For the past several years we’ve missed Toronto’s version of Nuit Blanche (now called Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, I guess) because we’ve been travelling. This year we deliberately avoided trips in late September/early October so we could attend. Well, fine, okay, we also did it to avoid the opening of the NHL season, but that doesn’t seem so relevant now, does it?
So after spending the day yesterday cleaning the condo we settled into art & food mode: we ate dinner (filet mignon, Beringer cab sauv, and Portuguese tarts for dessert), threw back some double shots of espresso (made from Fahrenheit‘s Diablo beans), and joined the overnight art fray somewhere around 11PM.
The forecast had been warning of showers, but — apart from a tiny spit of drizzle at one point — the weather cooperated nicely. We were able to walk to all the exhibits we wanted to see, though we mostly focused on Zone C since it’s close to home (and also because the Zone C curator seemed to be getting the most nods).
We ended up seeing twenty projects. Here are some of my favourites:
- Top Down, because we could see it being built practically below our balcony. It was fun to have a perspective no one else had.
- Earth-Moon-Earth, a flawed rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata constructed by beaming morse code translations of the notes to the moon and back, and playing the notes (or altered versions thereof) which had reflected back to earth on a player piano. Very cool.
- Smells Like Spirit, a lo-fi “séance” about Kurt Cobain. Basically it was a loading dock filled with amps, mixers, lights, etc., just as it might look the night of a show as the crew loads into a new venue. Feedback and swelling noise build up in the little space, and occasionally random Kobain vocal tracks. The best part was the endless flow of people who walked to the end of the space, declared it empty, and left, complaining as they went. All they had to do was listen. It wasn’t about the space.
- Young Prayer, in which an electric guitar hung from a church ceiling rises into the air, slowly descends, and then drops a few feet onto the floor, causing distortion and feedback through the amps piled on the floor, which continues to ring and squall through the next climb back to the heavens. Repeat. Like Townshend + Mogwai + Ambien, viewed from a church pew. Amazing.
- The Day After, Tomorrow, 2012, which felt worryingly like the beginning of 28 Days Later in that the installation was simply nine large TV screens showing scenes of apocalypse from thousands of movies. I expected to be infected with rage at any minute. It was fun though, and for whatever reason probably the calmest area we hit all night, so we were really able to engage with the piece.
- The Evening News (small craft warning), which I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand, but which gets massive points for the following: ambition (an all-night radio show about the end of the world, conducted from a plywood box fitted out like a radio booth), interactivity (headphones playing the broadcast were strung from surrounding trees, and they posted a number you could call with discussion topics), and venue. I wish I’d brought a proper camera so I could have captured the full beauty of the booth, spewing wires into the trees overhead, with the towering downtown bank towers looming and intruding just behind.
- Ensemble For Mixed Use, which didn’t seem remarkable at all until I got to end, turned around, and saw what ended up being my favourite visual of the night: giant Zildjian hi hat cymbals hovering over the heads of shadowy onlookers.
- Cent Une Tueries des Zombies, a looped film staged at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, pulling all the tropes from zombie films of the past (good and bad, and shockingly terrible) into a fairly cogent narrative. Lots of humor, especially dubbing the “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” dialogue from Night Of The Living Dead over the scene from the “Thriller” pre-video vignette where Michael Jackson dances alongside his girlfriend.
- Beacon, a simple and practically deserted project in Brookfield place. The vaulted ceilings there allow for some interesting installations (like Longwave a few years ago) and this year’s Beacon — a thirty-foot steel frame tower, roughly in the shape of an old lighthouse, and bearing a rotating spotlight — was no different. The simplicity of the metal structure, the juxtaposition of this signal which couldn’t be seen outside of the ring of huge bank towers it was nestled in, and quite frankly the calm of the venue made it a nice way to end our adventure.
With the time closing on 3AM I was getting hungry (and Nellie was getting sleepy) so we pushed through the hordes on Yonge Street and swung up to the Zone C rest station. I bought a porchetta sandwich from the Per Se food truck, which hit the spot nicely.
We felt like we’d done a pretty good swath of Nuit Blanche, and had the sore feet to prove it. While we enjoyed much of the art, by far the most exasperating part of the night is dealing with all the drunk idiots. It’s an unavoidable element on a Saturday night, certainly, but the sheer volume — I’d say 75% of the people out were more interested in a street party than in art of any kind — changes the feel of the event. It’s hard to process the images and ideas evoked by the art you just saw when, upon exiting the venue, you see two guys holding up a young girl desperately trying to make herself vomit on the sidewalk, or when the clubgoers spill out into the installations at 2AM and add their yell-y insight, or when the security guys have to yell at some self-styled ninja to get off the elephant statue in Commerce Court. It really takes you out of the experience and doesn’t allow you to get caught up in the art itself. I’m beginning to think the only way to really connect with the art is to go out early before the crowds really descend, or to wait until 4AM when the 905ers have gone home and the Ry High kids have passed out. Or just get wasted ourselves.