If you plan on attending Nuit Blanche in the future, come early, and come prepared. The city’s third annual all-night art fest was a massive collection of exhibits and interactive events, focused mainly in the Exchange and its outlying areas, St. Boniface, and of course the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Advertised as a tantalizing 12-hour frenzy of self-expression, discovery, and a chance to party with the notable eccentrics of Winnipeg’s local art scene, it was a night the four of us looked forward to with great anticipation.
We went for 8:30. Dropped into Old Market Square, - the centre of the Exchange District and the heart of the night’s outdoor activities, - the intrepid staff of this publication first happened upon a raised stage lined with glowing artificial rocks. Jumping up onto the stage (and unknowingly cutting off everyone in the line that wrapped around and behind it), you could see that the top of each rock contained a picture and a set of headphones connected to it. Before we realized our impolite misstep and moved on, I had a chance to look into one of these contraptions. The picture showed a creepy doll (like there’s any other kind) climbing a castle, with the complementing sounds of an accordion creating a perfectly eerie atmosphere. And that’s what the whole of Nuit Blanche seemed to be for us: an odd, intriguing glimpse into different forms of local art, but as a result of either our own indecisiveness or outside forces, only a glimpse. From here, the night turned out to be more a walk through a beautiful area of the city peppered with fascinating art exhibits than anything else. Transportation (or lack thereof) was an issue. We saw one crowded tram go by, and noticed a single stop for the trams on the way to the Forks, but couldn’t find any more for the rest of the night.
Anticipation of the skate competition at the Forks turned into disappointment with news that it was rained out. Although the display of parkour that replaced it was undoubtedly skillful, it seemed lacklustre in comparison to watching kids mercilessly throw themselves down the Plaza’s unforgiving stair sets. In addition to the acrobatics, the graffiti talents of artists Pat Lazo and Nereo II saved the event. Considering the amount of vision, creativity, and ability it took to not only paint the pieces they did, but to do it live at 10 o’clock on a cold, dark Winnipeg Saturday night was mind-boggling. The show called back to a perhaps bygone era of people sneaking out to write on trains, billboards, and anything else they could get their spray-paint on. The two heavyweights of Winnipeg street art did not disappoint.
After the Forks it was back to the Exchange to catch a choir’s interpretation of a Neil Young song, and to take a look at the erotic art show, which wasn’t very erotic, and noticeably bereft of dicks. The highlight of the event - at least for those lucky enough to acquire one - were the cupcakes (it ended up being the only venue we visited with food). From there we went to Union Sound Hall, a walk periodically interrupted by taking in a few beers and a few other intoxicants. The Union Sound Hall show, “u & us pt. 2”, was the closest to a party, apparently featuring dance performances, DJ sets and live music. Getting there we were met with a massive line, and a small bearded man yelling that there was going to be a 45 minute delay to get in. It quickly became evident that if you weren’t already in by 11:30 you probably weren’t getting in, so it seemed fate that we just smoke up and move on.
The final stop in the night, and coincidentally the point in which I was most intoxicated, was at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. After 15 minutes of standing in line, and getting in only to find out that drink tickets weren’t being sold anymore, I was hit by a dazzling black and white maze projection on the giant white walls of the main floor. Although it was packed with people the floor seemed more open and spacious than ever before, almost inviting you to come and marvel at the works that lay ahead. The exhibits upstairs were pretty standard of the WAG but the atmosphere made everything seem a lot more exciting. It was both hilarious and representative of the Nuit Blanche experience seeing both young and old, artistic and not, the suited-up and the casual, going dumb to Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’ in the halls between each exhibit.
The main event at the WAG petered out after last call, and despite it being touted as an all-night art party, by 2:15a.m. everything was pretty much all over. Though bad weather, poor transportation, and our own indecisiveness caused us to only make it to a handful of the 50-plus events that formed this year’s Nuit Blanche, what we did see was, for the most part, a positive look into the less-known creative brilliance of our city.