Nuit Blanche 2013

Yesterday we altered our sleep patterns so that we were able to take part in Nuit Blanche, Toronto’s version of the all-night art thing. We left our place at 11 and it started out pretty rough — I forget each year how annoying massive, mostly-drunk crowds of people can be — but we stuck it out until 2am. Here’s what we saw (or tried to see):

  • Before we even went out an enormous traveling dance party drove along Adelaide right under our balcony. I can only assume it was part of Nuit Blanche.
  • 36km: Toronto Alleyway Exploration Project
  • Garden Tower in Toronto, which we only saw from the outside since the line to walk inside was too long
  • Diaspora Dialogues, which we abandoned shortly after walking in since the crowds were too big and lines too long…we couldn’t tell what was going on at the front of the church
  • Smoke House, which we again decided to abandon because of the length of the line to ride the bikes. We could see everything though.
  • Howl, which I think saved Nuit Blanche for me. Up to this point I was so frustrated with the overcrowded exhibits, and exhibits whose entrances were marked incorrectly on the website, and the impenetrable crowds, that I was just seconds from packing it in. But Howl was terrific. Howl made me want to keep going.
  • Campfire, which we couldn’t really appreciate because of the crowds and how loud it was…the dialogue was totally drowned out
  • The Anthropocene
  • Night Shift, which we walked past in between their dances, so they were just cleaning up piles of golden paper. We didn’t stick around for more dancing.
  • Arctic Trilogy, which we watched for about ten minutes
  • Take A Penny
  • Shrine, for which we didn’t line up but could see just fine from the outside, including the disappointment on the faces of those exiting the inside
  • Mariner 9, another favourite
  • We walked past a screen showing WATERMARK Cubed in the distance, but didn’t really observe it…but that’s fine, we just saw the documentary itself
  • It wasn’t an exhibit, but a drum troupe outside of First Canadian Place was one of my favourite moments of the night
  • The Soniferous Æther of The Land Beyond The Land Beyond was also trippy and excellent. I wish we’d stayed a little longer — some people had actually laid down and gone to sleep in front of the exhibit, so clearly it was soothing or mesmerizing or something — but we’ve learned that you have to keep moving on Nuit Blanche
  • Pink Punch
  • We were lucky enough to walk past the extremely strange Burrman on his travels, on York around Richmond
  • Queen Of The Parade
  • Music Box
  • After a long roundabout route we walked past Toaster Work Wagon and arrived in the top half of Nathan Phillips Square to see Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles, which was pretty cool. However, the crowds on the Queen Street side were so daunting that we couldn’t even get near Crash Cars. Luckily you could read the lit-up poetry of The rose is without why from anywhere in the square.
  • Clothesline Canopy was actually undergoing repairs so we couldn’t walk underneath it, but we did see it from the side.
  • We have no idea what was happening at Agit P.O.V.
  • The Big Crunch
  • We got in line for L’Air Du Temps but when we saw the line that said it would be a 45-minute wait we bailed
  • We interacted with Take A Load Off as the artist intended: but sitting on the discarded furniture…but then we remembered that this was discarded furniture, and were kind of grossed out

And so, that was it for our Nuit Blanche 2013. The weather more or less cooperated…cool and breezy beats cold and rainy any day. The crowds were close to unbearable, and not just for me…they created enough friction between patrons for two people to be stabbed during the course of the night, and I’m sure there were dozens of fights. And how at least one pedestrian isn’t killed every Nuit Blanche I’ll never understand.

Garden Tower In Toronto
Take A Penny
Music Box
Forever Bicycles
Clothesline Canopy

More pictures.

Nuit Blanche: Once More With Feeling (Zone C)

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.

Final thoughts on Nuit Blanche

  • David Topping at Torontoist has an excellent list of recommendations for how to improve next year’s event, including my favourite “Somehow Ban Trashed, Annoying People from Participating.” Also, you can tell by the article’s permalink that the original title was “The Nights Who Say Nuit” but I’m guessing the editor pulled that for excessive levels of nerd. 🙂
  • Another of Topping’s suggestions — Ban Non-Pedestrian Traffic — was echoed by Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume. Pretty hard to argue with that, having seen a few people almost hit by cars and Queen Street ground to a halt anyway. Even leaving Richmond, Adelaide & Front open for cross-town traffic while closing off Wellington, Queen & King would help.
  • My Flickr traffic has gone through the roof in the last 24 hours, partly from native Flickr searches, and partly because Spacing Wire used one of my pictures.
  • Finally, while we could hear the rehearsals all week leading up to Nuit Blanche in the nearby park, and could also hear the early performances Saturday evening before we went out, we missed seeing Quixotic ourselves in St. James Park. It looked impressive too: how this performance at 5AM didn’t wake us up I’ll never know.

"Anybody entering this area may be attacked by zombies and filmed"

I wasn’t able to attend Nuit Blanche (an “all-night art thing” in Toronto where art installations are found in public spaces between sunset and sunrise) in the first two years it ran, as it would have meant losing the better part of two days of MBA work time. However, this year I was determined to check it out.

Nellie and I left home around 11PM and saw some smaller exhibits near home, like Benefit of the Doubt, Don Coyote, The Greatest Falls and Corvidae Ibidem. We swung past BCE place and the Toronto Nocturnes I photo exhibit before heading down to Union Station for the Horridor installation. The line was massive, however, and we decided to come back later.

We cut back to the east to see Commerce Court, which was kind of interesting, but I find standing in that square at night and looking up to be one of the more attractive venues in Toronto anyway. We continued up toward City Hall to see Blinkenlights, passing the enormous lineup for 15 Minutes of Fame, but when we got to Queen Street it was a freaking zoo. There were a lot of very drunk, very annoying people out last night, but I doubt they were there for Nuit Blanche so much as they were just the usual drunken asses who infest Queen on a Saturday night. Still, they made it impossible to even get near Nathan Philips Square, but we did stand on the south side of the street and watch a game of Pong being played in the windows of City Hall. We decided to walk up to College Park for some zombies.

We saw the smoking, bass-pulsating garbage can that contained the Stock Extravaganza exhibit, but couldn’t get near it for stoned onlookers. One of my favourites of the night was Four Sisters, a video of the view from the Gardiner Expressway displayed on a bare wall on Bay Street, with witty subtitles all about Toronto. A few more blocks north and we entered College Park, where there was supposed to be an assembly of zombies called Zombies in Condoland. However, what we found was completely different, and very strange. There were no zombies when we arrived, but rather a guy and girl wading around in the middle of the giant pool, as the crowd exhorted them to fight (which they did, kind of), kiss (which they did), get naked (which they did not) and so on. Then more guys ran out as the girl left, and they actually did wrestle with the first guy, including some decent flips and throws. Meanwhile, everyone’s wondering where the zombies are. More zaniness ensued, as one of the later wrestlers ran out to the center of the pool to chug a bottle of (what appeared to be) Ballantine’s and chase it with a bottle of Coke, at which time a large security came out to stop him. Then two women, stripped to their underwear, ran out into the pool where they fought for a while, then fought with some guys, then made out, then went back to the edge of the pool to strip off their clothes (!) and get dressed. While that little show was happening two of the wrestlers were taunting the security guard, and the crowd exhorted the guard to kick their asses, but it didn’t come to that. Security did eventually show up and corner all these jackasses, at which point the crowd started to wander off. Through all of this there were only a smattering of zombies walking around (it was a volunteer basis…people were encouraged to show up bloody and infected) none of them acting like zombies and all wondering what was going on. Anyway…very odd.

We walked back downtown, fighting through more immense crowds, through the rather boring Fifteen Seconds at Dundas Square, to the kind of cool Domain de L’Angle #2 where they fixed office ceiling tile and florescent lights over a garbage alley to create the situational juxtaposition, and it worked very well. My brain couldn’t decide where we were. We decided to try Union Station again; the line for Horridor was still long but we decided to wait it out and it only took about 20 minutes. It was interesting exhibit: six huge video screens, three on each side of a wide hall, each showing scenes from horror movies wherein characters scream, shriek and yell. The three screens on one side showed men; the other side women. I recognized a lot of the scenes, but the six screens changed so quickly and the sound was so piercing that my brain wasn’t really absorbing anything, just working to process the cacophony. Anyway, that was enough for us so we strolled home and crashed around 2:30.

Nuit Blanche is a very cool idea, there’s no doubt about that. I just wonder if logistical challenges are hurting it? Holding an all-night art appreciation/engagement event downtown on a Saturday night creates the immediate problem of being overrun by the very drunk and very stoned, not to mention the congestion of all the 905ers using the streets and subway to escape the entertainment district. I think that, if I do it again next year, I’ll sleep for most of the night and then go out after 2AM; by that time all the yahoos should be well out of the way and I’ll be able to examine art without having some large pony-tailed man yell “WHERE IS THE FUCKING GANJA?!?!?” in my ear.

In terms of the art itself, I thought a few entrants were interesting, but others didn’t impress me that much. I don’t seem to be the only one either; an ongoing Torontoist poll says 48% of people thought last night kind of sucked, similar to last year. The consensus seems to be that neither 2008 nor 2007 approached the quality of the 2006 debut. It sounds like the a zone to the west of downtown — Liberty Village — was the place to be.

So, I look forward to a more experienced go at Nuit Blanche 2009. For now, I’ve uploaded a few pictures from last night to this Flickr set.

Nuit longue

Last night we needed comfort food and so went to Fieramosca, where the usual debauchery ensued. Funnily enough CBGB walked in and were seated next to us part way through the evening, even though neither of us  had any idea the other would be there. We ate, drank and laughed long into the evening. Consequently neither Nellie nor I got up until after 2PM, which actually works out pretty well, since we’re heading out around midnight to take in some Nuit Blanche exhibits.

Lullaby Haze

Tonight: blogging in delicious bite-sized portions.

  • The new Mates of State is very good. Maybe not Bring It Back awesome, but very good.
  • We’re going to try to do Nuit Blanche this year. That should be interesting…I’ll basically get home, sleep for most of Sunday and then go to a Leafs game. Yes, a Leafs game. Normally I wouldn’t go but it’s a work thing, so I’ll just have to try to scrub off the dirty feelings and record lots of Canadiens highlights to watch when I get home, lest all the patheticness get lodged in my brain.
  • My brother just sent me this link, which made me puke and shit a little at the same time. That’s right, it made me shuke. Behold: lobster ice cream.
  • The Economist asked people around the world who they’d choose if they could vote in the American election. The results: awfully blue.
  • Paste Magazine reviewed the 10th anniversary edition DVD set of Sports Night. I know I’ve said it eleventy million times, but really…go watch it. So good. Stick it out through the first few episodes when they forced Sorkin to use a laugh track.
  • My debate plan this evening: watch the Canadian election debate but keep the picture-in-picture tuned to the American VP debate. If Sarah Palin gets that scared fawn look in her eyes, I’m flippin’.

See? Tasty!