Review of 3 am: wonder, paranoia and the restless night, The Bluecoat, Liverpool

3 am can be an extraordinary hour when some fear ghosts and monsters are on the prowl, when animals feel able to move without human detection and the young feel able to express themselves freely. The Bluecoat’s latest exhibition, 3 am: wonder, paranoia and the restless night brings together the work of 22 artists whose work explores this nocturnal hour, capturing and commenting on the activity of those who utilise its time.

Curated by Angela Kingston (herself a confessed insomniac), the exhibition’s concept emerged from Kingston’s discovery of shared preoccupations within the work of several artists. Meticulously researched, the final hang creates intimate discussions between selected artist’s works, highlighting these shared interests.

In Michael Palm and Will Doner’s video Body Trail, a group of athletic youths run the city streets at night to find cover, a doorway or phone box and proceed to neatly stack on top of one another like timid animals frozen in motion by passing humans. In Anthony Giocolea’s film Sleepers, figures in colourful sleeping bags roll and wriggle around a lamp-lit cul-de-sac, like a teenage sleepover ran riot. Both works evoke that same sense of adventure and freedom the young can experience at this hour.

Anj Smith’s small delicate glossy paintings are precious capsules of how the night’s landscape provides refuge for humans and animals alike. Opposite, Lucy Reynold’s film Nocturne documents the mysterious activity on a park lake at night. Opening the camera shutter for three seconds per frame the result is a mysterious quivering landscape exposing the water birds night time habits and creating the same sense of night refuge as Smith’s paintings.

Tonico Lemos Auad’s curiously shaped white lace orbs Sleep Walkers, hang like delicate night lights next to Bettina van Zwehl’s Untitled photographs of three women who have been woken from the deepest point of sleep (one is Sophy Ricket, whose photograph’s Pissing Women are also exhibited). The clinical whiteness of both works acts as a reminder of how sleep cleanses the mind of the previous day, preparing and refreshing us for the next.

Upstairs, large photographs from Danny Treacy’s series Them hang menacingly. Treacy fashions these full body costumes from garments abandoned on the street or dredged from the Thames and then wears them creating life size mutant self-portraits which emerge from a black background.

As Francis Alÿs’s film Nightwatch catches your eye, it feels the art works’ conversations have been dominated by the strength of the video works, overshadowing those of more traditional media; more a personal visitor comment than a curatorial criticism. A fox let loose in the National Portrait Gallery at night, it scurries around exploring its new surroundings and leaves us contemplating what might happen within these gallery walls at 3am.

Emma Sumner

3 am: wonder, paranoia and the restless night, until 24 November, The Bluecoat, School Lane, Liverpool, L1 3BX.

Image: Cinto Sandra, We are star dust. Courtesy The Bluecoat