The huge public art event in Paris this weekend – Nuit Blanche – included some works on an absolutely monumental scale. One bridge was covered with a huge scaffolding structure with gauze wrapped over cubic sections illuminated by video projectors. The resulting work, accompanied by penetrating ambient music, was enthralling – holding thousands of people captive with it’s ever-changing, all-consuming imagery.
When we reached Notre Dame, however, it was clear something very special was going on. Usually flood-lit (and with the windows dark), the ancient cathedral was in darkness – but with radiantly-illuminated stained glass windows, lit from within. As we passed, they opened the doors to the building and we were swept in with the crowd.
Inside, the building was mostly unlit. Incredibly powerful white spotlights in the chancel were pointing up at each of the rose windows, and the area around the crossing was filled with votive candles whose smoke gave just enough opacity to turn the light beams into marble columns of light. Meanwhile, a gentle ambient soundtrack was being played, somehow enhancing the silence and overcoming the sounds of footsteps and hushed conversation. For me, the sense it produced was of awe – aweful, in the good sense.
This was all an art-work by Thierry Dreyfus, and if his goal was to capture and express the feeling of being in awe in the presence of greatness, he succeeded. His was for me the highlight in art and in communication for the year so far, and will remain a key Paris memory for a long time.