This month-long arts festival aims to open up lost spaces and animate areas along the historic hinterland of Bankside to the south of the river Thames. MERGE sees both up-and-coming artists and established stars interpreting this year’s theme of science and discovery with installations, exhibitions and musical performances set inside buildings and parts of the borough that are usually closed off from the public.
Highlights this year include Candy Chang’s 'Sidewalk Psychiatry', which aims to give you therapy, whether you want it or not, while you're walking around. Various slogans have been daubed on the ground to try and help you with your issues (and perhaps encourage you to develop new ones).
Meanwhile, Alex Chinneck has built a house of wax near Southwark’s oldest candle-making factory. This will slowly melt over the course of the festival until there is nothing left but the roof, flat on the ground. Called ‘A Pound of Flesh for 50p’, the work is said to explore the science of melting points (right) and is, according to the artist, “excitingly finite” (we can’t argue with that).
In a disused building on Borough High Street, artist Peter William Holden fuses music and technology with a series of robotic installations. These feature synthetic jazz hands and tap-dancing shoes that the public can manipulate to create songs and effects.
Then, drifting off the science topic a tad, is high-profile duo Bompas & Parr whose ‘Sensed Presence’ aims to recreate the effects of paranormal activity. A specially designed headpiece is said to stimulate the part of the brain most susceptible to supernatural experiences — and presumably encourage a light bit of freaking out. Inspired by Bankside’s many ghost stories, let’s hope the awoken spirits are impressed by the conceptual artwork they are being made to be a part of.
Alongside the art, the Riverside Stage located by Tate Modern will host a series of live music events every Saturday and Sunday. The most interesting of these may be FREQUENCIES - Tune into Life on 27 September and 5 October, developed in association with the Science Gallery. Here musicians will create experimental sounds that evoke biological phenomena such as blood-cells, fertilisation, birth and breathing. Similarly wacky is a special programme of musical theatre set inside a gold Safari caravan from the 70s. Four people at a time can enjoy one of Robin Steegman’s intimate performances — then presumably walk along looking for Candy Chang’s psychiatric graffiti to help them deal with it.
MERGE Festival is curated by Illuminate Productions and is supported by Tate Modern and the Business Improvement District, Better Bankside. It takes place from 18 September - 19 October. For more information go to the festival's website or visitbankside.com