February 22, 2024

The night was strikingly cold and art installations did not line the streets. Many festival goers were capitulated to the insides of strange music cafes and pretentious art studios where Spanish coffees were served and strange trance ruled the airwaves. The loud music pushed the less tempered spectators back into the blustery streets to repeat a cycle of masochistic cafe retreat for fear of frost bite.
Kitchener’s first annual Night/Shift hosted by Alternatives Journal (A/J) happened last week over the daylight saving’s time shift. A/J describes the event as a “nuit blanche-style festival of art, culture and nocturnal adventure” and wanted everyone to “come see Kitchener in a whole new light – by exploring it in the dark”.
“It was very cold, so a lot of people were ducking into the nearest place,” said Aaron St. John, a festival goer who found it too difficult to see every attraction the event had to offer due to the looming winter’s nip.
“Maybe it was intentionally unorganized to give you a sense of exploration, which was kind of cool, but at the same time it was too cold (to wander around on foot,)” he said.
“You couldn’t go (to an attraction) confidently thinking that you would stay. You might travel across half of downtown in the freezing cold to get there and want to leave and so you would probably just stay at one place,” he said.
Better maps, signage and attraction descriptions would have been a help for people who were there to explore. For the majority of attendees who stuck around you got the feeling that they were there for a particular event, to see a friend perform or to support a certain cause. “It was this unorganized movement of people and no one seemed to know where they were going,” St. John said.
There were a wide variety of interests represented at the event including yoga, live music, film, poetry, performance and art exhibits.
“We got nice and toasty at Queen Street Yoga with 50 people grooving in each free Dj’d class,” said Leena Miller Cressman, director of Queen Street Yoga. It was the “first time the windows have ever fogged up at the studio.”
The Misty Mountain Café had art for sale and live music throughout the night. Staff requested I delete my photos in case “a picture of an original” had been captured. The music was very loud, forcing people to yell to one another.
Nuit blanche, which literally translates from French to white night, is a form of cultural festival which began in Paris in 1984. This overnight festival style has since spread across the world and Canada. Under many different names, nuit blanches have supplied free audiences and locations to a variety of experimental artists and installation art pieces.
Toronto’s version, which took off in 2006, has seen its share of violence though. A 19-year-old man was stabbed and killed in October during Toronto’s 7th annual nuit blanche. Also, due to previous graffiti and vandalism problems, Toronto’s Eaton Centre made headlines by refusing, for the first time ever, to open its doors to the festival.
A/J’s version was much different; the vast majority of people seemed to be happy. The lead singer of the Gnomes in the Shadows said it was a “hippie thing,” and assured that many of these festivals are ongoing and less publicized.
According to A/J’s website their mission was “to attract a diverse local audience to explore an unconventional showcase of arts, technology, bright ideas and nightlife on foot.”
Diversity was ever present Saturday night, though due to the cold, not many people moved around as much as you’d expect, and perhaps as an effect, there weren’t many art installations on the street.
As I walked south, early in the morning, I spoke with a couple of youngsters who were skateboarding. One of them handed me a piece of art which linked to his blog but otherwise lacked the name of the author. The penned original, on a small card, is of a man, mid-waist up, with lines emanating out from his centred heart.
The caption simply reads: “A man grows as a tree grows.”
It’s refreshing to know that this nuit blanche festival inspired artists who didn’t even have a display, inspiring a feeling that it’s OK to nonchalantly pass along your feelings as art, unsolicited, to strangers.
The spirit of this festival can be found somewhere in between the interaction with a young, unassociated skateboarder on King Street and the mass of people drawn to the streets by the pursuit of the unknown. The visible festival is a presentation, found in the showpieces, displayed by the business-minded artists – their supporters are there for them.
For upcoming Alternatives Journal events check out their webpage at www.alternativesjournal.ca/events.