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“How do I get art in front of people?” 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, gallery owners such as Catharine Clark, of San Francisco’s Catharine Clark Gallery, have had to consider this question.

For Clark, visual artist Shimon Attie’s “Night Watch” — a media arts installation featuring a large, high-resolution LED screen on a floating barge — was a “COVID proof” project to get behind. 

The installation is co-produced by BOXBLUR, Clark’s initiative to bring visual and performing art into dialogue within her gallery space, and Immersive Arts Alliance, a nonprofit that presents immersive, experimental art from the global arts community.

“Through the entire pandemic, the focus has been ‘How do I continue to get our energy in front of people if they can’t walk physically into my space?’,” Clark says. “With this project, we knew we could be outside a lot more safely than inside.”

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The film displayed on the barge’s 20-foot-wide LED screen focuses on 12 refugees from five continents. As Clark explained, some of the refugees featured in these “video portraits” identify as LGBTQIA+; others are under 18; all have their own particular stories and reasons for fleeing their countries. However, the film itself is silent: Each individual walks from the background to the foreground and pauses, and then the next one appears. 

“There’s a certain contemplative aspect to it,” Clark says of the film in an interview. “It has a kind of gravitas … nobody’s defining themselves.”

Many refugees enter the United States via waterways, so presenting the installation on a barge has particular relevance. As Clark explains, “Shimon [Attie] felt like from an accuracy standpoint and also from a metaphoric standpoint that showing the work on the water is really important.” 

The barge’s departure from Angel Island on Friday, the inaugural night of its activation, is also significant: Historically, the island was a West Coast point of entry for many immigrants.

A refugee named Norris was featured on the “Night Watch” barge when it was originally produced by More Art in New York City in 2018. (Photo courtesy BOXBLUR/Immersive Arts Alliance)

Thoughtful considerations like these have factored into every aspect of “Night Watch” — including when to have the installation “set sail” on the San Francisco Bay. Ultimately, September was selected due to the nice, warmer weather and the decreased likelihood of elements that could damage the technology on the barge, such as rough water and rain, and that could affect the LED screen’s visibility, such as fog.

And seeing the dozen refugees on the LED screen, as the barge slowly proceeds along its course, is key. While Attie’s artwork is unquestionably social justice-focused, addressing the issue of political asylum, it also asks viewers to see these and all refugees in the most straightforward of ways: as people.

Clark says, “They’re just asking you, in a sense, to look at them as human beings. So, in that way, it’s not even political. It’s really about these people’s humanity. It’s about how we see ourselves in them.”

What a valuable perspective to have and hold of one another during a pandemic that continues to affect everyone.

‘Night Watch’ viewing opportunities

All times are estimates, and subject to change.

  • 7:15-7:45 p.m. Friday — visible from Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, 2 Marina Blvd., San Francisco.
  • 7:45-8:10 p.m. Friday — passes Pier 39 and then Pier 15, near the Exploratorium.
  • 8:10-9 p.m. Friday — visible from outside seating at the Waterbar (399 The Embarcadero, San Francisco) and EPIC Steak (369 The Embarcadero, San Francisco) near the Bay Bridge with live music by the Motown/funk band The Renaissance.
  • 6:15-6:35 p.m. Saturday — visible from Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture in San Francisco.
  • 6:35-7:45 p.m. Saturday — passes Pier 39; Pier 15, near the Exploratorium (pauses here for 20 minute starting at 7:15 p.m.); the Waterbar and EPIC Steak in San Francisco.
  • 8-9 p.m. Saturday — visible from Warm Water Cove Park, 300 24th St., San Francisco.
  • 6:15-8:15 p.m. Sunday — visible from Brooklyn Basin, 288 Ninth Ave., Oakland, with music by The Renaissance (6:15 p.m.) and then at Jack London Square, 472 Water St., Oakland, with music by Citizens Jazz (6:50 p.m.).

Details: https://cclarkgallery.com/exhibitions/night-watch-2021-schedule

‘Night Watch’ events

Friday
Free, Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, 2 Marina Blvd., San Francisco. Pre-registration for seats at the Cowell Theater has sold out.

  • 5-6:45 p.m.: Fort Mason Center presents its Fall Arts Preview Party with artwork across the campus and food trucks.
  • 7:15-7:45 p.m.: Viewing of the “Night Watch” barge from Pier 2.
  • 6:30-9 p.m.: Tabling by nonprofit organizations providing services to refugees and immigrants at the Cowell Theater’s inside and outside lobbies, with live Latin folk music by Calleson.
  • 6:35 p.m.-9 p.m.: Starting at Pier 2 and moving between the pier and Cowell Theater, the “Night Watch” inauguration program features a Lenora Lee Dance performance of excerpts from “Within These Walls,” an introduction to “Night Watch” artist Shimon Attie, the viewing of the “Night Watch” barge outside and screenings of SF Dance Film Festival’s program “Dancers Without Borders,” Attie’s video “The View From Below” and Ido Bartana and Nadim Badiee’s film, “Painful Silence.”

Details: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/night-watch-at-fort-mason-september-17-tickets-166226635341

Saturday
The panel at Minnesota Street Project (1275 Minnesota St., San Francisco) is sold out, but can be livestreamed for $5. The following outdoor procession from the Minnesota Street Project to Warm Water Cove Park, 300 24th St., San Francisco, is free.

  • 6-7:15 p.m.: Livestream the sold-out panel discussion on the role of amplifying social justice issues. Featuring artists Shimon Attie, Zeina Barakeh, Ana Teresa Fernández, and nonprofit representatives Jilma L. Meneses (CEO, Catholic Charities) and Blaine Bookey (legal director, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies). Moderated by Elena Gross (board member of Immersive Arts Alliance and director of exhibitions and curatorial affairs, Museum of the African Diaspora).
  • 7:30-9 p.m.: A musical procession led by the brass band Mission Delirium will march less than a half mile along 24th street to Warm Water Cove to view “Night Watch” from shore.

Details: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/shimon-atties-night-watch-tickets-164353877873

Sunday
Free, the “Night Watch” barge will travel along the shoreline of the Oakland Estuary.

  • 6:15-8:15 p.m.: Viewing parties take place at Brooklyn Basin, 288 Ninth Ave., Oakland, with music by The Renaissance (6:15 p.m.) and then at Jack London Square, 472 Water St., Oakland, with music by Citizens Jazz (6:50 p.m.).

Details: https://www.immersiveartsalliance.org/nightwatch/sunday-september-19-night-watch-comes-to-oakland