Monday, October 5, 2009

Nuit Blanche 2009

Nuite Blanche (literally, White Night) is an all night art festival, starting at 7p and ending at 7a. The official site is

We had been looking forward to this night for some time, expecting quite an amazing party. Unfortunately, it was mostly a fizzle for us. You can read another review here as well as Parisian Spring's experience (one of the blogs I link to in the right column).

The event was located in the Latin Quarter (arr 5 and 6), Marais (arr 3 and 4), and Buttes Chaumont on the northwest side of Paris (arr 17 and 18). We intended to stick with central paris (arr 3-6).

On the plus side, it was a perfect night to be out... moderate temperature, relatively clear skies and a full moon.

First, we visited Val de Grace church around the corner. Access is usually only allowed if you buy a ticket to the adjacent museum of army medicine, which we had not done, but was free during the festival.

The church (built in the mid-17th century by order of Queen Anne, wife of Louis XIII, in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for the birth of her son Louis XIV after 23 years of infertility) is considered the best example of Baroque architecture in all of Paris. See later post for more details and pictures.

We proceeded to several art exhibits nearby at the Ecole Normale Superieure on rue d'Ulm.

One, titled Captive Bird Society, was in the courtyard of the school and featured 6 turntables on pedestals, each playing a 78 rpm recording of bird sounds. The artist Margarita Gluzberg slowly walks from pedestal to pedestal changing the records to create a continuously evolving symphony of singing birds.

We walked a few blocks down the road to the Pantheon, hoping it would be open also (normally 8 EUR to enter) but it was closed.

We then stopped at a couple restaurants in front of the Pantheon to eat dinner but they were full and the wait was at least 30 minutes so we walked the few minutes over to Luxembourg Gardens to see their exhibits including The Mistress of the Eiffel Tower which involved a large disco ball suspended from a crane. There was only one entrance open and they were apparently controlling the number allowed in as the line stretched 5 deep for several hundred yards around the outside fence.

We tried to eat at a restaurant across the street but after waiting over 20 minutes for service we left and finally settled, much to Amanda's dismay, for The Moose, my favorite little Canadian Pub.

After dinner we returned to Luxembourg Gardens and the lines were just as long so we continued up Blvd St Michel towards the river and checked out an exhibit -- after a 20 minute wait in line -- at the Museum of the Middle Ages at the intersection with Blvd St Germain. It was a short film titled It Feels Cold Today. I still have no idea what it was about but at least I got to lay down on the cold hard stone floor to watch it.

After grabbing a beer and resting at the Taverne de Cluny, we walked over to the nearby Church of Ste-Séverin, where a musical exhibit The Forty Part Motet was playing. The artist had arranged 40 speakers in an oval in the middle of the church with each speaker spreading the voice of an individual singer so it was as if you were standing in the middle of 40 singers. This picture shows the people congregated inside the array of speakers (which you can see if you look carefully... I had to lighten the picture a lot). You can also see from the clock below the organ pipes that it is almost 2:30a at this point...we were getting a little tired!

I also recorded a 3 minute segment. Pretty cool actually.

From there, we crossed the river to Notre Dame which had an odd light exhibit. Various rather large plastic crystal objects of varying colors were placed in the "rooms" along the side of the church (there is a technical church architecture term for them... I just can't think of it at the moment), casting unusual flourescent shades on the religous artifacts. I thought it strange that the Catholic Church would allow this but, then again, the Church does not technically own Notre Dame -- the government does and they just let the Church use it so I guess the French/Paris government allowed the crystal lighting.

These are some of the interesting color pics. They almost seem sacriligious don't they?

At this point it was well after 3a and, while we had seen a few interesting exhibits and enjoyed each other's company over food and drink, there was not any music or bands or partying in general. Most of the "art" was rather inscrutable.

Amanda decided she was ready to go home only to discover that the RER B was not open at 3:30a -- we had thought all the lines were open all night -- so she had to walk the 20 or so minutes back to the apartment. I got a text message from her at 3:30a saying that the line for Luxembourg Gardens was still the same!

Brittain, Brandon and I walked over to the right bank, actually considering exploring the exhibits in Marais. We got as far as the Needle Woman in Paris at Hotel de Ville (now City Hall), which was the location of a video of a woman standing tall and straight in the middle of a pedestrian sidewalk as everyone navigates around her. It was broadcast against the wall of the massive building. I didn't take a picture but found one here:

At this point, we wanted something to eat again but everything was closed except a couple of street vendors. We realized if we ventured further into the right bank that we would be getting farther from home and we weren't particularly optimistic about seeing anything more interesting. We also had to be up early!

We walked back across the Pont d'Arcole to Ile de la Cite where we could see Ile St Louis to our left and saw some funny lights on Pont St Louis, the short bridge that connects the two islands. We walked along the bank to get closer (and also see if we could find a place to eat) and realized that this was one of the projects by Samsung - modular LED displays stacked in columns.

The first pic is from Pont d'Arcole walking from the right bank to Ile de la Cite with Ile St Louis to the left (east). You can see the blue lights on the Pont St Louis. The second picture is a closer view. As you can see, the colors have changed. In fact, they were continuously pulsing.

At this point, we decided to call it a night and get a cab to take us home, except.... there were no cabs to be found at 4:30a so we walked back and got to bed a little after 5a just in time to catch 5 hours sleep before continuing the rest of our crazy weekend at the races.

All in all not what we expected. We would do it again but plan differently. Instead of trying to see everything, we would pick out the best exhibits and take our time and just have fun.

What's funny though is that in writing this post, it seems like we did a lot and saw a lot of interesting exhibits and projects but it didn't feel like that at the time because it was spread out over 8 hours of walking.

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