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Jennifer's Scoop on Nuit Blanche Print E-mail
By Jennifer Shahade   
October 7, 2010
And you think you had trouble getting your Chronos through airport security
Last weekend, I traveled to Toronto, Canada for Nuit Blanche, an all-night art festival beginning at sundown on October 2nd and stretching till sunrise the following morning. I was invited for Reunion 2010, a recreation of the famous Marcel Duchamp-John Cage 1968 match, in which each square corresponded to a different musical note. Because Duchamp was a much stronger player than Cage, after that game was over, Marcel's wife, Alexina "Teeny" Duchamp stepped in for a closer battle. The 2010 edition was curated by Sarah Robayo Sheridan in the same theater, the Ryerson, in downtown Toronto. She created a fun and diverse program for the 12-hour marathon, which at turns approximated and expanded upon the original performance.

Sarah asked me to participate because of my work on Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess and video projects inspired or informed by Duchamp. One of these video installations, Hulachess, was among 125 videos out of over 23,000 that was shortlisted for the Guggenheim YouTube Play video art contest.

Recording the US Chess Scoop with a slide from the original Duchamp and Cage performance in the background
Other participating artists and chessplayers included two-time Canadian Champion GM Pascal Charbonneau, Fluxus artists Takako Saito and Alison Knowles, performance artist Jessica Higgins, Canadian writer and International Master Lawrence Day and Duchamp scholar and chess master Allan Savage. One of the highlights of the evening was watching Allan play against Lawrence--it was around 11 PM and the crowd was hundreds deep. Riled up for the long night ahead, they screamed and cheered whenever Allan or Larry made a move, and I was briefly transported to a fantasy where chess and contemporary art could fill stadiums thousands deep.

Our first performance was Takako Saito's Wine Chess. At the same time, Saito performed a harp solo and artists William Anastasi and Dove Bradshaw played Saito's Canapé chess. Luckily, we were not expected to drink all the wine, but we did sip upon capturing pieces. Pascal courteously allowed me to pick my color- I chose red because I preferred to drink white wine! It was already midnight and I needed to stay up for seven more hours- I knew that I could not handle the soporific effect that red wine has always had for me. I played the Dragon in honor of one of my favorite Duchamp games, and after two hours that passed by in a flash, we agreed to a draw.

Pascal Charbonneau and Jennifer Shahade
On the evening's graveyard shift from 5-7 AM, Pascal and I played chess on the musical board, which was recreated by Toronto artist Robert Cruickshank to look like the 1968 version. Musicians David Behrman, Malcolm Goldstein and Matt Rogalsky took input from the board and combined our moves with improv electronic music.

We started out with chess 960, which we thought would make Duchamp and Cage smile, since they are both known for playing with randomness and chance. The problem with playing 960 in the wee hours is you can't rely on your instincts nearly as much as you can in chess. I found myself over-focusing on tactical ideas. Although I had an interesting position for much of the game, in the absence of recognizable configurations, I violated all positional chess concepts and all of my pieces seemed to be checkmated in the final position! We switched back to regular chess, alternating between blitz and fifteen minute games- I lost most of them, but managed to win a nice one before the clock ticked seven AM, which summoned us to sleep, finally.

A truly unforgettable event. If you're within striking distance of Toronto for a future Nuit Blanche, I encourage you to attend- just be sure to pack your energy drinks!

For more on art and chess, see Jennifer Shahade and Daniel Meirom's full hulachess video on YouTube. Hulachess, which was featured on a 2009 cover of Chess Life Magazine, was shortlisted for the YouTube Play Guggenheim biennial.

Also read Jennifer's recent interview with D. Graham Burnett, creator of Novel Chess and an editor at Cabinet Magazine.