Janet McAllister: White Night deserves to be annual event

By Janet McAllister

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White Night at Motat. Photo / Supplied
White Night at Motat. Photo / Supplied

Traditionally, a "white night" means insomnia from 3am to 5am, remembering all the embarrassing things you've ever done, or said, or written in the newspaper.

But they've been reclaiming the white night in Europe for the past 15 years or so, and now "Nuit Blanche" means a summer night full of free art.

And since last Saturday, that's what White Night means here as well, thanks to the Auckland Arts Festival.

It has to be confessed that some of my party greatly appreciated the free wine all over the city, but hey, you can get that at any old art opening. What made the terrifically balmy evening a standout occasion were the galleries, cafes and shops which put on something a little different.

Artstation had lei-making with Niki Hastings-McFall, and an eerily silent glow-in-the-dark knitting circle.

Rebel Yell had several artists quick-painting pop art portraits, including one of Elvis.

The Auckland Art Gallery had a traditional princess-and-castle puppet show for the kids.

Unexpectedly existentialist moment: the jester yells "you're all going to die!" and the prince and princess laugh heartily.

Gow Langsford showed its populist side, offering coffee and popcorn and 2001: A Space Odyssey, in dim light behind a gallery-wide ape bust. I bought loads of picture books at Auckland Central Library at 8.30pm - many stamped with "Waitakere Library". (Apparently there's now only one annual sale for the whole of the library system - a bit tough if getting to the CBD is harder than hopping it to Henderson.)

The most impressive, out-of-the-ordinary, free-thinking White Night effort we saw was artist Brendan McGorry's. He and his family generously welcomed all-comers into his Upper Symonds St converted-shop home, where he had created a viewer-encapsulating installation, God's Little Launderette, as full of symbolism as the Rosslyn Chapel.

White Night is part of a heartening trend of presenting art to the general public as event. It was so good, I really hope someone runs with it - perhaps the Festival could talk to the NZ Contemporary Art Trust, who organised Auckland's inaugural Art Week last November, about putting it on annually?

Sure, White Night could be refined: the walk from gallery to gallery is a big part of the experience, so let's see street performers and a string of lights up Myers Park, connecting the central city art precinct with K'Rd.

And perhaps the way to make the most out of Super City arts co-ordination is not to schedule events all at once, but to stagger them. We had to toss up between town or Te Tuhi, which enticed with its cool, Mexican skeletons-on-horseback carnival posters and worldview-challenging Nollywood show. Town won, thanks to the lure of friends; this event shared is an event enhanced. But apparently Te Tuhi "went off".

Greedy thought: if White Night moved from quarter to quarter over a series of nights, we could go to everything. We're simple creatures; Pecha Kucha shows that people will follow a brand name they know into parts of the city which they don't.

Then again, there's something appealing about going to what's on in your neighbourhood, knowing people all over the city are doing the same, at the same time. Traditionally White Night in Europe is one single night. A discussion to be continued then. But in any case, another welcome addition to the Auckland arts calendar.

- NZ Herald

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