by Sanaa Humayun
I walked into Beaver Hill Park during Petite Nuit, not knowing what to expect. An interactive art experience, I knew it was smaller than its big sister the year before (Nuit Blanche). Nuit Blanche lived so large in my mind, and while I was excited for the intimacy that a smaller event could bring I didn’t know that it would capture the wonder I felt at Nuit Blanche.
Stumbling upon Nuit Blanche a year ago was unforgettable. I walked into Churchill square, killing time with a friend, not expecting it to be filled with trees. I saw the trees and I was curious, but not invested. Each tree was covered in little tags, each one with a wish on it. We were given a tag and told to write down our wishes, and as I put my – incredibly cheesy – wish on that tree I felt so connected to everyone around me, and just like that I was invested. I read every wish and my heart felt full, each one as cheesy as mine but it didn’t matter, there was no pretentious desire to win, to have a wish that was better or more clever than every other. Each wish was just a little piece of someone’s heart.
Although that marked the beginning of a wonderful night, it certainly wasn’t the end. Piece after piece was unforgettable, from the 30 second films to the decorated pot holes, each one its own little world. While every piece had its own unique appeal, what left me in awe that night was the collectiveness. I was amazed that something so huge and important was happening and I had heard nothing about it, but that’s pretty telling of Edmonton as a whole. There is so much to discover but you have to search for it (or in my case, walk blindly into it). Hundreds of people in Edmonton came together to be part of a night where they could experience and revel in the awe and wonder of the art. Making art accessible brought people together.
When I moved to Edmonton for university, what struck me the most about this city was the dichotomy. The university was such a diverse bubble, a little haven of understanding and open-mindedness in what seemed to be an otherwise unforgiving and hostile city. The brief forays I took into the city itself, away from the university, in the first few months after I moved here all contained some element of fear. Being cat-called at a bus stop, being “jokingly” referred to as a Paki by a cashier, experiences like these taught me one thing: Edmonton was not meant for me.
Being at Nuit Blanche was different, though. For the first time since moving to this city I felt that I understood it, just a little bit, and for a brief moment Edmonton and I were on the same page. Making this art accessible somehow bridged that gap, bringing together two very different ideas of Edmonton.
Finding Nuit Blanche on a whim was an expected happiness, and a game changer. I craved that feeling again, and hoped to find it in Petite Nuit. I was afraid though, that looking for it meant I couldn’t recreate it. Maybe Nuit Blanche lived larger in my head, maybe a year’s worth of nostalgia had built it up into something that could never be paralleled. Maybe the fact that I didn’t know it would be there, that I just happened upon it was an integral part of the experience. Maybe seeking out Petite Nuit, seeking out that wonder would taint it and make into something else.
The moment I entered Beaver Hill Park I knew that although it was drastically different, it was the same. I could stand in the center and see every exhibit, a huge difference from the sprawling nature of Nuit Blanche the year before. I could describe each art piece in detail but that wasn’t the point of the night. As I stood in the heart of the park, watching people in front of me make shadow puppets that were cast 30 feet high on the side of the Coast Plaza Hotel, or as I watched people walking around with their lanterns made from different mini mart items, I felt that same feeling of collective wonder. It’s a swelling happiness, the kind you feel all the way down to your toes and fingertips as you experience the moment, and yet it buries a seed of sadness in your heart. As the night goes on it begins to grow and you realize that this happiness is just as fleeting as that moment is. This moment will end, and it will take your wonder with it, leaving you only with memories that don’t do it justice, trying to articulate a feeling beyond words.
Although the moment passes, it doesn’t have to be forgotten. My lantern, a little Fruitella container, still hangs from my purse, somehow still lit three weeks later, and serves as a relic from a perfect night and a reminder of what this city has to offer – as long as you’re willing to look.
Sanaa Humayun | Managing Editor
Illustration courtesy of Brooklyn Zalik