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Art under the midnight sun

An arts festival unlike any other is coming to Whitehorse next week, and it's a night owl's dream.

An arts festival unlike any other is coming to Whitehorse next week, and it’s a night owl’s dream.

In the late hours of July 5, as the midnight sun dips into dusk, more than 15 artists will descend on the town and perform throughout the night.

From one end of Main Street will come lilting lullabies from a live classical guitar. At the other end giant projections of raw northern landscapes will roam the walls of buildings near the Old Fire Hall.

For 12 straight hours, between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., Yukoners will have the chance to wander the streets of Whitehorse sampling delectable feasts, practising breakdance moves, and watching art pieces evolve as the city celebrates its first Nuit Blanche.

The idea, which originated in Paris in the mid 1980s, has since become a popular worldwide affair. Nuit Blanche rules are simple: the festival takes place at night, is free to the public and turns city spaces into interactive performance venues.

While globally the festivals typically take place in autumn, Whitehorse’s organizers chose to host it in the summer to take advantage of the surreal experience of the midnight sun. “The literal translation Nuit Blanche is ‘white night,’ which is why we wanted to host it in Whitehorse in July,” says co-founder Aimee Dawn Robinson. “We’re one of the rare places this festival can take place in light.”

For Robinson the evolving nature of an artist’s work was an important factor in selecting who the festival would choose to showcase. “We had to ask, how would the piece, the artwork, evolve and change over a 12-hour period? We selected artists and performances that could sustain the full duration.”

Nicholas Mah is one of those artists. A well-known Yukon guitarist, Mah’s musical style reaches from flamenco and jazz all the way to the works of J.S. Bach. He is gearing up to play 12 one-hour pieces of music in the United Church for Nuit Blanche.

“It’s not so ridiculous as you might assume,” he says, laughing. Mah concedes it’s something he’s never done before, but he says he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“There’s a whole lot of things that I’ll be able to do with this. I can throw it all into the mix. That involves classical guitar, some electric guitar, some trumpet and maybe some singing.”

The theme of Mah’s marathon performance will parallel that of the festival. “It’s about night,” he says. “It’s a subject people have been writing music about for a very long time.”

Marie-Helene Comeau will be calling on the public for help in her art performance, entitled As Time Floats By. Building on the theme of steamboats and their role in shaping Yukon history, her display will use hundreds of paper boats as a metaphor for time and change. Observers will be asked to help with the creation of the small origami boats that will eventually cover the entire floor of the Centre de la fracophonie .

Marten Berkman’s giant images of flowers, chunks of natural spaces and industrial landscapes will cover the walls of buildings near the Old Fire Hall. These surreal 3D projections are intended to explore the relationship between humans and nature.

At the site of YuKonstruct in the industrial area, Kevin McLachlan and Emile St-Pierre will be working on a full night of breakdancing. Their presentation will involve public workshops, talks and a film focusing on breakdancing culture. At the same time, a live graffiti piece will be developing on-site by artist Ali Khoda.

For those more inclined towards the gastronomic arts, the introduction of fine food into the festival is sure to please. “The incorporation of food is a unique element of the Whitehorse Nuit Blanche,” Robinson says. “It’s meant to be a tour showcasing the amazing food culture we have here that features wild, fresh, Yukon-sourced ingredients.”

Three Yukon chefs will be providing free feasts at various locations around Whitehorse at different times during the night. The first, prepared by Louise Hardy, will take place at 804 Jarvis Street at 8 p.m. and, according to the menu, will feature “wild rose marshmallows, meringues and butter cream-iced pink rose petal cake.” The last will be a closing breakfast feast at Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. on July 6.

While the festival will present the live works of five officially commissioned artists it will also include presentations and workshops from several other contributing artist groups. Venues, which are mostly downtown, total at least 11.

So why host something on this scale in the middle of the night? For Robinson, it’s about allowing people’s perception of space to change.

“Daytime is regular,” she says. “The nighttime offers a different perspective and different perceptions. There’s almost something naughty about staying up all night long. It’s way more fun.”

She hopes people come away from the experience having seen something unexpected, something that will hopefully change the way they think about art and it’s place in our community.

People interested in attending Nuit Blanche can find more information about it on the soon-to-be launched website,, on the event’s Facebook page, or by picking up a schedule and map at various distributors downtown.

Pavlina Sudrich is a festive freelance writer in Whitehorse.