Some Untimely Thoughts: Nuit Blanche
…my first Nuit Blanche Toronto
This past Saturday was Toronto’s 9th Nuit Blanche. It’s taken me a while to get up the urge to write a post about the experience. It wasn’t an unpleasant experience, but I guess I was just indifferent about the whole event. It was cold, it was damp, and it was almost unbearably crowded at points. Being an art history major made me the resident expert and as with most contemporary art, I didn’t understand what was happening with the pieces. The Nuit Blanche Guides were incredibly helpful: providing a large, detailed map with route advice, explanations for each piece and more information on the event in general. Click here for your own introduction and history of the whole event, which includes extended details on all the installations and performances I’ve mentioned and dozens more.
Our first port of call was Nathan Phillips Square. Arriving there at around 8pm, the entire courtyard of Toronto’s City Hall was heaving with revellers. There was a lot of flourescent light glowing around the dark square — and scientists wandering about with phosphorescent test tubes and orange space-like pods on their heads [see the image at the top of me sporting a helmet with my mum].
This was the site where American artist Shasti O’Leary-Soudant’s Half Life took place. This project was a comment on society’s fear of apocalyptic events and the human connection. Scientists could test you for the Half Life virus by swabbing you with a liquid from the test tube and shining a black light on the area. After being tested, participants were equipped with their own black lights to test others as you travelled around the city and we were invited back to the square at midnight for the cure (spoiler alert: we didn’t make it). Read more about this piece here, it is really fascinating.
This was the highlight of our night, unfortunately. The crowds got bigger, the lines got longer but there was definitely no shortage of stuff to see as long as you were interested in interacting with the exhibits.
After acquiring a programme from the info booth, we made a game plan. We were to head west on Queen and then north on Spadina to end at College. Setting off, our first challenge was crossing University Avenue. It’s a wide boulevard where literally thousands were trying to cross and a light timed so that only sprinters can make it the full way across before the change.
The installation at Queen and John was very aesthetically pleasing. Palm trees were raised above the crowds on cherry pickers, reminiscent of a Dr Seuss story board. Titled Gap Ecology, this is the work of American artist David Brooks. It is inspired by:
a phenomenon of the Amazonian forest – the consequences of canopy gap formation. Brooks’ work Gap Ecology translates into our urban jungle the results of a newly formed gap: colonized by species fruiting and flowering, attracting bands of animal life to their bursts of growth – a veritable bacchanalia.
There is lots more on his project on the Nuit Blanche site here.
At this point of our journey we felt a bit like fish in a giant school, being pushed along Queen West. The crowds were immense and I was thankful that the street was pedestrian only.
Marcos Zotes’ Amaze was the only thing we queued for during Nuit Blanche. Content to wait in the organized line, the volunteers kept us informed of wait times, and we had phosphorescent pens from Half Life to draw on each other with to pass the time. An architect hailing from Iceland, Zotes’ work uses scaffolding, light and sound to make a fully immersive environment in the centre of the city.
The idea of the labyrinth is predicated in the notion of finding oneself through the notion of getting lost. Its complex branching passages force visitors to choose among options, some of which may be dead ends while others double back on themselves, as they complete their spiritual journey across the dynamically lit structure.
Read more on his work here.
You can also see the work Global Rainbow in the photos above. Reaching from Chinatown to the CN Tower, these beams of light could be seen from every vantage point during our travels around the city that night. The work of Yvette Mattern, her intent was to paint the sky. She explains to project in more detail here.
Now, Half Life was the most entertaining, but Walk Among Worlds was definitely the most beautiful. This installation by Argentine artist Máximo González was one of the last things we stumbled upon before taking the street car east.
The piece is composed of 7,000 beach balls printed to resemble globes; each of these representing one million of the inhabitants of the planet. The globes, made of a petroleum derivative, require the introduction of human breath to give them their geoidal shape. They come in three different sizes, alluding to the concepts of “first” and “third world.”
Meant to be interactive and educational (González is an art teacher in Mexico City) this was definitely one of my favourite pieces to spend time with and photograph. Read more about this project here.
Next year is the tenth anniversary of this October tradition in Toronto. If I am in the city, I might give it another crack. Going into it with no expectations, I didn’t leave disappointed but with more of a feeling that the event might be becoming a victim of it’s own success.
All photos taken with my phone camera, all quotes taken from the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche Toronto website.