Think of it as an art-based all-nighter. Nuit Blanche (literally “white night,” which means to pass a sleepless night) is an urban, late-night art event that originated in Paris a little over a decade ago and is now found in cities all over the world. Running into the wee hours or all the way to dawn, people are encouraged to explore their city and enjoy art installations and performances set up along the way.
As of September 15, Calgary will be able to claim membership to the Nuit Blanche club (one more feather in the 2012 hat). And, as director and curator Wayne Baerwaldt explains, Calgary’s Nuit Blanche is destined to have a different flavour than its sister events in other cities.
“Hopefully Nuit Blanche [Calgary] remains as a performance art based event — which is different from other Nuits Blanches, which are usually open to anything and everything, from installation art to sculpture to light shows to performance,” he says, also noting the corporate branding of Toronto’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche is something Calgary would prefer to avoid.
“It’s not a lot of razzle-dazzle and sparklers and bubbles, it’s something more — one should leave with a certain impression of the power of performance art.”
What’s in store for Calgarians is a selection of experiential, interactive art performances that last eight hours — so the 8 p.m. crowd may very well have a different experience than the 2 a.m.-ers. You might find yourself riding a junk-turned-art handmade carousel, or watching the artists (Quebec-based trio BGL) perform on and around it. Or maybe you’ll find yourself dancing with performer Emily Promise Allison, or being interviewed by supremely extroverted Noam Gonick, a.k.a. Bomb Shalom.
Have something to say? Submit it via text to Sophie Farewell, a collective of three artists who will be relaying messages in the style of town criers. Rough day? Stop for an artistic tipple in The Candahar, a sculpture that mimics a historic Belfast pub. Or, if the September darkness is getting to you, switch on the lights in Cloud, a sculpture by Caitlind Brown composed of 5,000 light bulbs.
“I was interested in a particular type of performance art that was subtle. Certainly most are interactive, engaging, for not just an art audience but the general public,” says Baerwaldt. The pieces, he continues, “are absolutely unique and they allow, in most cases, for the public to get close to an artist, and a performance artist at that.... Here, the artist is present, the artist is available, the artist is there in real time. You’re absolutely up close and in touch with the artist and I think it allows for us to appreciate the art process and the artist in a very different way.”
Baerwaldt also acknowledges the challenges of hosting a civic event that runs until three in the morning in what is perceived as a danger zone (downtown after hours). To allay fears, there are elements such as a lost and found, and health and safety tents, as well as student monitors on hand to help orient visitors — not to mention a couple food trucks.
It may not be like the Nuit Blanche of other climes, but Baerwaldt hopes that Calgarians walk away with an appreciation for the art process and that they “rethink” their relationship to a space (the space being downtown) and time (the time being after midnight). “Can art actually be that connective tissue for us to feel more confident in, and open about, the creative process that is before us, initiated and driven by live artists?
“This form of engagement with the artist and the art process — can that be a catalyst that is strong enough to get people to think differently about the downtown? Can it be a starting point?”
The show starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. Have fun, Calgary.