Sunday, October 5, 2008

Nuit Blanche Toronto, 2008

Toronto's 3rd annual Nuit Blanche - the "all-night art thing" - took place on Saturday, October 4th from 6:52 pm to dawn. Argue all you want about the definition of art, the quality/competence of the organization, how corporate it is, etc. The fact is that hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets all night to see what they could see. It was fun, festive, a little chilly, and a chance to tour the city, take the streets back from the cars, and spend quality time with friends. It was also a chance to prove that our fuckwad of a prime minister is wrong: ordinary people do care about the arts.

I spent the afternoon at my friends' place, relaxing with good conversation over drinks and snacks, and then set we out in a group. Note to self: two bottles of beer is not recommended before embarking on a night of walking around the city.

(This was the first real tryout for my new camera. I am still learning features and settings. I had rarely used the old one to shoot video, and hadn't planned to with this one, but upon seeing some of the moving displays, it occurred to me that photos would not have been able to capture the essence of some of the installations properly. The videos captured what they needed to, although the resolution is lousy. I probably need to change some of the video settings. For a full list of videos I shot, some of which are not posted here, visit my YouTube profile.)

Click on photos to see larger versions.

7:51 pm - Maple Leaf Gardens
Without Persons

A great way to start the evening, with a visit to Maple Leaf Gardens. To tell the truth, I think a lot of us were more interested to see the inside of the Gardens again than the art installation. Computerized voices talked to us between two large video screens showing something that looked like turbulent milk.
Rating: I want to say "Hmm, interesting", but only to be polite.

On our way out of the Gardens was this ad, which is a reminder that the Gardens have not been in use for a little while:

8:10 pm - alley beside Ryerson Univerity Student Centre
House of Leaves

Pages from books line an alley.
Rating: I can do this myself.

8:19 pm - text messaging
One of the night's exhibits/activities was to subscribe to text messaging from a certain number. Messages were sent out all night, with ideas to consider or instructions to perform specific actions. First message of the night:
"Appreciate the ordinary as you would an artwork of sublime beauty."

8:20 pm - Lake Devo
Sitting Ducks

This was great. It caused a lot of excitement and amusement. The only problem is that I heard from friends and others that this exhibit disappeared quite early - maybe sometime before 1:00 am. I found out just today that people were stealing the ducks. Bastards. Completely counter to the spirit of the evening.
Rating (pre-disappearance): great

8:25 pm - Heaslip House
Heaslip House

I'm not sure what to say about the girls with the giant hands. The metal sculptures were nice, though. The one with the water was lit with a strobe light, the effect of which was pleasing (and not captured well in a photo).
Rating: very nice

8:35 pm - Yonge/Gould
Historic sign at Sam the Record Man

Not officially a part of Nuit Blanche, I think, but a nice addition. The lights of the famous Sam's signs were lit up one last time. Apparently, when this site is redeveloped as part of Ryerson, the signs will move elsewhere on Ryerson's campus, although at this point no one seems to know where. As long as they're *somewhere*...

8:48 pm - Dundas Square
15 Seconds

We came to get our 15 seconds of fame in the spotlight. We were thrilled when Bob and Craig had their moment (sorry about the picture quality). Tom and Emilio didn't get their moment, which was a shame, because they were planning to kiss.
Rating: somewhat amusing

9:05 pm - Eaton Centre - Centre Court
Into the Blue

Shot while standing directly below, in the centre:

Blue balloons. I think this should stay up until December to function as Eaton Centre's xmas tree this year.
Rating: somewhat interesting

9:19 pm - text message:
"Tug your ear and nod to passersby. Maybe they're in on it too."
Bob tried this. Nope - none of them were in on it.

9:25 pm - alley beside Massey Hall
Domaine de l'angle #2

An office-type drop ceiling is installed in an alley, complete with piles of garbage.
Rating: somewhat interesting

9:35 pm - City Hall
One of the hits of the night. Project Blinkenlights transforms the towers of City Hall into a light show, with all of the windows coordinated to display moving, glowing, flashing images. It's great from a distance but I'm grateful that my friends led me up to the base of the towers, where music gave the work an entirely different feel.

Rating: awesome

10:15 pm - St. Patrick Square
Cocoon Garden

Illuminated cocoons hang from trees. Some have recorded sounds or voices. Jason later told us one of them was playing the Marineland commercial jingle, which I'm sorry to have missed.
Rating: next...

10:23 pm - text message:
Didn't see anyone skipping.

10:25 pm - AGO

Computerized lights high up in the AGO display something similar to the UFO mother ship in Close Encounters.
Rating: attractive, but a little underwhelming

10:27 pm - text message:
"Lose yourself in the moment."

10:30 pm - The Music Gallery
Music Gallery Sports Bar and Bravo!FACT Picture Show
Like most of the video seen through the night, I just did not find this interesting at all. Part of the problem is that if you are planning to make it all the way through the night, then it's asking a lot to sit down and watch even a 10-minute video. Unfortunately, the "mock sports bar" - which sounds like an idea with big potential - bore resemblance to a sports bar only in that they were serving beer, and more unfortunately, a couple of members of the group stopped for a beer, leaving the rest of us waiting. We sat on the patio outside watching another video, which started off as nothing recognizable and suddenly switched to footage of fishers using waterfowl to catch fish. The birds have rings around their necks to prevent them from swallowing anything as large as a fish, so as the birds catch fish, they are pulled out of the water and the fish are taken from their mouths.
Rating: Can we go now?

10:50 pm - OCAD
Dusk, Dark, Dawn
A mass of students mill about, drawing things on pieces of paper and then attaching them to a 3-dimensional wire frame. It reminded me of doing art with grade ones as a teacher, when a project doesn't turn out the way you'd envisioned, and you think, "Well, I won't be doing this again."
Rating: lame

10:55 pm - AGO
A Dream of Pastures

People get a chance to ride images of galloping horses projected onto a wall.
Rating: interesting

11:10 pm - Ontario Hydro Building

One of the big disappointments of the night. The "quilt of recyclable plastic" suspended from the north side of a very large building had some of us envisioning something draped over the curved face of this building, which would have been a huge undertaking and very impressive. As we passed by the building and saw we were wrong, we had to quickly adjust our expectations downward. The actual artwork - more than one storey tall! - was pretty, but a letdown.
Rating: but we had such high hopes for you

11:25 pm - UofT - Hart House
Sweet Dreams
A collection of video installations. See my comment on video above. We looked in on one, and that was more than enough for me.
Rating: yawn

11:35 pm - UofT - University College courtyard

A collection of vehicles - brought to you by Subaru! - set up as part of various mini-installations. One car had a sound system which was playing music, to which couples on a tiled dance floor were dancing. A couple of cars had sets of strings stretching bewteen them, nicely illuminated by headlights. On the other side of the courtyard, people were playing XBox driving games. My favourite was a car with a couple of LCD screens in the back, displaying amusing messages. All of this could have been achieved without the cars IMO, which made it hard for me to shake the car sponsorship angle.
Rating: maybe too corporate, but fun anyway

11:50 pm - UofT - field behind University College
Atom Egoyan's Adoration Street

Video clips from Atom Egoyan's latest film play out in the windows of houses along a suburban street. I take back what I said about video installations; this was mesmerizing. Although I had no idea what the context of the videos were, I could have stood there a long time, and would have if I hadn't had the intention of seeing as many exhibits as possible in the hours to come.
Rating: most excellent

11:56 pm - text message:
"Let the bells ring. At the stroke of midnight start a cell phone symphony."
No one did.

12:10 am - Queen's Park
Sound Forest
We wandered back and forth looking for this exhibit, and then decided we'd accidentally heard it. I'm not sure how successful art is if people can't figure out whether they've missed it. The singing I did hear was haunting. I found myself wishing I'd known what I was looking for. I'd have listened more closely. That's art at its best - leaving you wanting more.
Rating: better luck next year

12:30 am - Royal Ontario Museum

We went into the ROM looking for an art exhibit. Instead, we found a mass of people listening to a band (same one we saw at Taste of the Danforth), saw some lights projected on the wall, and left. Everyone agrees the ROM needs light projected on the outside (a permanent display), like last year.
Rating: huge potential for so much more

12:30 am - Hollander York Gallery - Yorkville
Painting to the Beat
Painters do their work, influenced by a jazz band. Logistical error. Held in a Yorkville art gallery, a wonderful jazz band at the front had drawn a crowd which blocked the entrance to the gallery so that no one could get in to see the artists.
Rating: terrific concept; could be great with better planning

12:31 am - text message:
"Remember Sesame Street? Sing along. Mahna Mahna Do doo be-do-do Mahna Mahna Do do-do do."

12:35 am - dinner break

My one complaint about Nuit Blanche last year was that there was no food. Well, there were hot dog/sausage stands, but they were not the regular vendors local to each area in the daytime, and I had the worst sausage I've ever had. This year, either the organizers clued in, or some of the local business people realized there is actually demand for food when people are walking around all night. There were at least a few restaurants in each zone that were open late or all night. We had quite a nice meal at Cafe Nervosa in Yorkville. From now on, if I'm staying out all night, I want a sit-down, full-service restaurant.

1:08 am - text message:
"Start a conga line to the nearest park, next exhibit, or just around in circles."
Not in the middle of a restaurant.

1:48 am - Church St.
Ethereal Forest

Bathrobes - the new fashion statement:

Who says gays are creative? Not judging by this. At last - we are breaking free of the stereotype! Way to go. Speaking on behalf of my people, I'm embarrassed.
Rating: Nuit Blanche 2008 Lameness Award

2:08 am - text message:
"Invent a new language and speak to anyone who will listen."

2:30 am - parking garage on the Esplanade

Tiny oil rigs drill for oil in a parking lot. Sit in the driver's seat and turn the wheel to keep those rigs in motion. Brilliant.
Rating: very amusing

Bonus! Raccoons in the ceiling of the parking garage!

2:45 am - Union Station

Stand in a hall between six video screens showing non-stop footage of nothing but screaming from feature films. Not scary, but very loud.
Rating: interesting

3:00 am - pedestrian walkway, York St. south of Front
Earth and Sky

A depiction of earth and sky on a banner suspended below the ceiling of an indoor walkway. This was one of the exhibits that was not well-signed and was very quiet. I hope a lot of people saw it.
Rating: very nice

3:20 am - former prison chapel - east Liberty St.

A waterfall flows from a 3rd storey window. This is the kind of thing we agreed should be a permanent exhibit somewhere in the city.
Rating: fun

3:22 am - text message:
"Put your ear to the ground and listen to the earth breathe."
Once again, we appeared to be the only ones receiving the texts.

3:35 am - Metro parking lot

This was somewhat attractive but I get the feeling I missed the point.
Rating: ok

A mobile music truck with a band providing music for breakdancers drew us away. It was an example of the success of the night - that anyone could set up their own performance/exhibit and take advantage of the crowds that were out, hungry to experience the arts.

3:40 am - Liberty Market Building
Purified by Fire

A well-executed exhibit, not so much drawing crowds as creating a nice backdrop for the passersby moving to and from other exhibits.
Rating: very nice

3:49 am - 85 Hanna Ave.
Sniff, Lick, Pinch, Nibble, Swallow

Coloured coconut is used to make artwork on the ground.
Rating: interesting

More guerilla art? Mannequin heads, some with helmets, all with coloured lights for eyes, peek out from the bushes.

3:56 am - Liberty St./Jefferson Ave.
Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace

More so than the messages of peace hanging from the trees (not a new idea), I thought the billboard suspended by crane was the strength of this exhibit.
Rating: good

4:00 am - Lamport Stadium
I Promise It Will Always Be This Way
I love this description, which I have to reprint from the Nuit Blanche guide:
For "I Promise It Will Always Be This Way" a few dozen costumed team mascots will take the field at Lamport Stadium and work to whip the crowd into a fervent frenzy. They will cheer and clown around, while stadium rock plays over the loudspeakers. As the evening progresses and fatigue sets in, the mascots require cigarettes, naps, snacks and bathroom breaks. The music slows down to mirror their lethargy. The dwindling of enthusiasm and the breaking of the illusion dash expectations as a celebration of futility and pathos.
This was the other big hit of the night for me. It was hilarious, and following the stated description, the centre of the field had a break area where mascots without their heads were taking breaks in full view of the crowd. There was no Disney-type attempt to protect the illusion.

My favourite moment involved the red cardinal wandering around trying on heads from other costumes. Watch the footage of her with the snow person's head:

An interesting irony was that at the corner of Lamport Stadium was the aforementioned Yoko Ono "Imagine Peace" sign, as if it was announcing and marking the entrance to this exhibit. We agreed that a lot of the world's strife could be reduced if people could take a break, get a little silly, and enjoy life as we did with these mascots for a brief moment.
Rating: I wish it could always be this way

4:27 am - carpet factory parking lot

A very pleasant, if cryptic, exhibit. The guys ahead of us were very stoned. We decided that that might have helped with our appreciation in this instance.
Rating: mildly interesting

4:28 am - text message:
"Meet me at Riverdale Park, Cabbagetown. Follow the light."
At this point, we realized that Jason was receiving these messages about one hour after I was. Not so helpful for an installation/activity that is time-sensitive.

4:30 am - Mowat Ave./Liberty St.
Euphemisms for the Intimate Enemy

550 55-gallon drums are stacked with the round ends displaying letters which spell out words. Very impressive and visually interesting.
Rating: pretty great

4:35 am - parking lot between Mowat/Fraser Aves., s. of Liberty St.
Future (...---...) Perfect

A set of shipping containers with mist and glowing lights flashing "SOS".
Rating: kind of cool to look at, but is that it?

More interesting than the exhibit was this guy's bike:

I was reading later that a bunch of cyclists rode around Nuit Blanche wearing light displays; I assume this was a participant.
Rating: deserving of official recognition next year

4:40 am - 153 Dufferin St.
Untitled, by Shilpa Gupta

An interactive display in which the figures on screen react to a trackball and button, allowing the viewer to select specific figures and make them move. Dan was the only one who could make it work.
Rating: interesting

4:50 am - 135 Liberty St.
Urban Voice Oscillator

Passed by this exhibit, accompanied by a sign saying that due to technical difficulties, the original installation was unavailable and in its place was a laser exhibit. Upon checking the NB guide, we realized that this was the original exhibit, minus the response to voice/sound. Disappointing, but it could make a nice display in a building lobby or something.
Rating: could have been great

4:55 am - near Lamport Stadium
Smash! Dropping stuff

The World Wrestling Federation of Nuit Blanche. Nothing more than dropping junk - preferably fragile junk - from a lift 8 metres up. Is this art?
Rating: somewhat entertaining as a break from looking at art

5:20 am - Trinity Bellwoods Park
Fake ID

Pose against the backdrop to make your own fake ID. Kind of like a somewhat artistic equivalent of the wooden figures at carnivals which you pose behind so that your head goes with the figure of a caveman, damsel in distress, etc.
Rating: good for a quick laugh

5:25 am - Trinity Bellwoods Park
Glow Worms
The biggest disappointment of the night. 1,000 blinking and swaying lights planted in the grass! We arrived with high expectations of this one, to find that the exhibit was gone because the lights had been stolen. Bastards! The thing I don't get is that a lot of the exhibits - even small ones - had security. Was someone asleep on the job? Note to organizers: next year, put security on the exhibits with parts that are easily portable.

5:45 am - 686 Bay St. - parking lot
Four Sisters

Video shot from a car driving along the Gardiner, with periodic captions. The captions were sometimes amusing, sometimes perplexing.
Rating: mildly interesting.

5:52 am - final text message:
"Dream a little dream for me. Thank you, goodnight"

And with that... home and in bed before sunrise! I had a great time, and am discovering it has a lot to do with finding friends who are interested - probably more important than the art itself. Thanks, guys. Looking forward to next year.