Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nuit Blanche Toronto, 2011

This year's guidebook to Nuit Blanche has an introductory message from the mayor. Normally, a message from the mayor would be standard practice for any big city event, but in the case of an arts event, it comes off as inappropriate, hypocritical, and puts a bit of a damper on the night. Rob Ford writes of the city's commitment to "sustaining the cultural sector and positioning our city as a globally competitive Creative Capital" (his capital-letter emphasis, not mine). He also writes of the economic benefits of the event. Funny - he's never said these things before to my knowledge, but he and his clown-car of right-wing councillors have done everything in their power to make this city a laughing stock. I'm saving this message to quote back to him. I am certain I will need to in the next few years.

While I didn't see any exhibits openly mocking the mayor, it did seem to me that this year's NB was much more overtly political than in any previous year. From the memorial to lost lives of migrant workers (Memorias) to random police arrests and detentions (The Police Station) to political karaoke (Another Protest Song), I spent time pondering Rob Ford's effect on the population and on NB itself - both the artists and organizers.

The evening and day after on social media saw many comments about "lameness" and about people not seeing anything good. I actually enjoyed the night more than last year's - but in the day or two afterward I realized that a big part of my enjoyment was spending my time with the right people. I went from 7:00 PM to midnight with a friend, and was having a bite to eat before going home when a couple of other friends happened upon me, and I started all over again. Home at 5:30 AM. Personally, I find any activity can be fun with the right people - from moving house to grocery shopping. So if I find a lot of the art installations to be really shitty, it's still not a waste of time. Look; discuss; debate; laugh. Move on. I had a great night. As long as I have friends who are eager, I'll be back next year.

(Click on photos to enlarge)


This was the big one, and it seems that City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square being such a big space at night need to be lit up. This year it was lit up big time, and I loved the result.

These videos all show the lasers from different vantage points and/or producing different effects:

Gorilla Glass

This was quite lovely, and unfortunately it was overshadowed by the lasers and people gliding across the square, so I think a lot of people missed it, as it was located above the square and behind the towers.

Chevrolet Exhibit

Corporate sponsorship, advertising, and involvement are always discussed in connection of NB (note, I do not mention the sponsor when I say "Nuit Blanche"). Product placement has been visible before, but not like this. I was shocked and appalled at how blatant this was. Not fooled by the so-called artist's statement. Grade: F-

The old, dissected Chevy integrated with the drum kit and the live drummer were kind of cool and I could see that as art...

...but not so the new cars sitting around the video displays of flashing "art".

The final straw was the Chevrolet banners. You have got to be kidding me.


If you don't ever pass by Scotia Plaza, you might think the video display is permanent. It was being programmed by passersby from a booth across the street.

This looks 3-dimensional, but it's just a flat (albeit really big) video screen.

Viewed from below:


As much as I like flashing light displays, this very low-tech exhibit was my favourite of the night. Brilliant and hilarious.

You line up in front of the Presentation Centre. It looks every bit like the entrance to a new condo sales centre, complete with custom banners:

A fresh perspective on urban living!

You duck down and enter through flaps, and into an enclosed space with more flaps hanging down and arrows directing you to stand up and put your head through a hole. And this is what you enter:

After a moment of appreciating the display, the lights come on and a voice over a speaker announces that you are being evicted. You can hear the disappointment:

City Mouse

This displays formerly indigenous plants and animals in a display married with visuals of life in the office towers now in place.

Who's Gonna Run This Town

This made no impression on me - and apparently not on anyone else either, as it was one of the few installations with absolutely no one looking at it.

The Free Shop

This was entertaining. There was a huge lineup of people waiting to see if they could get something. Some people will do anything for something free.

Je t'aime Alouette

Somewhat interesting. UFOs?

The Tie-Break

A move-by-move re-enactment of part of a high-stakes tennis match between Borg and McEnroe. The performers apparently practised for a year, and they were really good. The visual resemblance was amusing and McEnroe did his trademark grunts. We watched for quite some time, and almost caught a chill. All you could hear throughout the crowd the entire time was people saying, "They have got to be fucking freezing."


The public is invited to light a candle to commemorate Ontario migrant workers. I wanted to take part, but we weren't to be trusted with the candles; NB staff lit them and then we were allowed to specify where we wanted the candles placed. So much for audience participation.

The Sense of Reckoning

The most hilarious thing about this one was that no one was sure whether it was working or broken. Some words were recognizable, although hard to read as they scrolled over the double borders between signs placed tightly in a row; some panels had the appearance of an old tv with the vertical control on the fritz.


This one took a prize for one of the most feeble exhibits of the night. The website and guidebook describe a "150 foot-long communal table. I had thought that might make for a nice participatory experience leading to interaction between strangers. Clearly, something got lost in the implementation. The result had all the ambience of a shopping mall food court. In fact, that's where we thought the canopy should end up.


This was one of our favourites of the night. Using the courtyard at Commerce Court, which is a huge space hemmed in by office buildings, there was an atmosphere of apprehension created by constantly moving spotlights and loud helicopter sounds (also a strobe and smoke machine in one corner and the occasional firework-explosion in the middle of the fountain). It was like happening upon a disaster scene before you know what the disaster is. Unfortunately, I shot this video before I had a real feel for the thing, so the video doesn't capture the feel of the installation very well.

New Dawn Fades

This was another corporate sponsorship project, this one by Philips. Unlike the Chevrolet exhibit, I was not bothered by the sponsorship aspect of this one, because the emphasis of this one was on the aesthetics and not on the brand name. You had to examine the rings close up to see the Philips name, and even then the name might not come across as a sponsor so much as simply the equipment needed to put the installation together. There was a table to the side with Philips' flyers, but I don't think most of the crowd even noticed it.


Many could not resist posing in the police tape for photo ops, and by half-way through the night the display was heavily damaged. (That comment is not aimed at Craig, here. I saw entire groups of people stretching it and squeezing their bodies through it.)


This was not a NB installation, but Eaton Centre's new permanent light sculpture (by United Visual Artists of London, England), the unveiling of which was included in the night's festivities. Its inclusion in NB was entirely appropriate, I thought, as yet another light show.

Paparazzi Bots

These robots are programmed to be selective, and are specifically looking to photograph people who are smiling.

Face Music

I should have shot video of this one. The things hanging move on their own and seem to follow people, or movement.


More lights! Just put up some lights (preferably lots of them) and you have your own NB.

Honey I'm Home

Another of my favourites. A horrible sitcom becomes a NB installation with the insertion of live footage with NB passersby taking on the role of one of the sitcom characters, with the help of Ryerson tv crews.

Ride the Rocket

A TTC red rocket becomes a rocket ride. I really wanted to see this, but the line-up was way too long. But we could get an idea of the experience because the projections on the windows were visible from the outside.

Do-It-Yourself NB...

Not the first time I've seen people riding around NB with lights on bicycles, but this one struck me as more of an attention-getter than an artist.

The Heart Machine

This one was a big hit. There were crowds filling the space the entire time. Aside from the towering machine parts, there were baton twirlers and video displays.

Another Protest Song: Karaoke with a Message

Despite the simplicity of its concept, this was a big draw. There was a big and very supportive crowd, and the singers I saw were very good. Political and uplifting.

The Police Station

We passed by and I was eager to be arrested and detained, but apparently I didn't fit any profile they were targeting at the time. Or maybe they were just tired.

A City Sleepover

Last year, we waited an hour to get into Lower Bay subway station. This year, we walked right in. I'd expected the sleepover to be on the platform floor, but instead there were trains parked on both side with their doors open and all lights out. People had blankets strung from poles to create sort of makeshift tents. While not crowded, there were a fair number of people taking a break inside the cars and just conversing with friends and strangers. The only effort made to enhance the subway station atmosphere were coloured lights added to the platform pillars.

The view from inside a subway car

My friend, Jeanette, shot from the floor where I lay down to rest. It was quite peaceful.

Shannon's Fireflies

This was one of my favourites of the night (again with the flashing lights...). It's an array of small clusters of lights which were supposed to be sound and light activated but the sound aspect appeared to be absent. The photos and video show people trying to make the installation light up using cell phone displays and camera flashes.


It's interesting what the night turns up...

Still more DIY...

This was cool. Good beat, sound and light projected out of the back of a van and across the street onto the wall of The Bay on Queen. Design your own installation and just find a place to park. I missed shooting Pac Man just a moment before.

I just know that something good is going to happen

This installation provided rain and fog - as well as some of the best opportunities for photography of the night.

Disappointed last year by the early closure of some of the installations, I had vowed not to stay out all night this year. But things seemed to be running well this year. A cold rain started at 4:30 AM and was our cue to wind up. Home to bed at 5:30.

That's all for another year!