By a random set of coincidences and fortuitious connections made, I ended up on the guest list for the 4th night of Shunt’s new vault experiment on Saturday night. For those not in the know, Shunt are a site-specific London theatre company who over the last ten years have been continually pushing various envelopes with exciting, funny and immersive productions; the venue is a set of disused railway vaults off London Bridge which for the last couple of years have been London’s absolutely trendiest night out. Much, as I found out talking to some of the crew, to the company’s chagrin; what began as a beautiful venue for live art, combining the social pleasures of a night out with space for innovative performance, turned into a money-grinding meat-market for trendy and wealthy clubbers and pseuds. So when the venue got threatened with closure and then was fortuitously rescued, the company decided to take it back to its low-fi beginnings, aiming for a relax, snug, understated arts space.
Well, I did have a great night, all the better for being free. There were paintings and sculpture, mashed-up film and soundscape works, and contemporary dance and live art — all in a series of atmospheric candlelit caverns. Highlights for me were Larry Marrotta‘s bleached-out and rescored silent films, a heartbreaking dance to experimental double-blass music called Snowflakes on Mars, and a musician who worked wonders with a music box, a violin and a repeater pedal — if anyone knows his name, I’ll give them a kiss.
But a couple of things bothered me. The first was the architecture of the social space. There were lots of interesting rooms, comfy chairs, and strange things to lounge on — but tables were all separated from one another, and dim lighting made it hard to see or recognise people. That design keeps you bound to a small, tight social group and discourages minglings, meetings. There were couples making out in most corners. Why design it like this? If the focus is on the art rather than the club aspect, then I can see the connection, but I don’t think it works. and in an art space I’m expecting to meet interesting people without having to tap randoms on the shoulder. A shame.
Far more serious was the problem with the people. Look, I’m new to London, I don’t really know what’s going on. So when I rolled up to the door at 8.15 to see several hundred people queued in a rammy outside, I was pretty shocked. I didn’t know it was going to be this trendy. Fortunately I was able to breeze past them, waltz up to the door and tell the lone hassled security man that I was on the list. Sweet. But apart from my smugness, there did turn out to be a real issue. Look, I do not have much money, and I care about art. But my God, the expense of some of the clothes and hairstyles and shoes in there. Yes, I’m prejudiced. But there was a definite correlation between the demonstrative wealth of an attendee and the likelihood of them being one of the shouty, shovey tossers who seemed to dominate the space. Real obnoxious London club-goers. People pushing through queues and trying to shout their way into rooms, abusing Shunt volunteers. So the question is, why is such a beautiful space still attracting this crowd? And what do Shunt think about it? Is my prejudice getting the better of me? What are they going to do with their experiment? Where’s it going? How do you shake off the cachet you’ve gained? Do you need to? I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.