Jeanne Kollée

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Nuit Blanche Calgary takes back the downtown night with performance art fest








Nuit Blanche is back.

The free, late-night art festival, which drew an estimated 10,000 Calgarians of all ages, stripes and sensibilities downtown in 2012 returns Saturday night, around 7 p.m., to Olympic Plaza and City Hall.

It’s the Calgary edition of an arts idea that has spread around the world, from Paris to Iceland to Toronto and elsewhere, of taking art out of the galleries and museums and into the streets and parks of the world’s most dynamic cities.


Back in 2012, curator Wayne Baerwaldt wasn’t quite sure how Calgary would embrace the idea of an open air, late-night festival of performance art.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” he says.

“Because we didn’t have any money for advertising. We thought we’d get maybe 300 people — the friends of friends of friends of people involved.

“And,” he says, “we thought, maybe that’s good enough to start out. Let’s see what happens.”

What happened was a that a new kind of mass gathering was created with Nuit Blanche.


It wasn’t drunken, or loud, raving or protesting.

It presented artists up and close and personal, so that people who never set foot in a gallery or museum could experience artists at work.All of that, says Baerwaldt, will continue with this year’s Nuit Blanche, which aims to be less of a stadium concert, or an outdoor art fair, and more of an intimate gathering.


“That’s one of the hallmarks of Nuit Blanche,” says Baerwaldt.

“We’re not interested in having a million people or 100,000 people,” he says.

“We’re interested,” he says, ”in some sort of negotiated intimacy (between artist and audience) — and that doesn’t really happen in theatre, and it doesn’t really happen in most Nuit Blanche events (in other cities like Paris, or Toronto).”


What can Calgary look for, and interact with, Saturday night? Here’s a small sampling of selections.


* Sally and Jorge Orta, a pair of Paris-based artists, are presenting Symphony for Absent Wildlife in the plaza in front of City Hall. For this symphony, Orta fuses inspirations ranging from aboriginal mythology, to the universal symbol of the blanket. She has created masks of bighorn sheep, elk, buffalo and other western plains animals out of old, donated military blankets, which her symphony of volunteers will wear. The plaza will be filled with sound of 40 game whistles (mixed into a symphony by a couple of London art students) as Orta pays tribute to plains wilderness that doesn’t exist so much in downtown Calgary anymore. “It’s about bringing nature back to the city,” says Orta. “That’s one aspect of it. We’re also bringing in some tree trunks to create a kind of forest clearing, which will be a small arena for the orchestra to arrive at some point in this clearing and then the performance will begin.”


* M.E. D. I. U. M, four artists from Lethbridge, each with a tent, will tell fortunes — and says Baerwaldt, occasionally break into country and western song. “Each have a particular approach to reading futures,” Baerwaldt says, “reading palms — so we’re very much looking forward to them.”


* Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Milan will give what Baerwaldt describes as a feminist take on astronauts with Astro Art Space Corps. “It has you thinking very differently,” says Baerwaldt, “about space and space travel and the drama of it, the theatricality of the whole PR push behind this drive into space.”


* Montreal artists Mara Marxt Lewis and Tyler Lewis, whose sum total is an installation which explores the idea of the creative process itself.” They’re doing a whole installation of objects, original sound and performance of course, the performance of body,” Baerwaldt says. “They’re kind of doing something in a roundabout way that is on people’s minds when you talk about the creative class, or cultural cities — and of course you find out (from them) how intangible it is, how every creative act is based on time, space, and luck.”


* Berlin’s Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, who will be represented by voices, says Baerwaldt, “a whole series of very sensuous voice-based recordings that are to be presented in the mezzanine park on the other side of the entrance to City Hall.”


There’s also two bars, innumerable food trucks, and a Nuit Blanche app — available on iTunes and Google Playstore — that will notify people when a performance is about to commence.


Although for Nuit Blanche, Calgary style, Baerwaldt says it may help to think of the whole night as one big interactive, experiential art installation — where the spectators are as much a part of the event as the artists

“We’re encouraging people to stick around and watch how pieces unfold over time,” he says. “There’s great food and drinks to be had, so you can have a social evening, and see something (you just saw again) two or three hours later.”


In fact, one of the best things about Nuit Blanche is that it becomes its own community, if only for a night.

“That’s what Mayor Nenshi also picked up on (about Nuit Blanche in 2012),” Baerwaldt says, “which is this incredible opportunity to talk to people you don’t know — the neighbours you don’t know.”


Nuit Blanche Calgary at Olympic Plaza & City Hall

Saturday, September 20, 7 p.m. — 1 a.m.



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