White Night

20 October, Napier City Centre, HBAF18
By Rosheen FitzGerald

There’s a throng in the streets of Napier tonight. If it had a soundtrack (and you better believe that in my head it does) it would be played by Richard Hawley. There are kids and old people and everyone in between. A hubbub of chatter with piques of French and Portuguese, Hindi and Te Reo, bubbles up and is released into the ether. Air kisses, embraces, nodded acknowledgements, little waves are exchanged. “Isn’t it wonderful!”, we all agree.

A two-block stretch, give or take, of the city centre has been given over to White Night, an open access celebration of arts and culture granted by the Art’s Festival gratis, a gift to community by community conceived to increase the sum of happiness, and engagement in the arts, in this little corner of the world.

It’s concentrated around Hastings Street, on the block that has been beleaguered by seemingly incessant roadworks, yet which houses some of the most innovative businesses in the Bay. Waiapu Cathedral acts as a gateway, and an anchor point, it’s steady presence a cornerstone of community since the 1800’s. Tonight it’s been enlivened by Living Walls – a three-dimensional projection that marries fun painterly design with landscape and still life images with a distinctly retro feel; working sometimes with, sometimes in opposition to the lines and contours of the Cathedral’s form.

The galleries have got in on the fun, throwing their doors open to the masses.

CAN have gone all out, with refreshments and live band Sweet Talk, tucked away in the corner providing ambience all night long. Their interactive installation, White Out, embodies the maxim, “If you build it, they will come.” They’ve covered an entire exhibition space in black paper, strung up garlands of ping pong balls and given sheets of white dot stickers to the public (at $2 a pop) to do their worst. By the time I arrive, late in the evening, there are white dots everywhere. The intentions of many mix and co-create. There are patterns and random placements, words spelled out, and, yes, the ubiquitous cock-and-balls motif, spread across the walls and floor. It’s joyously imperfect, a lesson in letting go.

The notorious RBD (aka Richard Boyd Dunlop) is on the door of his space, with a new set up for a new artist, Brad Novak (aka New Blood Pop), on hand to press the flesh. The works marry prints of pop culture icons of the past with a futuristic, microchip-like overlay in a style that is in harmony with Boyd Dunlop’s own.

The adjacent Quay Gallery is so overcrowded that I nearly make an early exit until I’m stopped dead in my tracks by Gillian Marshall’s Invisible Wounds of War, a disturbingly authentic 3D multimedia response to the anniversary of Armistice Day, and the most clear-eyed interpretation of the legacy of the so-called ‘Great War’ I have experienced in this country to date.

At the Department of Curiosities, a collaboration of makers come together to create a Box of Birds, including winged toilet ducks (that can’t not emit from the brain of Fat Spatula creator, Andy Heyward), obscenely knitted mallards with doll arms for wings, and a boxed taxidermy kiwi with a fifty-dollar bill impaled on its beak. On the bench outside, a gaggle of ladies park up and partake in the free-for-all work-in-progress knitting on offer.

Homebase showcases the multidisciplinary talents of the Culys, strung together with a pastel paint splash motif echoed in the light projected on the walls and set to a sensitive classical soundtrack.

Tennyson have a watery ceiling projection tying in with Amanda Heslop’s Subaquaeous photography that heavily features Pania and has a nineties, Nevermind feel.

The Rabbit Room shows a grainy film of My White Ship, a music video by Fane Flaws and Ashley Cox. A raw sound pairs with flickery footage of wind turbines and a casino in Reno to intense and discombobulating effect. Blown up vintage movie stills on the walls are sympathetic.

SP_ACE exhibits a sparse yet effective set of pieces by eminent artists over a couple of poky upper rooms and a hallway, albeit with stellar natural lighting. Cat Fooks’ gloopy mixed media oils, containing fusilli, among other recognisable minutiae, provide a pleasingly colourful contrast to the other dichromic works. But the real treat is the opportunity to engage with artist, Martin Poppelwell, who’s so at home in the space that his art is used to serve nuts and weigh paper.

There are lots of artists in residence tonight, meeting their public. A convergence of Culys quaff at Homebase. Novak and RBD rub shoulders. The Department creators collude. Fane’s knocking about at the Rabbit Room. In the alleyway outside Jo Blogg is deep in process, making one of her signature mandalas with sticky dots in the colour scheme that is to hand.

There is music too. The Nukes on their ukes serve up their countrified sound to an Axminster full of kids and a carpark full of passers-by. Napier Music Academy provides a steady flow of buskers on the corner. When I pass, sixteen-year-old Millie Train pours her soul onto the sidewalk surrounded by supportive whanau. DJ Lorenzo, accompanied by the ubiquitous percussive stylings of Joe Dobson, breaks out deep funk to match the exquisite Boom Factory laser lightshow that has Herschell Street up and dancing, including a contingent whirling and jiving on quad skates.

Balkan folk music pumps out from the car park beside Mr D’s, drawing a crowd from the street. We’re treated to Graffitti Art, a charming multimedia experience from BANDART, the duo that brought us Ann-Droid. It’s a humorous and quirky take on street art – drawing with light to explore the human condition.

Interactive experiences are provided by Wardini Books, who run a deceptively difficult Lovecraft themed whodunit treasure hunt – Cthudo; and by The Drama Workshop, who lead groups through a series of improvisational vignettes based on Alice in Wonderland. The latter’s players are remarkable for their clarity, their tireless confidence and the gusto with which they inhabit their characters. Next door at the Pencil Room we are encouraged to draw on the walls and windows and to sit down to a make a postcard/take a postcard activity. A troop of neon-lit curiously engaging fish heads roam the streets. There’s also a larger-than-life, bigger-on-the-inside Tardis on the corner.

As is the nature of the beast, there are things that I don’t see. The Human Project’s progressive piece, Meta, eludes me. The Library’s activities shut up early and are done and dusted by the time I make it there. I pass Double Ya D and the Cosmic Shadows as they are setting up, and again as they are packing down. But such is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spirit of White Night. It’s the type of happening that exists in itself as an entity. Any attempt to quantify or preserve it, including this one, must, by its nature, be ultimately futile. As the saying goes, you had to be there.




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