all over in a flash.

How can we reactivate some of that energy, not just of the coordinated buzz of late gallery openings, but the arena made for performance work; for collaboration between artists and communities; for cross-pollination between music, theatre, visual art and audiences; for activating spaces; for the cross-city hubbub? Two events ‘Taking Space’ and ‘Making Space’ were programmed by Art Night and Creative Dundee to explore just that—the latter taking place on 11 July. [6]

Wooosh scrawled on the back of a cut-up Art Night programme leaflet and pasted up: You missed it? Be there or be square. I hope that Art Night prompts greater nourishment and appreciation of Dundee’s visual art scene, and that you—square or not—might come back for more.


Alison Scott is an artist, writer and art-worker who often works with other artists on projects. She is based in Angus.

More info on Art Night here:


[1] Title of article: Yes, this is a nod to Frozen’s ‘big summer blow out’

[2] See Richy Carey’s introduction ‘how does this voice sound?’ within the specially produced newspaper edition designed and printed by Yala Riso.

[3] Available at:

[4] For example within the MAP archive, Marcus Jack spoke of ‘the endorsement of festivalisation within Scottish cultural policy’: ‘This neoliberal rebalancing redirects funds from the inglorious business of year-round support and concerted investment in artistic production, to the festival—a highly visible but short-run interface with audiences, easily measured and easily reconciled within the content creation campaign of city branding.’

[5] See campaigns around the closure of the Filmhouse ( and Belmont cinemas (; fundraising for Wester Hailes Community Wellbeing Collective ([3] More” class=”redactor-autoparser-object”>… info can be found on these events here:

[6] More info can be found on these events here: