Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nuit Blanche Toronto, 2010

But is it art?

The question is always asked, but this year it kept popping up throughout the night - perhaps in part because we began the night leading around a group of newbies to NB, including some young teens who were clearly puzzled by the artistic content of some of what they saw.

On to the installations...

(Click on photos to enlarge. Click twice on videos to enlarge.)

One at a Time

To pass through a doorway, you are forced to squeeze between a naked woman and man standing on either side. Many security guards around. Photography prohibited. Please take your knapsack off your shoulder. One at a time. I've never seen so much fuss over nothing. Was the intent to make people uncomfortable? As Craig (my NB companion) said, maybe a couple of decades ago (or more) people would have felt more uneasy. In 2010? Meh.

There was a more interesting revelation for me, though. With few people around (UofT was dead this year because there were only two NB installations on the entire campus), we entered this exhibit into a large room which had been cleared in the middle to accommodate a crowd. We had to exit through another door where the nude couple were stationed. But in the room were some people sitting to the side on some couches. It was not immediately obvious if there was anything to witness inside the room itself, in addition to the nude couple at the exit. And it was the people on the couches who made me feel uncomfortable. I don't know whether they were passersby who had stopped to rest (which would have been expected at perhaps 4:00 AM, but this was at the very start of the night) or perhaps NB volunteers, but they stared at us as we entered and I felt very much on display. In retrospect, this experience was much more interesting than the exhibit itself - something to keep in mind for those looking to create their own NB installation for another year.

Whimsical Wabi-Sabi

Giant origami balls. Pleasant, but I had been expecting more.


This was captivating - the kind of thing that could be a great permanent installation. It could have used more candlepower on the part of the Crystal to the west, but visibility was better when we returned at 6:00 AM.

Interactive Landscape Dune

This was the only thing we lined up for, and the almost 60 minute wait was ok because we were in a group and had some interesting conversation.

This was my first chance to see Lower Bay Station. Whenever it's open for viewing/tours, there's always a huge line-up.

The installation was movement- and sound-sensitive. They allowed us down in groups, so most people saw this as part of a mass of people slowly moving past. But if you waited until everyone was gone, a single person could get a better response alone. Especially by running past:

Advertising with Twitter

This has been done before, but we had fun with it because Craig and I are both using Twitter now. Our consecutive tweets are visible in these pics. Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame have been cut to 15 seconds. We are famous!

On the Good Red Road

Art on portable traffic-warning signs. I think the idea has potential that was not realized on this night.

Monument to Smile

Perhaps my favourite of NB 2010! This one could easily be made a permanent installation, and would be well worth it. Holt Renfrew's facade is perfect; they should pay Manulife across the street to be able to set up a projector. Lovely.


Trees created on store windows. I remain unimpressed.

Happy Birthday to __________!

Birthday parties celebrated in the middle of Yonge Street every 15 minutes, all night long. This led to one of the night's "is it art?" discussions.

Men in Black?
(not part of Nuit Blanche - I think)

Good photo op!

Meeting Point: After a planner whose search for new forms pays tribute to existing and familiar places

This is what was indicated in the NB guidebook...

... and this is what we found. The exact image, projected on a screen. Don't complain that they didn't deliver! As we were standing there puzzling over the display, a small group passed by, shouting, "Boring! Boring New York artist!" That made it one of the (unintentionally) humourous highlights of the night.


A chess game accompanied by sound effects. I couldn't believe some people were settling in to watch the game; people coming in to watch briefly were asked to sit at the back. It held my attention for about 15 seconds.

Nuit Market starring the Toronto Weston Flea Market

A nighttime market in a laneway. Fun, but not sure why there was a line-up for this one. Line-up... to look at stuff I'm not going to buy? I can browse flea markets any time without a line-up...

Creative Works Studio
(this year's selected charity for Nuit Blanche)

From the NB website:
The Creative Works Studio is dedicated to fostering healing and recovery through the creative arts. Their studio acts as an oasis from the daily rigors and challenges of daily life for people living with a mental illness. By providing members the freedom to express themselves through art, the studio becomes part of a greater journey toward improved self-esteem, confidence and increased participation in the larger community.

Later That Night at the Drive-In

The multimedia presentation by Daniel Lanois had everyone excited. I talked to a number of people who were disappointed, but I felt the range of reactions might have had to do with the particular music and visuals which were playing at the time one arrived. We found the kaleidoscope-effect with visuals of Las Vegas captivating (see videos below), but the black/white abstracts which followed (third pic below) were less compelling.

Nathan Phillips Square was filled with different projections - some vertical, others horizontal. One formed a ceiling, another a floor.

Ceiling projection:

Daniel Lanois:

Participants stand and walk on one video display.

I was lying down to shoot this projection on a ceiling canopy. There was almost a 3D effect even without 3D glasses.

Projection on the side of the concrete wall in front of City Hall:

Hand-Eye Society

Retro-style videogames

Singin' in the Dark

A hilarious sing-along with musical segments of movie clips. Some didn't work because the songs were too obscure (lyric subtitles notwithstanding, you can't sing along if you don't know the melody), but everyone sang to the ones they knew. The mood was upbeat and the host was great. We were after midnight so we got the "darker" version including clips from Reservoir Dogs and A Clockwork Orange.

Erik Satie's Vexations

Erik Satie composed this difficult piece, accompanied by the odd instruction to play it 840 times, which takes about 15 hours. Due to the 12-hour time constraint, two pianists played it simultaneously, and after each repetition, the sheet of music was removed and folded for display. Kudos to the artists for the wonderful presentation; the long table used to display the paper was impressive in itself.


This one made for some attractive photos, but gets a fail from me. The title and point of this installation were to recreate the original lakeshore of Lake Ontario at Front Street (which is why it's called "Front Street") bathing it in a blue light. The mist was a nice touch. The problem? This was set up facing west on Yonge, not south on Front. It was right at the corner and reorienting it wouldn't have been hard...


If an objective of art is to involve the observer, or stimulate thought or discussion, then this exhibit was one of the most effective for me. Although I didn't see it - and wasn't interested to - it got me thinking and talking. It was supposed to be a live video of a horse in its stall in a stable. It got me thinking about more than simply how we treat animals, but rather how much discomfort and even fear we experience when confined to one spot with nothing to do. We like to relax as long as it is our choice, or as long as we have a leisure activity - preferably a variety of activities to choose from. But when forced to relax with nothing to do - nothing to read, nothing to look at, no one to talk to - we panic. We used to stand and wait at bus stops or wait in line, or sit alone in restaurants and coffee shops with only our thoughts; now, we cannot do so without iPods or cell phones or laptops to keep us busy - or to merely allow ourselves to appear occupied. (There is even a Facebook group called "Pretending to text in awkward situations".) Thank god we're not horses...

The Endless Pace (variation for 60 dancers)

This was a really interesting installation. The "clock" circle contains 60 chairs, with each dancer representing one second; each dancer performs briefly to indicate the passing of their position. The two dancers on the right represent the hour hand. Not visible on the far side, one dancer has to keep performing for a minute until the second "hand" comes around to allow them to take their seat again.

Endgame (Coulrophobia)

"Coulrophobia" is the fear of clowns. The clowns in the NB guidebook for this exhibit were much more cheery; these ones are more appropriately fear-inducing.

Watch this video to see yet another example of people just enjoying the night. The group playing music and singing right on the side of Yonge Street have nothing to do with the art installation, but it is the people who make the night what it is.

a moment stilled Voyageur

Moving vistas are viewed in the windows and rear-view mirrors of a minivan.

Auto Lamp

Aside from the turntable which aided the display, this exhibit was static, but a visual highlight of the night nevertheless.

Big O

We were fascinated by the physics of this one. Air currents keep a loop of tape suspended in the air indefinitely.


Write down where you are coming from, and where you are going. In my efforts to photograph my friends writing their entries, I neglected to actually read any of what was written. A friend who I ran into here told me some of it was cheery but some of it was depressing.


Apparently part of a display of exhibits from NB past: this was part of a group of sunflowers created with a special type of lighting.

Fun with detergent
(not part of NB)

Fun can be cheap! Apparently, it's hellish to get out of the fountain afterward, though.

Church Intent

Although not one of my favourites, I took the most photos here because of the ingenuity of ordinary camping objects transformed into religious symbols. Look closely:

The Hand of God
(not part of Nuit Blanche)

In the Distillery, classic artwork formed out of Rubik's Cubes:

Burning Buddha

I found this one to be the reverse of the many NB exhibits which are best experienced live: I think this one is best experienced through still photos.

Rail of Light

This installation of light was accompanied by the sounds of electric trains. The Junction is the centre of the fight to switch from Diesel to electric trains.

Jason & Dan

Under the bridge, an additional video display. We're told that NYC eliminated diesel trains many decades ago (not true), and that the eventual frequency of trains here will be 90 seconds.


Very pretty, but accompanied by loud breathing which I found disquieting.

More Advertising!

This year, it seems that there were large ads masquerading as NB installations. They were not official exhibits and were not listed in the NB guidebook, but a couple were bigger and more ambitious than a lot of the official artwork. The fact that they were corporate ads does necesarily mean they can't be art, as is evident below. I didn't get to see this one, but noticed the link on a friend's Facebook wall. We were just around the corner at one point and would have really enjoyed seeing it live.

One sour note is that, once again, we found a lot of installations had closed well before the end of the night. We headed out to Liberty Village to see a friend's work, only to find that it had been dismantled and was being packed away. I would have been royally pissed if we had taken a taxi or transit all the way out there to find that. It seems, too, that the farther from the core, the less traffic an installation gets, and the more likely it will be closed early. Unless NB can address this, I think this year will be the last that we plan to stay out until dawn. Probably 4:00 AM will be the limit from now on. It's a great event and a fun night, but wandering around finding lots of sites closed is a shitty way to end it.

And with that... bed time.

Sunrise in the distance: