White night

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May 23, 2011
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas

Art pulls an all-nighter for Northern Spark

A white horse galloping on the Mississippi River. A cartoonist who looks like a woodsman and carries a tree-sized pen. A silent concert under the stars.

Scenes from a dream? No. Call it a premonition of Northern Spark.

From sunset Saturday, June 4 to sunrise the next morning, the Twin Cities hosts the Midwest’s first nuit blanche, or “white night,” a sleepless, all-night art festival imported from Europe.

“I think everything changes at night, right?” said festival organizer Steve Dietz, the president and artistic director of Northern Lights, a nonprofit arts agency. “You get a different point of view. Things look different.”

Is walking through the Walker Art Center galleries at 2 a.m. — a possibility during Northern Spark — qualitatively different from the same experience at 2 p.m.? Dietz would argue it is; not only that, but he predicted cruising Minneapolis and St. Paul with a bunch of fellow art lovers, and not just the stumbling bar hoppers usually out in the wee hours, would transform our perception of these cities.

“Part of the general idea and philosophy of a nuit blanche is turning the city into a cultural event, turning it into an art space,” Dietz said.

Remember a few years back, during the lead-up to the Republican National Convention, when there was so much concern about the Twin Cities’ early-to-bed reputation that the state legislature passed a bill to temporarily push back bar-close by two hours to 4 a.m.? Northern Spark proposes that there is no better time than the cusp of summer to, collectively, loosen up a little.

“This city is kind of known for things closing early,” said Jenny Schmid, whose collaboration with fellow University of Minnesota arts faculty member Ali Momeni and a group of Washburn High School students promises to be one of the biggest spectacles of the night.

“A lot of cities stay up all night every night,” Schmid continued. “… I think that makes it more special here.”

Zoned for art

Just after sunset June 4, at 8:55 p.m., an octet of art cars will honk a fanfare to ring in the festival in St. Paul as, simultaneously in Minneapolis, 100-plus professional and amateur musicians march across the Stone Arch Bridge playing a Mississippi River-inspired melody.

The dual openings hint at the sprawling nature of the festival, scheduled to take place in five zones of activity, two in St. Paul and three in Minneapolis: the riverfront around the Stone Arch Bridge, Downtown and Southwest. But Dietz sees Northern Spark as an opportunity to draw the two cities together, to “get people from St. Paul into Minneapolis and people from Minneapolis into St. Paul.

A fleet of buses will ferry festivalgoers from zone to zone (see Getting Around). The clusters of art projects offer the opportunity to dip a toe into the festival or dive into an all-night crawl.

The highlights to follow just scratch the surface.

From the top 
of the Foshay

Join Brooklyn, New York-based Notion Collective atop the historic Foshay Tower for “Station Identification,” a piece Minnesota-born member Andrew Dayton described as a survey of “the radio landscape of the Twin Cities.”

The limitations of FM transmitters create radio microenvironments that vary from city to city. Minnesotans of a certain age will recognize the landmarks of Dayton’s personal landscape: REV 105 and 93.7 The Edge, both now erased from the map.

Radios arranged like points on a compass around the Foshay’s 30th-floor observation deck will be tuned the broadcasting towers encircling Minneapolis, giving a sense of where, out in the dark, those signals are coming from.

Notion Collective also will broadcast to festivalgoers from a temporary studio. Tune in to hear sets from local DJs and interviews with some of the 60 participating Northern Spark artists.

A battle at the MIA

Jenny Schmid and Ali Momeni’s months-long collaboration with about 90 Washburn freshmen culminates with “Battle of Everyouth,” running 10 p.m.–midnight in Washburn Fair Oaks Park across from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. What sounds like a great title for a young adult fantasy series is actually a multimedia project exploring the root causes of violence.

Combining elements of performance, video art, drawing, sculpture and a giant projection on the MIA’s southern façade, it is, Schmid said, “really complicated technically; the most complicated project we’ve done.”

We won’t try to explain it any more. Just go.

(And then swing by the Minneapolis College of Art and Design campus next door for more fun with projections, including Roman Verostko’s “Three-Story Drawing Machine.”)

The 24-hour shift

“I have a six-month-old at home, so I’m used to not getting a lot of sleep,” said Scott Stulen, who will be running overnight programs at the Walker Art Center. Other 
staffers drew straws for what Stulen called “the 24-hour shift.”

It could be tempting to spend all night at the Walker, listening to headphone concerts by local musicians in the “Sky Pesher,” walking through open galleries and even catching a nap. Marcus Young of Grace MN invites people to sleep in public with “The Lullaby Project.”

At midnight, visionary Seattle cartoonist Jim Woodring gives a talk and drawing demo with his recently commissioned seven-foot dip pen. With a sixteen-inch steel nib that gulps ink from a bucket, it’s a challenge to handle for even a master draftsman like Woodring.

The can’t-misses

Asked for his recommendations, Dietz offered 
this list:

“I think everyone should go to the Stone Arch Bridge zone and just wander around those dozen projects, and I think everyone should go to St. Paul and walk from Jim Campbell’s ‘Scattered Light,’ which is really an amazing installation, up into downtown St. Paul.”

“Scattered Light,” a three-dimensional grid of 1,600 LED lights that also functions as a low-resolution video screen, hypnotized New Yorkers during its installation in Madison Square Park last fall, so ignore Dietz at your peril.

The Stone Arch Bridge could be the best one-stop art experience of the night, offering Northern Spark’s highest concentration of art projects in, on and around the bridge. Keep an eye out for Andrea Stanislav’s “Nightmare,” a barge-born video project that ruminates on the Mississippi River and its role in our nation’s history.

It’s the reason we’re here, after all.

Said Dietz: “The situation with Minneapolis and St. Paul being along the river and having these great cultural institutions, it’s a great nature-culture setting to do this overnight.”

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com.

Getting around

•     Northern Spark may be best experienced by bicycle, depending on the weather. Just remember state law requires headlights and rear reflectors for riding after dark

•     Nice Ride bicycles are already equipped for night-riding, and festival organizers are encouraging their use. Nice Ride bike rental stations are located within blocks of almost all the events in Minneapolis (see: niceridemn.org).

•     Fifteen buses will offer free rides between venues and cities. Organizers predict the wait for a ride will be 10–15 minutes.

•     To map out your night, head to northernspark.org/.