La nuit blanche: Done like only the French could do it.
First of all, une nuit blanche is the French way of saying "pulling an all-nighter." Basically, a night without sleep. It happens less in the context of homework than it does in the context of clubbing, but it's the same idea, and I think it's a nice way of putting it: "a white night."
So, of course, The French had to go and make an art festival out of their expression. This tradition started on October 5, 2002 and I had the good fortune to attend the second incarnation on October 4, 2003. La nuit blanche is also a nice double entendre, because the "blanche" part can be interpreted as the blanche of photons, our warm white bath, John Ziller's destiny. That's basically what the whole thing is: a celebration of light. Lots of museums and other public buildings stay open all night long and in each one is at least one special nuit blanche exhibit: music, strange video installations, lights and sound, or a combination of all of these things. Most public buildings are bathed in a bizarre and slightly underwhelming light, and people stand around outside putting their hands in their armpits and acting like they're taking part in some sort of transaction of beauty, acting like the flashing wall in front of them represents the pinnacle of human creative force.
Do I sound bitter? For a month I waited for la nuit blanche. There were posters all over Paris extolling its virtues-to-be, artists, art directors, and art directors' croissant-delivery boys almost weeping at the potential of "l'évenement." About a week before the night, a flier came out and was distributed for free in train stations, museums, kiosks, and other hubs. The pamphlet described the exhibits in an appropriately vague and theoretical French way, making the exhibits sound like they were going to be, well, pinnacles of human creative force. Unfortunately, they were not. Instead of taking advantage of the diversity and accessibility of the art, a great number of the million-plus wandering aesthetes convened at the "place de grève" (more recently renamed the "place de l'hðtel de ville") to take advantage of the fact that Nokia was giving out free cell phone minutes to anywhere in France. One night only! New and improved! Of course, there were plenty of esoteric art exhibits to look at while they waited in line to put the Finnish device next to their faces and say "You'll never guess where I'm calling from!"
Despite my utilization of the free métro and bus services to change my location a bit, I didn't manage to find any part of the night that piqued my curiosity. The best exhibit I saw was a giant wall of flashing lightbulbs. There was a sizeable group of Parisians standing around staring at it. My nuit blanche companions and I thought it would be a good idea to check it out as well, since we'd read about it in our pamphlets and had been informed of the artist's intent (please excuse any awkward translation):
Carsten Höller's "Lichtwand" is a blinding wall of light that flashes at a frequency equivalent to that of the brain: 7.9 Hz. Facing it, we are dazzled and therefore forced to close our eyes. The retinal remanence plays with our perceptions such that we see colors: red, green, and blue. A suggestive and metaphorical way of understanding how our senses are solicited by nocturnal situations, how they awaken and are sharpened, and how they provide us with necessary yet subjective information.
With a description like that, how could I possibly pass it up? After wandering around the station for ten minutes, dodging men in green suits spraying water all over the floors, we found "Lichtwand." Well, the artist of "Lichtwand" was faithful to the Babelfish translation - it was indeed a luminous wall. Come to think of it, that's all it was. Worse still, the artist had tried desperately to make "Lichtwand" a multimedia installation. In other words, there was a sound coming out of a cheap-looking speaker that reminded me a great deal of the introduction to The Girl With the Sun In Her Head. There were no trippy colors, there was no mishandling of neural spikes -- in fact, the wall was basically just a bunch of 60-watt bulbs; it wasn't even bright enough to make me want to close my eyes. In short, it blew chunks.
We all walked home in the almost-freezing rain, steeped ourselves a pot of Egyptian licorice tea, and sat around, too disappointed even to talk. Now I have no choice but to wait for the Fête de la Musique.