Nuit Blanche: Paris set for all-night art party

Saturday night marks the Nuit Blanche, where the public can take an artistic hike through the streets of Paris under the cover of darkness, and even enjoy a silent disco at the Gare du Nord train station. Here's all you need to know.

Nuit Blanche: Paris set for all-night art party
Fancy walking under a wave? Photo: Nuit Blanche/Facebook

What is la nuit blanche?

In keeping with France’s fascination with art and culture – and bolstered by a seemingly infinite arts budget – La Nuit Blanche (translated as ‘the sleepless night’) is a contemporary arts festival, held from 7pm on Saturday October 3rd to the early hours of Sunday morning.

It will see 30 international contemporary artists bring their cutting edge art installations onto the streets of Paris.

Now in its 14th year, the ‘all-nighter’ event enables art lovers and rookies alike to embark, map in hand, on an ‘artistic hike’ across the cityscape, taking in works inspired by dance, music, street art and even the circus. With only a handful of works set indoors, the idea is to bring big art into big public spaces for all the world to see.

Who is behind it?

For the second year running it is artistic director José-Manuel Gonçalvès taking the reins of the event, and he is all set to continue his initial vision of bringing art to the feet of the people, instead of confining it to stuffy museums.

With this year’s slogan ‘Atmosphere?…Atmosphere!’, Gonçalvès hopes to inspire a feeling of discovery and enlightenment in the city and in spectators alike. As, for him, Paris is a city in ‘permanent evolution’, Gonçalvès wants the artist’s work to evoke the transformation of the city; and, by placing the new amongst the old, he hopes viewers will see the cityscape in a different light.

With this vision in mind, instead of hopping on the metro and missing all the hidden gems of the streets, the walk is intended to be done on foot, with an art display never more than 500 metres away, often along disused railway tracks and lesser-known alleys filled with street art.

What’s special about this year?

This year the festival is based in the north west and north east of the city, with hotly-tipped installations placed in the Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement, and for the first time going as far north as Aubervilliers which on the far side of the Peripherique ringroad.

The two main walking routes, or ‘parcours’, will depart from Parc Monceau and Gare du Nord, with a useful blue line painted on the pavement to help guide walkers.

A big focus for 2015 is ‘the relationship between nature and the city’ and ‘the climate question’, in keen anticipation of the International Climate Change Conference (COP21) taking place in Paris in December. Many artists hope to draw attention to the ‘savage world’ which is under our nose (or feet), and which we sometimes choose not to see, and often treat badly. Although the festival is based in the north, there will be over 130 art projects around the whole city, so don’t be afraid to veer off the beaten track.

What to see this year

Melting Ice at Hotel de Ville 

Outside the Town Hall in the fourth arrondissement, 270 blocks of coloured ice symbolising different countries of the world will slowly melt over the course of the evening, forming an immense abstract patchwork in the style of Chinese painting. The Chinese artist, Zhenchen Liu, hopes this work will evoke the beauty of the earth which is slowly being destroyed under our noses.

Walk under a wave

Head to Batignolles in the 17th after 8pm at the Eco-parc Martin Luther King de Clichy Batignolles to see an installation by Daan Roosegarde, which gives the spectator a chance to feel like they’re at the bottom of the ocean. This big blue wave, placed three metres above the ground, is not only sure to be deeply atmospheric, but a potent reminder of raising sea levels due to climate change. 

The Night of Bees at Parc Monceau

Be still and listen to a symphony of insects, birds and frogs, recorded in the south of France by Erik Samakh and amplified in Parc Monceau on Saturday night. Samakh wants the public to ‘listen’ to the consequences of climate change and be reminded of the many species threatened with extinction. The exhibition, called “La nuit des abeilles” in French, is closest reached by the Metro Monceau.

Melting Building at the Gare du Nord

The ‘master of illusion’ Leandro Erlich attacks architecture in peril by creating the optical illusion of a building melting due to climate change on the square in front of the Gare du Nord. Financed by the city budget of 2014, this work will become a permanent fixture at the train station.

Silent disco at the Gare du Nord

As a perfect end to the evening, the Gare du Nord train station will be transformed into a giant dance floor and silent disco, so after pounding the streets of the city why not shake it off among the rail tracks? A ticket costs €26 and doors open at 11.30pm (and close at 5am). More information here.

Find more essential info about La Nuit Blanche (in English) here. All photos: La Nuit Blanche/Facebook

By: Ellie O'Driscoll


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Asterix: Five things to know about France’s favourite character

Asterix is hitting the box offices again, so to celebrate here's a look at France's most treasured hero.

Asterix: Five things to know about France's favourite character

If you have walked past a bus stop anywhere in France in recent weeks, then you have likely run into film posters advertising Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.

Starring high-profile French actors Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel, France’s film industry is hoping that this film, capitalising on France’s nostalgic relationship with the comic series “Asterix” will bring box office success.

The Asterix comic book series was first published in 1959, and tells the story of a small Gallic village on the coast of France that is attempting to defend itself from invaders, namely the Romans. Asterix, the hero of the series, manages to always save the day, helping his fellow Gauls keep the conquerors at bay.

As the beloved Gaulish hero makes his way back onto the big screen, here are five things you should know about France’s cherished series:

Asterix is seen as the ‘every day’ Frenchman

“Asterix brings together all of the identity-based clichés that form the basis of French culture”, Nicolas Rouvière, researcher at the University of Grenoble-Alps and expert in French comics, told AFP in an interview in 2015.

READ MORE: Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

The expert wrote in his 2014 book “Obelix Complex” that “the French like to look at themselves in this mirror [of the Asterix series], which reflects their qualities and shortcomings in a caricatured and complacent way”.

Oftentimes, the French will invoke Asterix – the man who protected France from the Roman invaders – when expressing their resistance toward something, whether that is imported, American fast food or an unpopular government reform.

The front page of French leftwing newspaper Libération shows President Emmanuel Macron as a Roman while Asterix and his team are the French people protesting against pension reform.

The figure of ‘a Gaul’ is a popular mascot for French sports teams, and you’ll even see people dressed up as Asterix on demos. 

A man dressed as Asterix the Gaul with a placard reading “Gaul, Borne breaks our balls” during a protest over the government’s proposed pension reform, in Paris on January 31, 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Asterix is the second best-selling comic series

The series has had great success in France since it was first launched in 1959, originally as Astérix le Gaulois. It has also been popular across much of Europe, as the series often traffics in tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of other European nations – for example, caricaturing the English as fans of lukewarm beer and tasteless foods.

Over the years, Asterix has been translated into more than 100 languages, with at least 375 million copies sold worldwide.

It remains the second best-selling comic series in the world, after the popular manga “One Piece”.

There is an Asterix theme park 

The French love Asterix so much that they created a theme park, located just 22 miles north of Paris, in the comic series’ honour in 1989.

The park receives up to two million visitors a year, making it the second most visited theme park in France, after Disneyland Paris. With over 40 attractions and six themed sections, inspired by the comic books, the park brings both young and old visitors each year. 

READ MORE: Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

The first French satellite was named after Asterix

As Asterix comes from the Greek word for ‘little star’, the French though it would be apt to name their first satellite, launched in 1965 after the Gaulish warrior.

As of 2023, the satellite was still orbiting the earth and will likely continue to do so for centuries to come.

Asterix’ co-authors were from immigrant backgrounds

Here’s become the ‘ultimate Frenchman’, but both creators of the Asterix series were second-generation French nationals, born in France in the 1920s to immigrant parents.

René Goscinny created the Asterix comic series alongside illustrator Albert Uderzo. Goscinny’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. Born in Paris, René’s family moved to Argentina when he was young and he was raised there for the majority of his childhood. As for Albert Uderzo, his parents were Italian immigrants who settled in the Paris region.

Goscinny unexpectedly died at the age of 51, while writing Asterix in Belgium. From then on, Uderzo took over both writing and illustrating the series on his own, marking Goscinny’s death in the comic by illustrating dark skies for the remainder of the book.

In 1985, Uderzo received one of the highest distinctions in France – the Legion of Honour. Uderzo retired in 2011, but briefly came out of retirement in 2015 to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were murdered in a terror attack by drawing two Asterix pictures honouring their memories.