Whitechapel Gallery stays up late for one night only.

White Chapel Building. Photograph courtesy of Derwent.

White Chapel Building. Photograph courtesy of Derwent.

Tomorrow night: art, music, toasties, free entry and a 9-11pm happy hour?

For one night only this Saturday, East London’s Whitechapel Gallery will host Nocturnal Creatures, its inaugural late-night contemporary arts festival. The line-up? An array of sculpture, sound and live performance by a diverse range of artists and musicians.

Held in association with annual arts festival Sculpture in the City, it will feature heavyweights who have previously shown at the event, such as Marina Abramovic, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas.

The setup includes other local spaces within walking distance of the gallery, who will also keep their doors open late into the night, as well as artist-led tours celebrating the rich history of the area.

To kickstart the evening check out contributing Peruvian artist Lucia Monge, who performs her signature Plantón Móvil, or “walking forests”, all over the world. She’ll lead a crowd of people down Brick Lane, carrying plant life from flowers to fully-grown trees. To help raise awareness for ecological consciousness, or as an alternative Saturday night pre-drinks, get down for 6pm to take part. Intrigued, we caught up with Lucia to find out more…

Lucia Monge’s Plantón Móvil, 2011. Photograph courtesy of Jorge Ochoa.

Lucia Monge’s Plantón Móvil, 2011. Photograph courtesy of Jorge Ochoa.

Where did you come up with the idea for the walking forest?
It started in 2010 while I was walking around Lima, my hometown. I wondered what it would be like to encounter a walking forest that had taken to the streets like any other group of people would do, demanding respect.

How many walks have you done?
Usually, I organize one Plantón Móvil per year since 2010. However, this will be the third Plantón Móvil this year. The first one in 2018 was organized in Lima by a group of people who are rallying support for the first National Botanical Garden in Lima. I helped organise a bit from a distance but it was mainly them spearheading the project. The second happened in June, in collaboration with teachers and pupils from Willow Brook Primary School. I was invited by Kirsty Lowry to participate in Whitechapel Gallery’s School Residency Program and spent two weeks in the school doing a series of workshops with the children in preparation for the walk.

Who gets involved?
People of all ages and backgrounds get involved, from children to grandmothers. Some people are attracted to the project from an art perspective, and others have environmental concerns and are mobilised to advocate for greener cities for all. One of my favourite things about the project is that everyone who participates will explain their reason for joining from a slightly different angle, but the overall intention is a shared one.

What’s the atmosphere like when you do it?
I think participants take the action seriously and understand this as a gesture of solidarity to plants, an action that carries meaning. At the same time it’s fun, and funny, to be walking with plants and encounter the comments and gazes of other passers-by.

What is the ultimate message you’re trying to send?
Plantón Móvil walks against the mistreatment of plants and trees in the city, advocates for the accessibility of public green spaces as a basic right for all and promotes the value of native and other species that have adapted to the local environment. Ultimately, it also about recognising plants and trees as our living neighbours in the city – living-beings that cohabit with us.

What type of art do you consider this? A mix of performance art and protest?
Definitively a mix. I talk about it as a collaborative performance – a participatory project with environmental concerns. I tend to focus more on the language I use to describe the intention of the project. For example, we build props to move with the plants and I call them “plant and human connectors” to emphasise the connection side instead of the carrying aspect. I call it the “walking forest” and describe it as an opportunity for “exchange”: we lend plants mobility and in return we borrow some of their stillness.

What do you hope your art will achieve?
I hope to offer an alternative way of thinking about plants, starting with the ones living with us. I cannot control what the individual experience is of those participating, but I believe that putting oneself in something’s shoes, in this case roots, is a form of empathy. I hope that is communicated, lasts past the mobilisation and inspires a change that starts with paying attention.

Rosie Byers