Come October, there’s no mistaking autumn’s arrival in Paris, with wild girolles and ceps piled in the markets, days of grey drizzle on the horizon and the descent of the black-clad Fashion Week hordes. For those not ready to sip soup and hibernate, it also means the dusk to dawn art marathon of La Nuit Blanche.
Paris’ Nuit Blanche festival (2-3 October, 2010) , aka white night, or more colloquially translated as 'allnighter', might not be the world’s first overnight arts festival (St Petersburg and Berlin vie for that claim), but it is the first of its kind dedicated solely to contemporary art, and has spawned a number of similar events around the world. Now in its ninth year, this sleepless art party was another initiative of longserving socialist mayor Bernard Delanoë; he’s also known for giving Paris the clunky but oddly endearing Vélib' bike and summer’s Seine-side Paris plage.
This year the event’s installations, performances and illuminations will take place in the city’s east (the bars, studios and emerging artist spaces of Belleville, in the hilly 20eme), the centre (the Seine’s picturesque Île de la Cité and the Île St-Louis, and surrounding docks and riverbanks) and the west (the grand avenues and cultural heavyweight zone of the Musée d’Art Moderne and Palais de Tokyo around Alma and Trocadéro). The program also springs a few surprises, such as opening a swimming pool in the 13eme – maybe not so inviting for a dip this time of year but perfect to host video art on its watery surface and tiled perimeter.
Creative director Martin Bethenod, the newly appointed head of Venice’s Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, former Vogue editor and director of FIAC (Paris’ International Contemporary Art Fair), has this year resisted a simple thematic approach. He has instead encouraged what he calls a dialogue between 'the ephemeral poetry of the moment and the permanence of Paris’ cultural life', creating new and intimate ways to see and experience existing collections, museums, schools, galleries and foundations. It’s also a homage to the act of strolling – like the Parisian flâneurs of old, the intimate rhythm of walking between the events gives the city back its human scale.
Highlights include Cerith Wyn Evans’ riff on Georges Bataille through the medium of morse code and a huge chandelier, a striptease parade that takes in the three designated districts by New Yorkers (via Brazil and Thailand) Rirkrit Tiravanija and Arto Lindsay, and a recreation of Erik Samakh’s Lucioles (fireflies) illumination on the Île de la Cité. Also not to be missed at the Palais de Tokyo is the Italian Arte Povera stalwart Jannis Kounellis with his 12 (real, live) horse work in collaboration with England’s Adam McEwen.
Given the number of events and the inevitable pastis or kir royale breaks along the way, a little bit of preplanning is in order.
The city’s official website has a customisable map that can be printed out and pocketed and a list of restaurants that will offer breakfast to the hardcore crew who make it to 7am.
Venues are spaced to encourage flâneur-style ambles but the Métro’s north-south line 14 will run all night, along with the east-west line 9 between Trocadéro and Oberkampf (both free between 2am and 5.30am). All other Métro lines will run an hour or so later than usual and many Noctilien bus routes will have additional services. Full transport details, including information for those with disabilites, can also be found on the Nuit Blanche website.
And what to wear (it is Paris after all)? The weather might be unexpectedly balmy, but a warm scarf and a raincoat could also come in handy. Opt too for sensible shoes, no matter what the fashion week lot may be trotting about in the week before.
All events take place from 7pm on 2 October to 7am the next day; everything is free. For more information, see nuitblanche.paris.fr.