I don't have a particularly strong grasp of Kitchener-Waterloo's art scene. Though I'm employed in a cultural institution, I only see a slice of the work that local artists are outputting - and it's a narrow slice at that. This is quite problematic for someone whose domain should be at the cutting-edge of artistic development in Waterloo Region. I have friends and colleagues that do art and are artists, but if I were to try to consider what K-W art was about in a boilerplate message, I'd be unable to produce something. So how does one fix this?
Several arts festivals fire off throughout the Region's calendar year. The Box Art Show, Summer Lights Festival, CAFKA, Kultrún, and Word on the Street all flash in the cultural pan, each fulfilling a different niche. Last year, a newcomer to the scene emerged: Night \\ Shift, the brainchild of former Alternative Journals editor-in-chief, Eric Rumble. The inaugural year's events were new and engaging, an unexpected intersection between arts and environmentalism. Spoken word artists braved the cold betwixt large-scale kinetic sculptures cautioning against unsustainable consumerism. I caught a convivial thread of participation throughout the evening, with a devoted crowd shambling together until the wee hours of the night. I felt alone and together with them both at once.
Last night Pierina and I headed for Night \\ Shift's second iteration. We bundled up and started at Kitchener City Hall, venturing eastward as the night progressed. We did a little bit of pre-preparation and planned our route in advance, which in hindsight, I will be shirking in future years. Regardless, we begun by checking out Apparations briefly, watching participants watch each other in an endless loop - communicating across a seemingly vast chasm of the City Hall Square. It took us more than a moment to discover what was occurring, which I'm hopeful wasn't similar to other nightshifters. Three cute Creatures of the Gyre greeted us as we headed indoors. The sculptures attracted several visitors and very effectively connected the hazards of irresponsible waste handling and its effects with our oceans. I would have preferred some accompanying signage to convey the actual impact of one bottle making its way into our waters, but I think the installation would have provoked those interested to find that information themselves.
Inside were a few academic and professional organizations considered with responsible resource usage. Inside those groups in the rotunda was a performance entitled Samarian Woman 28. We caught the element featuring a young artist in contemplation, dripping paint in a live painting performance overlaid with a projection of the Grand River. It was quite serene, and I regret not sticking around to see how successive performances evolved. We also briefly checked the caucus room to see Signature, which I found to be the most technically impressive installation throughout the evening.
It was there that I ran into the first of several acquaintances. This was a consistent theme throughout the night - head to a hub and meet up with a friend. This was also totally unplanned and a pleasant surprise; a sense that I was part of a larger community. This repeated at THEMUSEUM, the Duke Street Food Block (three times,) KW|AG, Goudies Lane, and even transiting from location to location. Transit was rapid - the night was fiercely cold. Glad I wore long johns.
Some other highlights: Agnes Niewiadomski's oversized Lite-Brite installation was spectacular! The Goudies Lane Arcade in general was an excellent reminder that experiental art is most successful at festivals such as this. People crowded around to experience something new and interesting, and the artists seemed to be enlivened by all of these happy interactions. The Empty Shoes Project served a somber message as a path of empty shoes led us into a courtyard depicting the stories of the dead. These were stories of those killed by drunk drivers, and was artfully treated by a passionate group of volunteers.
We missed several sites and more stories that likely unfolded throughout the night. But I think that's a commendable achievement. It is rare in the Region to be cast into something that feels much grander than what's seen at the surface, with many more mechanisms than one person alone can achieve. This is what Night \\ Shift felt like to me, and I can only imagine how the festival will grow in coming years.