Sunday, October 3, 2010

Toronto's Nuit Blanche

Last night the streets of Toronto was alive with thousands of people who were taking in the Nuit Blanche experience. Depending on your outlook and temperament, you might describe it as a night of avante garde art, or a all night party or even an all night circus. I think my friend Michael Golland, Liberty Village's official Artist in Residence, was right on when he remarked that it was Art turned into Social Commentary.  We were discussing the Fragments & Sightings project at Lamport Stadium. Certainly, past year's Nuit Blanche has stretched the boundaries of the art experience and this year was no exception.    This  I provided a bit of introduction to Nuit Blanche in my last week's blog, so I won't go into here.

I must confess my Nuit Blanche night was not an all night event for me - I tooted around for just a few hours before I retreated to warmer quarters chilled to the bone.  I present below some photos from the installations I was able to catch before I weakened. It is the first Saturday of the month, which was my cue to be at the Liberty Bistro to catch XOTEKA and Laura Fernandez Latin Jazz band.  
Things were hopping at the Liberty.  I enjoyed a nightcap there and listened to the some great music before I strolled home amongst the night's revellers not long after midnight.

I did not get to the downtown area that had some projects I really would have liked to have seen, such as Daniel Lanois' "Later That Night At The Drive-In" at  the Toronto City Hall,  the film "Up Up and Around" at the Ryerson University Kerr Hall Quad, and the stuff at Dundas Square.  I had such an awful time last year navigating the crowds downtown that I decided not to venture there.  As  an introduction to my question Art or Not, I submit a clear example, in my opinion of "Not Art", something new this year - the Nuit Market - a fully functioning night "flea market", set up for one night on Victoria Street.  Not sure what a market - day or night - has to do with art, but I didn't get there either.

Zone C - Liberty Village Nuit Blanche Projects

In previous years, Liberty Village was the hub of Zone C.  Not so this year.  Most of the events in Zone C were along the length of Queen Street West, save for a half dozen down in my neighbourhood.  In my opinion was a good thing - I really don't need to stroll cheek to jowl with hundreds of others as I did in previous years.  Somehow wandering alone in a thick crowd is not as much fun as it is when you are in the company of friends.  Truth be known, wandering thick crowds with/without friends is not most folks cup of tea.  While there were still lots of folks strolling the dark streets looking for "ART", it was not the wall to wall people zoo it was last year.  Leaving my condo and heading west along Liberty Street, the first Nuit Blanche event I came across was a strolling performer with the need to have audience participants set fire to small objects hidden inside the closed box she held in front of her.

I observed what seemed to be a small paper replica of a table being ritually incinerated and then moved on - wondering what the point of this was supposed to be? Was it supposed to make me think or feel any certain way? Perhaps if I had a bit of pyromania in my psyche. Consulting the program guide, apparently I arrived at the burning part of the performance. It seems that participants would be asked to "eat, burn, smash or otherwise destroy small objects made of chocolate, paper or ice". I still wonder what the performer (and conceiver I presume) of this event, Lalie Douglas of Montreal, had meant for us to take away from the "performance".  Were we supposed to enjoy or to be dismayed at the destruction of the small items?   I continued to Lambert Stadium cursing my bad luck not to have arrived at the right time to eat the chocolate and mentally counting "art = 0, not art = 1".
I did not have to walk too much further when I came upon the Flux and Fire exhibit. This was the concept of Christine Irving & Site3.  It was billed as a "large-scale interactive fire experience that captures the idea that art can be made anywhere, temporary and articulated in flames."  I approached the area to watch the puffs of fire burst out of the gas jets.  In the centre of the ring of gas jets there was a platform.  For 5 minutes at a time pairs of individuals were accompanied to and hoisted up onto the platform and allowed to orchestrate the puffs of fire by waving their hands.  The puffs of fire somehow were controlled by the movements of the folks on the platform rendering each performance of fire puffs unique.  As I contemplated the interesting shapes of the fire and the movements of the various pairs "on stage", I decided that the score was now "Art=1, Not Art=1".

The further down the Lambert Stadium parking lot I spied what looked like a jungle gym climbing apparatus. There was Indian music playing to accompany the Goddesses & Gargoyles Group Exhibition of the Hercini Arts Collective. Titled "Night at the Indies", it featured an acrobatic dance troupe made up as various Goddesses & Gargoyles hanging out in what in your imagination you could think of as a cage.

There were 4 shrines set up with offerings to the 4 Goddesses and Gargoyles climbing in the cage. I liked Night at the Indies. It was right out there as far as performance art, but very interesting and well executed. OK "Art=2, Not Art=1".

In each of the previous years I attended Nuit Blanche there were quite a few uncurated events which just appeared on the street hosted by some unofficial effort. I guess anyone with an idea and motivation can do something on the street during the Nuit Blanche night, but that doesn't make it art. The next event was not listed in the guide, but there seemed to have been some money put into the project to acquire at least a tent and organization enough to arrange that the two dozen or so participants each (or mostly) wore white clothes and were equipped with something useful to a mobile musical group project.
 There was one lad who was carrying a sign "Nit Wit Marching Band". There was a motley crew of what I presumed to be University Students, kitted out in a way to be able to play their assortment of odd musical instruments as they marched around.  Given the tent set up, I wondered if much marching would be done except maybe in a circle around the tent. They were belting out Neil Young's tune "Helpless Helpless". I smiled as I wandered into Lamport Stadium to see the next exhibit. "Art=2, Not Art=2".

The next exhibit was very sobering and thought provoking. Titled "Fragments & Sightings" Allan Kosmajac, Diane Misaljevic,and Julie Steward trigger some major reflection on the social condition. The exhibit was well conceived and executed. Placed carefully on the playing field and aligned on a grid were several hundreds of small display boxes.

Each box was numbered and contained some personal fragment of a story that bears witness to an attrocity experienced by an individual caught in one of humanity's shameful historical events. As I walked the length and width of the field and examined the items, making personal the stories of the many shameful events in modern history I felt great sadness. "Art=3, Not Art=2"

In the Liberty Village Park, just outside my condo in view from my balcony, the project "The Exquisite Cropse LIVE" was set up by Alex Heidbuechel and Brian Durocher.  This was an interactive Video exhibit was set up to project live video bits of the audience participants onto a large screen set up against the old Chapel Heritage Building.  The program explained that the installation explores What makes you who you are? by proposing that each of us is a product of those around us.  An interesting thought as I watched my head get attached to someone else's bit projected up on the wall.  OK borderline.  "Art=3.5, Not Art=2.5"

The last set of exhibits were unmistakably Art. I was so delighted with the various photo-based displays mounted on the side of 10 shipping containers in and around Liberty Village, that I will leave that to a separate blog in order to do it justice. As an added note - this is part of a larger Art Event which runs from Oct 6-10th in Liberty Village - the Flash Forward Festival 2010. Stay tuned for my personal account of the 5 day event next weekend. If you are interested in photography you might want to plan to attend. Aside from the displays there are many free/lower cost workshops and panel discussions as well as gallery tours of this public space exhibit located throughout Liberty Village. You can get more information on the Flash Forward Festival here.

There were 3 separate installations situated within Liberty Village
"Art 6.5, Not Art=2.5"

What is Art?
According to
Art stimulates different parts of our brains to make us laugh or incite us to riot, with a whole gamut of emotions in between. Art gives us a way to be creative and express ourselves. For some people, art is the entire reason they get out of bed in the morning. You could say "Art is something that makes us more thoughtful and well-rounded humans." says a lot more about what art is - you can go there for a read to get the full discourse on that question.  That said, one could argue that if it is an official Nuit Blanche event then by definition it is a Contemporary Art project .  After all Nuit Blanche  is promoted as an all night contemporary -and curated - Art event.  I don't mean to argue with the Curators of Nuit Blanche, but there is art and there is ART.  In my mind, art must at least have some creatively and cleverly conceived content, a message capable to be taken away and evoke some emotion.  I need to be able to like or dislike it and there needs to be some point to the thing - even if just social commentary.

What do you think?  If  you were curating Nuit Blanche where would you draw the line between art and silliness?

Go to my Picasa Album to see all my pics.


  1. Years ago, I encountered this as the definition of art: Art is the creation of beauty.

    Admittedly, beauty often is in the eye of the beholder, but I stubbornly hold out with this as my definition of art and reject all others.

    People these days tend to try to be different, and to attempt to discover ways to demonstrate they are special or unique when, in reality, they simply are different but, by no means, special or unique.

    Anyway, art or no art, your night on the town in Toronto is a good excuse to be out and about and to have fun. Whatever else you see or hear or do, that is enough reason in itself.

    Excellent post, Peggy.

  2. THANK YOU! Thank you to everyone who visited, interacted and voted for Flux and Fire. It was announced today that Flux and Fire won the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche People's Choice Award for Independent Projects. I look forward to producing more interactive - be it media or fire - art to share.

  3. Thank you to everyone who supported the art piece Flux and Fire and voted for us as the Scotiabank Niut Blanche 2010 People's Choice for Independent Projects. Interactive art is such an enjoyable art form be it media of fire.


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