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White out! Brussels' Nuit Blanche

15:39 04/10/2013
Get your art on all night long

For 12 years, Nuit Blanche has provided a nocturnal platform for the capital’s contemporary arts scene. The concept is simple: Take one night and fill it from dusk to dawn with as much art as it’ll hold. There are few fast criteria. You’ll find performances, projections, installations and everything in between.

Nuit Blanche artists share only a common appreciation of public space and its creative potential. Local character is evident in the projects sprung from collaborations with neighbourhood residents. Other installations make spectators active participants in the works.

The much-anticipated (and entirely free) all-nighter showcases works in 28 locations, all of them within walking distance of each other. While the inaugural edition was a sprawling, city-wide party (much like its inspiration, Nuit Blanche Paris), the powers-that-be now concentrate on a host neighbourhood. So this year’s festivities unfold between the Sablon and the Marolles. It’s an odd couple for sure as these neighbouring districts share little apart from a postcode. The former is home to upscale art galleries, chic restaurants and a quiet antiques market, while the latter’s narrow streets are home to winos and the bustling Brussels flea market. Neither is without its charm, of course, but the fact is that the Sablon and the Marolles are two radically different animals.

The nerve centre of Nuit Blanche 2013 is a pop-up village on Place Poelaert, where the lofty Sablon descends rather precipitously (hence Brussels’ only public elevator) into the depths of the Marolles. If nothing else, this spot, in the shadow of the monstrous Justice Palace, is easy to find. The garish crowned dome atop Brussels’ most conspicuous landmark is visible across both the Marolles and Sablon. Let this be your beacon to the night’s meeting point, open-air bar, food vendors and obligatory DJ booth.

It’s also your point of entry to several major site-specific installations, one tackling the Justice Palace itself. The city’s arts collective LAb[au] takes advantage of the interminable renovations that have swathed the building in scaffolding for years. They propose an alternative façade called “(k)NIT”. They’re not pitching it with just some blueprint or mock-up, no, they’ve outlined their design on a scale as colossal as the Justice Palace, using giant luminous filaments strung across the length, breadth and height of the courthouse.

Another of Place Poelaert’s installations, “M.O.B.A. (Master of Black Art)”, is similarly ambitious. Ask any tourist, and they’ll tell you that this square offers the best panorama of Brussels: You’ve got an unobstructed view as far as the Koekelberg Basilica and Atomium on the other side of town. For the duration of Nuit Blanche, members of COSTIK and Solo Cink will obstruct that view with giant cellophane tableaux anchored on the rooftop of a nearby school. Like vintage Hollywood’s matte paintings, “M.O.B.A.” modifies the entire cityscape by superimposing its own surreal elements, in this case a truly urban graffiti.

From here you can climb down to the Marolles, where French digital artist Judith Darmont leads her audience in a creepy outdoor promenade that includes encounters with ghostly projections. These are the same grungy streets where American performance artist Brian Lobel and his Belgian counterpart Isabelle Bats “cruise” for art all night. Or you can opt for the more genteel Sablon, where Belgian choreographer Marie Martinez and her team of 30 dancers take over Brussels’ Royal Conservatory and young musicians fill the Minimes church with the sounds of John Cage and Erik Satie until the wee hours of the morning.

October 5, from 19.00, across Brussels;

A version of this article first appeared in Flanders Today

Written by Georgio Valentino