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October 11, 2006

{     Nuit Blanche - A dozen art marvels (with some disasters)     } Paris has recently distinguished itself for initiatives targeted to the local population (for example: the Paris Plage, an artificial beach on the right bank of the river Seine and opened to the public in the middle of the city, which has since been reproduced in Rome and London, with more cities to come). However, la Nuit Blanche is so far the most copied event Paris has produced. Started in 2002 as a full-moon night journey into (con)temporary art, has since become a programme sponsored and copyrighted by the European Union, with official replicas held in Riga, Rome, Madrid and Bruxelles, and unofficial copycats in Milan and Tel Aviv+Gaza and has even landed on the other side of the Ocean with Canada leading the way in Montreal and Toronto. Contacts and information requests have been made to the Paris central office from Istanbul, New York, Tokyo... Paris has really created something new, and as usually, the original cannot really be reproduced maintaining the quality unaltered: the Nuit Blanche in Paris is still the best to be seen in the world, with over 100 events in many different areas of la ville lumiere and 100 different world appreciated contemporary artists presenting one piece on display for 12 hours only. Pretty unsurprising if you think about it. Which other city can say to have giant art institutions spanning from ancient to contemporary art like the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou, surrounded by a million of smaller top quality museums and foundations (the Espace Dali', the Picasso Museum, Le Fondation Le Courbusier, the faboulous Palais de Tokyo, just to name a few)? Paris is art like no other place in the world, historically, culturally, sociologically. Well, the Nuit Blanche 2006, Parcours Artistique Nocturne took place between the night of October 7th and the morning of the 8th: on the fifth birthday of this art event six areas of the city were involved, two world famous and known to tourists (Le Marais and the Champs-Elysées Concorde), the other four in search of acknowledgement, a new wind of appreciation and urban requalification (la Goutte D'Or in particular, sadly known to Parisians for poverty, illegal immigration from Africa, dirtyness, drugs and petty crimes). In the first areas the architecture acting as background for art is undisputedly beautifully ancient and the artists more established, in the second areas it is modern, at times signed by prized architects, in other incidentally ugly, built just to meet their purpouse of athletic field, swimming pool, popular housing, with up and coming young artists displaying their ideas. Here are a dozen art marvels (with some pitfalls) presented then and there: 1) Sébastien Tellier/Xavier Veilhan - Ville Nouvelle 2006 The installation Xavier Veilhan presented in two courtyard of the scenographic late Rococo' Hotel De Ville (the town hall of Paris) was more than breathtaking: a mystic dialogue between natural and supernatural staged with black spheres (up to 4 meters in diameters), hanging almost directly from the black night, revolving around each other like planets, with the ancient glass windows of the building casting devine light on their movement. And if this was not enough, the seminal French musician Sébastien Tellier signed and played (for almost 12 hours non stop) for this particular show a soundtrack as mystical as the installation: in the hope this installation will be permanently displayed somewhere soon, I can just add it was absolute genius. 2) Kimsooja - To breathe: Invisible mirror, invisible needle, 2006 The Korean artist Kimsooja staged the juxtaposition of modern and ancient for his audio/video piece. Presented inside the Châtelet, Théâtre musical de la Ville de Paris, a richly decorated 1862 opera house, the piece was something like a breathing screen: on a white screen on the teathre stage was projected pure light, slowly changing from pink on to red, orange, yellow, green, as you could hear someone breathing faster and faster. Until the anxious breathing stops suddenly: the light slowly reverts its path, returning yellow, orange, red, pink blue, as a calming music seems to escort the soul of that animal passed away into the serene afterlife world. The dimmed lights of the old teathre and its overall aspect of ancient beuaty were definitely a positive contribution to this piece, as they seemed to mourn emphatically over this staged death. 3) Carsten Höller - Demi Petit Palais 7.8 Hz, 2006 Höller here presents his double nature of artist and man of science: in the just reopened Petit Palais (as the Grand Palais, contemporary of the Eiffel Tower and build for the Universal Exhibition), now the museum of fine arts of the city of Paris, he decided not to touch the content or the structure of the museum, but rather act on another important element of our perception of its content: the lights. The ceiling panels, used to lit from above the Petit Palais, were programmed to behave as if a bizarre magnetic storm had taken over the city: regularly working one minute, were then flickering, going off, being dimmed, springing back to life, as surprised visitors were turning her heads away from the art works on display in front of their nose to look up towards the ceiling. The gardens, lightly lit in blue, were the final touch of quiet romanticism. 4) Yves Klein - Illumination "Bleu Klein" Around this installation, there was a crowd of photographers trying to catch this very special moment in time: Klein in fact acted upon one of the most recognizable and discussed symbols of Paris, the obelisque in Place de la Concorde. This Egyptian obelisque has for centuries symbolized the military successes France had in North Africa, but at the same time, it is nowadays highly criticized, as a reminder of the French occupation and exploitation of those same areas: in times of unrest in the banlieu and strong racial contrasts, lots of pressure has been made to return this obelisque to its country of origin, but France so far has refused. Klein, using his typical technique of "body painting on architectural elements" dresses of his trademark "Blue Klein" this structure, projecting on this 3000 years old object and the neighbouring statues, not only some blue light, but an aura of mystery and supernatural as well, fitting perfectly with its Egyptian ancestry. 5) Thierry Dreifus + Placebo - MR 8 Co-Naissance Thierry Dreifus and Placebo worked on a structure of great artistic value for this project, since the stage and background of their work is the national library of France, designed by Dominique Perrault as four towers 80 meters high in the shape of open books, and adorned by a tree garden in the middle, from where a mystical ladder elevates itself towards the sky. Dreifus, using wide beams of white light, presents the descent of angels from heaven, though the ladder, to earth, and then their climbing onto the buildings, precious and holy containers of knowledge, as words from Guy Debord and 'Dialogues with Angels" are diffused in the air. Placebo, cult band all over Europe and with a core fanbase in France, is responsible for the musical part of this installation. A perfect inspiring marriage of religious elements and lay knowledge. 6) Jean-Michel Othoniel - Peggy's necklace, 2006 If you have been in Paris, you may have seen the baldaquin created by Othoniel for one of the entrance of the Palais-Royal subway station: a crown-like structure of silver and oversized gemstones made of glass able to project you right into a fairy tale. This time his work, always based on coloured blown glass and already exposed in the gardens of the prestigious Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain, is a tribute to Peggy Guggenheim and her patronage to arts: Peggy's necklace, a three floor high necklace made of blue blown Murano glass, suspended in the middle of a 17th hundred courtyard and dipping in water, is a dreamy allusion to Peggy's stature in the art world and her love for Venice, where she left her very own foundation. 7) Carlos Garaïcoa - Ahora juguemos a desparecer, 2002 While very simple and not grand in any way, this was one of the best works presented at La Nuit Blanche. Set into the medieval (1300) church of Notre Dame des Blancs-Manteux, Garaïcoa puts on a table a hundred candles, all lit and melting, emulating in disposition and shape, a city. I am not sure it was his intention to present Paris (the Tour Eiffel was clearly distinguishable, together with other candles looking like Notre Dame and Le Grand Palais), but this burning and melting city was surely suggesting thoughts of the decline of modern society as we know it (the title in Spanish means "Now let's pretend we disappear") and evocative of the historical cult movie Paris brûle-t-il? (Paris burns). I did not really liked the three cameras used to project on a big screen the candles melting: in my opinion it was redudant. Nevertheless, a great piece. 8) Felix Gonzalez-Torres - Untitled (Placebo), 1991 While Torres installation, consisting of a floor covered with hard candies wrapped in silver, is not new (15 years old actually) and you may have seen it elsewhere, this time was presented in a different environment: instead than a white gallery room, the candies were paving the external foyer of the Grand Palais. But the real surprise was to see it after 3 AM: after thousands of people had passed by, the floor of the foyer had become a sticky, lumpy surface of crushed candies and silver wrapping. The permeating smell of lemon candies was another surprise, together with the unexpected distruction this usually pretty tidy installation had gone through: positively shocking. 9) Olivier Mellano - Le chair des ange Mellano may not be known to many but he has collaborated with the giants French chansonniers, first of all Yann Tiersen. And is one of the best French guitarrist alive. Here, in the breathtaking frame of the baroque Eglise Saint-Eustache, he presents an instrumental and vocal concert in 7 parts, mixing armoniously different influences: baroque, contemporary in the synth like usage of repetition, minimalist, experimental, French folk, even metal and electronic. Praises to the parrish of the Saint-Eustache church, so organized to have no less than 4 events going on, with their own brochure and organ concerts in between the exhibitions by Mellano: Francesco Filidei in particular played a marvellous contemporary piece by Iannis Xenakis that ended with knees and forearms slammed on the keys resulting in an untidy stream of notes and the centuries old organs producing such a loud sound it seemed the entire church was due to collapse. Props to what should be a catholic, conservatory and closed minded institution. 10) Sir Alice - Le Bleu du Ciel Worth of a special mention is this live installation by the youngest of all the artists involved in La Nuit Blanche. Sir Alice (class 1981) cuts herself a placement in the prestigious Marais with her piece Le Blue du Ciel. With a blonde doll wig and a princess pink dress on, Sir Alice sat for hours on the courtyard of the 16th century Hôtel de Coulanges, literally animating porcelain dolls: she was winding up a hundred of identical dolls, as her dressed as a princesses, which were then revolving around themselves and producing what should have been a sweet music (each doll was a carillon as well). The audio effect though was intentionally disturbing, given the amount of dolls moving at the same time not at unison. As a child, uncaring of her precious toys, Sir Alice was throwing them away when unsatisfied with their behaviour or gathering them around herself to wind them up when they had gone silent: a very fresh and well realised idea! Now let's come to the bad, because in all this 'good', there is space also for something which did not turn out as expected. 11) From the art point of view, something a lot better could have been expected from the Centre Pompidou: despite being one of the very best modern art institutions of the world, what they presented was strickly mediocre. Their contribution was consisting in the Festival Pocket Films: a festival of videos realized exclusively with cell phones. You could already be doubtful about the idea: a cell phone, as a medium, is known to be extremely poor when it comes to video capturing. This is not something new or debatable, really... The realizations were just proving that doubt was justified: while not totally boring, they were far from artistic and most not even enjoable. If you add that everything was seasoned with so much not so hidden advertising from a cell phone company (obviously: many of the "movies" were displayed on the cell phone directly, all of the same brand and model, since unable to stand the chance of a big screen) and that some of those phones were given out to the "directors" to play with while people were passing by, you get the picture. 12) And the very same Xavier Veilhan of the grand Ville Nouvelle (number 1 above) presented in the gardens of the Grand Louvre a second installation that should have been one of the best pieces but in reality disappointed most: on an artificial oval ice track created for the occasion and lit only sideways towards the crowd (pitch black on the ring itself), two short track skaters (also dressed in total black) were slowly chasing each other, without ever catching up with one another. Beside for the very long waiting time due to technical problems with the ice ring (which the skaters had to solve themselves), it just failed to impress. As for the organization on the behalf of the city, well, it would have been best if more public transports were actually functioning: only one of the 14 subway lines was working past midnight and the night buses were not exactly plenty or useful if you were due to return to some area of the city. The best way to actually got around is by bike and Paris is great under that respect: 2200 bikes were distributed for free to tourists and locals alike and guided bike tours ranging from 2.5 to 5 hours were organized and coordinated by the city itself. Despite this, in same areas, there are so many people it is hard to move forward even if you are on foot and I do hope next year they close the neighbourhods involved to car and motorbike traffic (which were actually there to see the installation as well). What I am the most sour about is that the municipal ferries going over the Seine were supposed to work until 5 AM and they were indeed not only a scenographic but also a pretty useful way to get around 4 of the 6 areas of the city involved. However, despite promises and official timetables, I was dumped at the tour Eiffel (out of the bus routes) by the last ferry at 4:10 AM, which unexplicably stopped working almost an hour ahead of schedule. And two stops away from where I was staying. For the rest, the city is wonderfully alive in the wee hours: this event is used as a excuse to have live music and cafes open through the night. All in all, La Nuit Blanche in Paris is something that you must try to experience: the quality too elevated and the chance (did I mention all exhibitions are free?) too good to pass on. It definitely kills you since you are outdoor in a rather chilly night for hours, walking rather significant distances unless you have a bike, and yes, the map on the official brochure, crucial to find out where you have to go, printed with blue ink on black paper, seems a recipe for disaster and is sure to get badly on your nerves. So book your ticket, study a map, relax a lot and start sleeping now: you will need it. But you will not regret it.

     » Nuit Blanche 7 October 2006
     » Some official images of the event in the Marais
     » ... and in the Champs-Elysées Concorde

By Tacita in Art, Reviews

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