Sunday, October 4, 2009

One Sleepless Night or Silly Night -- Nuit Blanche 2009

Nuit Blanche is Toronto's annual night of art in the street and I set out last night to enjoy and experience all it had to offer.  If you did not read my last blog which gave an introduction to Nuit Blanche, you might like to do that first before reading this blog.  

"Nuit Blanche" is translated as "Sleepless Night" not "White Night" as one might think, as Nuit Blanche is a term of French idiom.  Having spent 8 hours last night out partaking in the event, I suggest that this night is not only sleepless but also pretty silly, even stupid, due to two factors.  Firstly there has been an overwhelming success in attracting participants - evidence that we Torontonians are starved for events which promise a good time. Secondly, there is just not enough good art in the event - even thought there were reportedly over 130 installations involving 550 local and international artists.

As my blog of last week mentioned, I was quite looking forward to the event as I had enjoyed it last year.  I set out at about 8:00 p.m. and did Zone C, which is in Liberty Village.  All of the inner streets in the neighbourhood were closed to cars and it was packed with people - all having a great time.  The rain had stopped and there was a full moon and it wasn't very cold.   I very much enjoyed the art, but there seemed fewer works of art in the immediate area and most were imo "on the fringe" of artisic effort.

For instance, in the Metro Grocery Store parking lot there was a work titled "Take Shelter".  It consisted of a great many cases of tined food which was  being arranged by the participants supposedly to be the basis of a shelter.  Seemed like a bunch of junk thrown around in the parking lot and a waste of good food.  I hope it was donated to a food bank, but I am not sure that the needy would understand why the tinned goods they were receiving were so covered in dirt.  Of course, idiots roamed the streets as well, so there were a good number of tins thrown around in the part across from my condo, even though that was a good 2 blocks from the installation.

There were a couple of interesting things which I most enjoyed, notably:

In the Metro Food store the sound of an approaching aircraft and the lifesized shadow of an airplane projected on the ceiling made a statement in the work titled Invade - acknowledging that we now have a different reaction, post 9-11, to an airplane in close proimity overhead. As one shops, one can imaging how improbable it would be to hear a plane at close range and it does create an uneasy feeling.

Through the passageway in the Liberty Village Market Building Attrium there were dozens of paper bag covered people who, as you tried to pass through, provided a heartfelt apology for being in the way.  Kind of made you feel good to hear so many people saying "I am sorry" to you.  This was The Apology Project.

Fire and Sausage - if art has to be silly, I like this version.  There were well over 10 stations set up throughout Liberty Village where there a couple of barrels set up with fire as cooking areas, complete with seating around the "campfire".

Titled "Small Mercies", it was a social sculpture simulating the aftermath of an apocalypse by ecouraging people to sit and talk and by dispensing tin cups of hot chocolate, sausages cooked on a whittled tree branch and (to the lucky few) a small blanket.  The statement that was made that in the aftermath there are small mercies as we share what is left.  The idea was thought  provoking, the execution was very practical (it was a cold night) and it did generate a sense of community and and fit into the  overall theme of the event.

 Across the street from my condo, a pair of contruction cranes were moving in unison to the sound of music.  It was called Dancing Cranes.  Interesting for a moment or two only.  Construction cranes have a very limited range of movement and speed - it would be stretching it a few miles to say they "dance".  Not high on my list of favourites, although the thought was good, just not a lot to work with.  You can see the full moon in the sky above the crane in this snap.

After seeing everything there was to see in Zone C, I set out for Zone B and the south end of Zone A at about 11:00 p.m.  At that point my opinion of the event changed from somewhat arty and mildly silly to definitely just silly and a bit annoying.

As I walked from Liberty Village to the downtown core, the streets were very busy, but this is to be expected as the Club District is between these two points and of course 11:00 is peak line up time outside all of the clubs.  So the sidewalk was filled with pretty, young things with short skirts and young men, with optimistic faces looking expectantly at the eye candy, waiting patiently to be granted access to the join the fun.  I don't expect this was any different tonight than any other Saturday night, except in the heat of the summer, it would be even more crowded in this section of town. 

After a 20 minute stroll through the club goers I got to downtown streets, normally not so crowded as in the Club District, the streets were either closed or gridlocked and there were wall to wall people. I wandered the area in a big circle to catch the most events, I was very disappointed.  There were so many people that it made it impossible to see any of the art without a very long wait and there were just (as the evening wore on) too many drunken teenagers out and about. 

I quote from one observer who had posted a comment on the web:
"Ratio of people having fun to drunk sobbing teenage girls with things spilled on their dresses = 1:1 at this point in the night." FROM: ASHLEY CARTER
TIME: 3:10 A.M. (ADDED AT 3:15 AM)

Even discounting the drunken teens, who were not lining up to see art, I might add, there were too many people.  The event had attracted far more participants per work of art than it could handle... long line ups to see any of the art and far more party/circus/fall fair or just plain silly events were being held than there were real identifiable "works of art" to view... The downtown area seemed the central spot for things silly.  An example below was in the Toronto Bus Terminal Station where men in cages were wrestling.

Bay Street, in Zone B was closed between Front and Gerrard (about 2 KM) and it was crammed with people - but the main attractions were the food vendors and two carnival rides which had been set up and were operating (for free!).  Not art in my book, but I guess because it was free it was deemed "participation art".

At our City Hall there was a crowd gathered which I suspect might have surpassed in number the folks that gather there traditionaly every year to count in the New Year.

  The attraction?

A large suspended set of lights which were programmed to flash 4 letter words or letter combinations.  Every time it changed the crowd called out the work in unison.  Art?  You tell me!

One thing was sure everyone was having fun.  I guess us Torontonians are easily amused.

I did like the Monopoly Game that was going on in a storefront of the Toronto (Stock) Exchange Tower.  They were playing for real money and folks had dressed up for the part and there were a few notables playing.

You can see set of participant photos and comments here to give you a full sense of the event 

 I must also in this report give the Nuit Blanche organizers kudo's for a great iPhone application and website which not only allowed one to set up a route in advance and pull it up on your iPhone, but also allowed us to find the nearest art installation to our current location, fetch related information for that particular piece and also to vote for favourites.  It was quite good.

On the not so well done category was garbage collection - bins were overflowing everywhere, and I heard someone say that Bay Street was a corn field this morning as there were so many corn husks discarded up and  down the street where the corn cob vendors were plying their wares.

So next year, I don't think I will make it a sleepless night (it was well after 4:00 a.m. when I got home last night!), and just do my own Liberty Village area and retire at a sensible hour and leave the late night drunks and silly things to every one else, in favour of a good night's sleep!


  1. Art that inspire as seen through the eyes of one with a cultivated eye.You my dear have an eye for the divine, well done.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Sorry, replaced previous comment...

    Thank you so much for the kind words Simone. It is nice to have a new visitor to my corner of the blogsphere.

    I have just now returned from visiting your wonderful blog - and was delighted! It contains both visual and inspirational treats. I will be returning there often. You seem to be a kindred spirit and your insights on the writing process and characterization has been very helpful.

    Very nice to meet you and thanks for dropping by.



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