Elena Mazzoni Wagner
THE MNR Sometimes, the most beautiful ideas come out by chance. And they are as pure and simple as extraordinary. Then also a bus, that you cursed because delayed or cancelled, can become the most important detail of a story to tell. This story begins in Battersea, South West London, one autumn evening in 2005. Inua Ellams // aka phaze05 and his friend have to take a bus that never comes; tired of waiting, they decide to walk and follow the bus route. But then they continue to walk the streets of the city, fascinated by the gloom and the silence: they had never seen London like this. The enthusiasm leads them to wander all around the West End and to discover that even Oxford Street, the most commercial and known road, looks different and more beautiful under the light of the night. That night – Inua doesn’t know yet – “The Midnight Run” begins to exist. Satisfied by this fortuitous experience, he wants to repeat it with some more friends. This time is the summer 2006 and they walk for 12 hours (from 6pm to 6am). From dusk till dawn. “The MNR” was born and the 19th July 2007 is the first “official” time.
Since that time, Inua organizes The MNR once or twice a year, usually in summer (when the temperature is favorable). He emails all his friends and contacts, letting them know the X day he will be at 5.30 pm in the Y place. On the web the news spreads quickly: Inua’s friends send the invitation to their respective contacts and with facebook or twitter the game is easy. And then it happens that some passers-by join along the way. Each time the meeting point is different and the route changes as it’s improvised. London is so huge and various that it’s always a new adventure. Participants are of all nationalities (there are English people, foreigners and tourists) and always around 30: a larger number would be difficult to manage and it would be complicated to create the desired intimacy in a group made mostly by strangers. Every time Inua invites five different local artists: photographers, film makers, painters, singers, musicians, graphic artists, poets, journalists, etc. Some of them use their own art for documenting the tour while others cheer the rest of the group with some live performances. So when they stop walking for a while, in the places they feel attracted to, something happens: they rest a bit, chat, listen to the musician, play football in the park … and in the meanwhile, the videomaker records, the painter portrays people are there, etc.
‘The Midnight Run‘ is an unique experience, both for tourists and citizens: it offers the opportunity to live and discover the city in a different, original and fun way, sharing with strangers – who, as Inua says, get immediately in confidence – unforgettable moments. And Art, in all its forms, is like a glue or magnet: it links all together and unites. Inua collects the artistic material produced during each single ‘Midnight Run’ to publish it in the future. His dream – that CCT supports – is to make this wonderful project a global urban movement.
Untill now, ‘The Midnight Run’ has been made – once or twice a year – in London, where it traditionally ends at Waterloo Bridge. But in the 2009 edition was also made in Manchester and Inua would like to spread the event in all the UK cities – the next one will be Birmingham – and beyond. To keep up to date with places and dates, check here: themnr – next.
Lately, ‘The MDR’ takes place under the name of some festival or major initiative. In these cases, the tour may last only 6 hours (from 18 to 24) and Inua calls it “Mini Run”. Same thing if it’s winter. Participation is almost always free of charge, it may require just a small fee (e.g. £ 5).
“The Midnight Run” is actually about walking and not running. But “Run” sounds better than “Walk”, isn’t it? Anyway the first aim is to know the city from a different point of view, to enjoy the town as you can’t during the day and to explore the quiet mystery of the night. In the middle of the dark, empty and abandoned, mixed with soft lights of stars and street lamps, you can see the city with different eyes. You feel like more free to search, look, gaze, touch, maybe sing, play, run or dance. The night and adventure atmosphere makes everyone more lively and curious.
CCT has long been in love with “The MNR”, its project and its philosophy. We were really happy to see Inua Ellams to talk about it. We met last 15th October in London, Redchurch Street – small and very interesting street in the heart of Shoreditch rich in independent, original and creative shops, cafés, art galleries, etc. – and then we went into the Rich Mix Café. Here Inua told us about his dream: to export “The Midnight Run” everywhere, in every city of the world. For next year 2013, he has already planned Chicago and Singapore. And… We have invited him to come to Italy! So, remind yourself to prepare a pair of comfortable shoes for next summer: CCT will help Inua to promote and organize the MNR tour in (at least) one Italian city. We are very excited to import ‘The Midnight Run’ in Italy! And you? Which city would you like to “run” for a full night in?
INUA ELLAMS (born in 1984 in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria) was a teenager when he moved with his family to the UK. He lives in London for years. He hasn’t studied at university – yet, he says – but his curriculum is frightening. A self-taught, as it seems, who must have spent a lot of time at the library. He has also learned to write HTML (the language of the Internet), so he’s able to manage his own website. He likes to define himself as a “Word and Graphic Artist” because he’s a writer (resident poet at the Tate Modern) and graphic designer. He writes – and performs – especially poetry (here a video). He’s grown up among Classics as William Shakespeare and John Keats, but he’s also influenced by the hip-hop style of Mos Def. In recent years, he has won several literary awards and he’s been recommended by major British newspapers, including The Guardian and The Times. This has called him “London’s hottest new spoken word talent” (2010). Naming just a few of his clients: BBC, Tate Modern, Coca Cola and Puma.
Here Inua explains the meaning of his Art-name, phaze 05:
“So the ’05’ is a metaphor for the power of thought. There are four elements that make up our known world: earth, wind, fire and water, but the fifth that is not mentioned, that ties all four together, shapes the elements into buildings, books, bridges, bentleys, etc is ‘Thought’, it reinvents them together, Thought = 5th element. But the the whole ‘Phaze’ thing came about when I was a kid, I just liked the sound of the word. I tried adopting it as a nickname but no one took it seriously, I was too much of a nerd, and Nicknames are usually given where a name is too complicated, long, common or simple, Charlies become Chucks, Jamie becomes Woony, Berkavitch becomes Berko. In my case Inua is too unusual, has two/three syllables, and is uncomplicated. So curiously, my name stuck. I decided to keep ‘phaze’ alive and to use as a graphic art/design moniker after watching a documentary long ago. It featured a world class turntablist legend and champion, Qbert. Qbert talked about once feeling so at one with the music and the decks that instead of him moving the vinyl, he felt he had zoned out and the universe was playing him… he talked about being in a trance/a synonym for trance is a phaze. So ‘phaze05’ is when the human spirit unites with the fifth element.”
One autumn evening in 2005, a friend and I lost patience waiting for a bus and on a whim decided to walk the bus route. Six hours later we had drifted across London, from Battersea to Chelsea, Victoria, Vauxhall, the west end into the small hours of the morning. Surprised at how fresh and energized we were, and reeling from seeing the deserted streets of the city without its hustle and bustle, from the peace and tranquility of a deserted Oxford street, from being able to glance up without fear of hitting or being hit by something, glance up and look at architecture, from walking the side streets and finding small courtyards, parks, I recreated it in summer, for 12 hours, from 6pm to 6am and The Midnight Run was born. The first three runs ‘06, ‘07, ‘o8 ended with the sunrise on Waterloo Bridge and for core London runs.
Those who come ‘Running’ share a search from things outside the mainstream, a healthy sense of adventure and an openness to be admired. Others I have mentioned The Run to have shown interests and a wish to participate, so I believe the simple but great idea appeals to everyone. It also has adaptablility, The Midnight Run can be shortened, tailored, mapped and themed to holidays, festivals, talks etc. It could be added to the end of events, lead up to the start where audience members and or participants walk through significant places, with guest speakers or artists talking or performing.
There have been similar initiatives explored by artists from an array of backgrounds. From London writer Ian Sinclair to Simon Pope, Chris Nold, Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, Linda Cracknell. But I am inspired by The Situationists, a political and artistic movement between 1957 & 1972. The founders of the movement were tired of the commercialism of art and consumerism and wandered city streets in typical post-war bohemian fashion seeking REAL experiences. Remixed to London 40 years later, The Midnight Run seeks to negate the frenzy and hysteria of mass media, pop culture, hype and reality tv for ACTUAL reality and the simplicity and intimacy of walking and talking. The idea is to reclaim the streets of a city, dispel the idea of danger after dark, particularly in our times, and try to discover after dark.It is to inhabit the confines of glass, concrete, steel and structure, as a child does a maze; with as much innocence and wonderment as is natural. It is to situate meetings of strangers and watch them become friends in a short time. It asks contemporary creatives to interact with the city, to respond to it by making art (there by documenting) based on the experiences within The Midnight Run. It is about living the magic of the space of the city with its inhabitants. In the Midnight Motto, ‘star’ can be taken literally, or as a metaphor for art, artists, experiences and the dwellers of the city. In which case it takes on a beauty and importance:
- The Midnight Run //
- Cause we can’t see stars for fumes
- we turn to smashed glass, believing
- shards shine like constellations do.
In the future, I would like The Midnight Run will become an urban movement. This begins by tailoring runs for specific celebrations, festivals or events (these would be from 6 to 12pm mini run). Ideas include a Black History Month, Day of remembrance, May Day, Christmas etc… I want to present all the work created by the artists in Pdf form and made available to anyone to download. The Pdf would later become 3 dimensional in the form of live events such as exhibitions, or live performances. Long-term goals for the Run include taking it out of London to other cities, then a season of Runs in major European cities, and beyond. At the start of each year, all previous Runs would be documented in a published book + cd. Art forms would include Photography, Illustration, Graphic novels, Film making, Poetry, Prose, Sculpture, Painting, Music Production, Spoken Word, Animation and street / Graffiti art.