Still way off the beaten path, and captivatingly so, New York’s 2nd annual Nuit Blanche overcame difficult weather and logistical hurdles to blind a few thousand revelers with brilliance and interactivity in this waterfront industrial neighborhood facing Manhattan. This festival of ingenius light is inspired by those sharing it’s name in cities like Paris and Toronto, but the D.I.Y. ethos that permeated Brooklyn during the 2000s in neighborhoods like this keeps the corporate chill at bay.
Performance, poetry, projections; the description does no justice to the ingenuity of spectacular pieces like Chris Jordan’s timelapse of Hurricane Irene hitting Manhattan projected inside a cloud named Bob that is designed by Columbia architecture students. Only in person, on the street, and in the cold October air can you be suitably shocked by the sight of yourself crawling up a factory building with a hundred others going at different rates. “Asalto”, by Daniel Canogar does just that; a public participation piece where you can crawl across a stage being recorded by a camera overhead and a few seconds later see yourself climbing to the top of this abandoned factory, progressive participants looping and layering as the evening advances.
The Manhattan art crowd may have been lured by the new ferry service and the promise of the occasional marquee name (Serra, Wodiczko), but it’s the unposing open quality of this curated installation of light that still feels promisingly ad hoc. While you’re discovering and rooting for it to succeed, you hope it retains the radiant wit as it grows. Glows
A lady, perhaps in her late 60’s or early 70’s with small wire-rimmed glasses stood on the pavement grinning in front of our flickering video projection time-lapses of Street Artists putting up work. She only turned from the screen once to make sure that her posse was also watching. When the video ended, with shoulders pinch up toward her grey fluffy hair, she clapped her hands quietly in front of her smiling mouth, and went back to the sidewalk to talk to her friends about it. She asked them if they had seen it. They had. A bit of wonder for us, her excitement.
We like to think that all of the artists involved in the first ever Nuit Blanche festival in New York received a similar experience for all of their efforts. As artists, few things make us happier than when we get to see the faces of the public enjoying the art being presented.
In New York there aren’t many venues where both the artists and the public get to mingle and talk directly with each other in an open and unrestricted environment: No VIP rooms, no PR handlers, no spokespeople, no velvet ropes, admission tickets, no one looking down their nose. The organizers of “Bring to Light” made this possible for one glorious night in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Perhaps 10,000 art lovers got out of their homes to enjoy one evening of free enlightenment without restriction.
With a five-hour convulsing light carnival by 60 artists, many of whom are well known for avant garde innovation, “Bring to Light” brought to life this former maritime hub of North Brooklyn that once blustered with lumber yards and rope factories. Now a rusty hopscotch of weathered industrial architecture, burned out lots, and faded hopes, Greenpoint in recent years has bloomed with the lifeblood of artists overflowing from neighboring Williamsburg. Aided by a crisp autumn night and Greenpoint’s Open Studios weekend, where artists open their doors to the public, “Bring To Light” was suddenly pulsating with the feet of thousands of art fans. All manner of projectors blasted on the walls with myriad images, forms, and shapes, some breathtakingly beautiful. Other artists created sculptures and installations that worked as light vessels and amorphous creatures while collaborative dancers entertained groupings of appreciative observers.
The show’s organizer DoTank:Brooklyn, calls itself a public vessel for interdisciplinary exploration, and Nuit Blanche seemed like the perfect showcase for everything these (mostly) urban planners are about. More interested in taking action than talking about it, their collective sense of focused urgency is like a refreshing gale of cool October air. Since they actually know how to plan and work with local civic and citizen groups, they were able to pull off New York City’s very first Nuit Blanche event in less than 3 months, and on a shoestring budget.
While DoTank had the initial idea, the Nuit Blanche ball started rolling when festival producer Ethan Vogt got involved to steer the effort in late July. DoTank had experience organizing participator events in public space and Ethan brought his background in film production and a passion for creating cinematic experience outside of traditional venues.
DoTanker Ken Farmer, originally from Memphis, Tennessee usually is riding his bike around the city or working as a consultant at Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit planning, design and educational organization. He likes to ride his bike around the city and scope out cheap places to eat, or “blue collar hollas”, as he calls them.
A Boston born New Yorker since ’02, Ethan Vogt is a filmmaker who makes documentaries for organizations, music videos with found footage, and has produced three feature films with Andrew Bujalski. Now developing a masters thesis about Media in Performance and Architecture at NYU, Vogt hopes to produce Nuit Blanch for at least the next couple years in New York.
Brooklyn Street Art spoke to both guys about the success of their first Nuit Blanche in New York.
Brooklyn Street Art: How do you feel about the event, now that you are a few days on the other side of it?
Ken Farmer: We could not be more excited about how things turned out. Great weather, great crowd, great support from the community and a great response from both people who attended as well as those who have seen post-event coverage.
Ethan Vogt: Yeah, we are all just thrilled with how it came together – I’ve heard nothing but positive things from artists, visitors, and Greenpoint residents. I would say it exceeded our expectations and we were just in awe of what we had “organized” and “produced.”
Brooklyn Street Art: How long has this event been in the planning?
Ken Farmer: The idea began in July and planning really began in August. We were on pins and needles until the last minute getting the permits approved due to apprehension about an event with no prior history in NYC. Luckily, some key leaders like Councilman Stephen Levin and Borough President Marty Markowitz really believed in the event and helped us get over the hump.
Brooklyn Street Art: Would you call yourselves artists?
Ken Farmer: I’d say…artist and organizer…maybe that’s a curator?…of public spaces.
Ethan Vogt: Sure, I’d say I’m an artist and creative producer. I actually was going to do a projection project for the festival before I got too busy producing. You can see some of my projections and photography online. I feel like my art-making allows me to be a better producer, I often think about what I would want from a producer if I was the artist and then try to be that kind of producer.
Brooklyn Street Art: Who had the idea of launching New York’s first Nuit Blanche, and why did you think it was important to pursue and execute?
Ken Farmer: DoTanker Ted Ulrich organized a similar event in Atlanta and other team members had experienced Nuit Blanche events in other countries. We knew that it provided such a creative transformation of public spaces. Given our interest in short-term interventions to transform the way public space is experienced…we had to try.
Brooklyn Street Art: Can you talk about one of your favorite projections or performances from Saturday night?
Ken Farmer: We had some pretty well known light artists like Chris Jordan and Ryan Uzilevsky, but the thing that amazed me was the way the art, performers and crowd coalesced into a seamless experience. It wasn’t about individuals or feature pieces, it was about the transformed landscape that emerged collectively. This was our curatorial goal, but the reality far exceeded our expectations.
Ethan Vogt: So many of the pieces were amazing, it is hard to choose. I loved the percussion performance, “Scaffolding” by Tom Peyton with Terence Caulkins, Eddie Cooper, Lily Faden, Leo Kremer, and Mike Skinner, I also thought that the way that crowds were interacting with “A Small Explosion” by Kant Smith, “Light & Glass Dance” by Miho Ogai, “Oculus” by Nathaniel Lieb & Sarah Nelson Wright, and “Untitled (Drums, Lights) by Peter Esveld & Philippo Vanucci was remarkable and a very vibrant way of people connecting to artwork that I haven’t seen very many other places in my life.
Brooklyn Street Art: What role does public art play in the life of a neighborhood or a city?
Ken Farmer: It should be a manifestation of its surroundings showcasing the local identity. And it should compel us to appreciate our surroundings–aesthetically, whimsically, critically. But it is frustrating how often it falls short.
Ethan Vogt: I’m no expert on this but I think public art should encourage reflection, debate, and connection. New public spaces like the “High Line” in Chelsea are the kind of thing that I believe embodies this and I would love to someday be involved in producing a project like that.
Brooklyn Street Art: We’re always talking about the intersection between Street Art, Urban Art, Public Art, Performance, Projection Art – do you think that there is a growing interest among city dwellers in reclaiming public space for art?
Ethan Vogt: Yes, Yes, Yes! – I think this festival really struck a chord and that people looking for an authentic, non-consumer, artistic, participatory, and community experience.
Ken Farmer: I think there is a growing interest in authentic, and interactive public art. We are in a beautiful era of D.I.Y. culture. The big, corporate commissioned public art pieces in lifeless lower Manhattan plazas are old news. People want something more relatable and more dynamic. We are seeing a proliferation of low-cost, pop-up elements in public spaces. Some may see it as art, others as amenity, either way…its terrific.
Brooklyn Street Art: Were you surprised how difficult it could be to pull this off?
Ken Farmer: The difficulty lies in the need to do everything by the books. We intend to make this an annual tradition that gets better every year. So we dotted the “i’s” and crossed the “t’s”, which was costly, fiscally as well as temporally, but essential to building community support.
Ethan Vogt: It was extremely difficult to get all the pieces together to make this work but the reward of the experience was well worth it and things will certainly be easier next year.
Brooklyn Street Art: Do you think most people who see the show have any idea the amount of work that goes into it?
Ethan Vogt: I’m not sure if they have a sense of the work but I don’t care, I’m just glad they came out and had a night to remember. Hopefully they might continue to support us next year.
Ken Farmer: Hopefully they don’t know how much work goes in. I think the biggest barometer of the event’s success was how calm it felt. It was amazing to have that big of a crowd, with that many artists and that much excitement, yet have things seem so orderly.
We are extremely appreciative of how the crowd received the event…Thank You New York!