Sunday, October 04, 2009

Nuit Blanche In Words And Photos
Toronto's fourth Nuit Blanche, billed as the city's "free all-night contemporary art thing," started at 6:55 p.m. Saturday and went  until dawn on Sunday. Though I spent more than seven hours taking things in, I wasn't overly impressed with what I saw, and the lineups were too long for a lot of the installations I was curious about and I couldn't be bothered to wait to get inside.

I left the house at 9:30 and made my first stop at the arts and office complex at 401 Richmond St. W., which featured a number of galleries. The most interesting exhibit was a black- curtained box where people could enter to have a conversation with a naked Muslim woman. But I most enjoyed the Scopitones, 16 mm films from the '60s that were the forerunners of today's music videos. I first discovered them in the early '80s when they were shown on The All Night Show on CFMT-TV. I've maintained a fondness for them and it was appropriate that they were shown during Nuit Blanche. A couple of French tunes and Nancy Sinatra's classic "These Boots Were Made For Walking" were among the Scopitones I saw last night.
I headed down to King Street to see Monopoly played with real money by local celebrities. But participants (including rapper K-OS, who was the only one I recognized) were just standing around and spectators were kept behind windows, so I quickly moved on down to Bay Street to see Witches' Cradles, where people were invited to the sensory deprivation experience of being blindfolded and strapped into cradles suspended a few feet off the floor from the Brookfield Place ceiling.
I threw a coin as high as I could and made a wish as it splashed down in Vodka Pool, a reflecting pool of liquor placed on the floor of Commerce Court, whose meaning seemed to be lost on most people — including me. This became a recurring theme throughout the night.
Bay Street was closed and took on a carnival atmosphere for a block for Wild Ride, where recently downsized businesspeople staffed the Avalanche and Fun Slide midway rides for those looking for a free thrill.
The word "NO" in giant-sized letters sat on the bed of a transport truck trailer on Temperance Street.
The lineups outside As Could Be at the old Bank of Toronto building on Yonge just north of Queen and Space Becomes The Instrument at Massey Hall were too long, so I skipped them and headed northwest through swarms of people to Dundas and Bay via The Sonic Fun House, an audio installation featuring the Element Choir & Orchestra. 
I briefly looked at The Reflecting Pool video projected on the corner and walked across the street to the Coach Terminal for Battle Royal, where 20 blindfolded wrestlers were supposed to skirmish inside a 17-foot steel cage. The crowd was too big to get inside, but I could see through the window. Since there was a lot of standing around and little grappling, I headed south down Bay again.
After watching Flicker — a documentary about a stroboscopic machine capable of inducing hallucinatory visions to those who sat near it, earlier in the week — I was interested in trying it in person at The Blinking Eyes Of Everything at Church of the Holy Trinity. I was foiled by another long lineup and instead ducked into the Eaton Centre to see Jeff Koons' giant inflatable silver rabbit.
Ghost Chorus — Dirge For Dead Slang featured a circle of people wearing sheets over their heads reciting things from photocopied booklets in Larry Sefton Park. 
I climbed the steps of Old City Hall to watch people talk to artist Dave Clarke as part of his Hey Dave! installation, and then watched Beautiful Light: 4 Letter Word Machine, a series of four-letter words illuminated high in the air above City Hall's council chambers.
One of my favourite installations was Bouncing Bride: What Goes Down Must Go Up at The Music Gallery, where people were invited to bounce on a giant faux wedding cake topped with a trampoline with women dressed as brides. A DJ played music and the venue was licensed, so it took on the aura of a surreal wedding reception.

It took a while to navigate my way through the crowds west on Queen Street to my stomping grounds in Trinity Bellwoods Park, where a large illuminated wall similar to a Lite Brite game was set up and people were invited to create different patterns by inserting coloured, recycled plastic water bottles into holes.
I ducked into all of the Queen West galleries that stayed open late, as well as into Coupe Bizarre, where people were invited to sketch pictures of nude female models. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health also had an installation titled inSANITY that told stories of local artists who've lived in and around what used to be known as the lunatic asylum.

The Drake, The Gladstone and The Rhino all participated in Nuit Blanche and had their liquor licenses extended to 4 a.m., but they were all packed and had lineups at 3 a.m. and I continued to move on. I didn't really need a drink anyway since I had filled a water bottle with gin and tonic to keep me satiated before I embarked on my journey.
I headed south to Liberty Village and took about 10 seconds to look at the The End Is Near Here Is Near The End text installation. I spent a slightly longer time at Rescue Bubble, where hundreds of glowing traffic pylons were assembled together and people were invited to speak through the holes in their tips to the people inside.

A number of Fire And Sausage: Small Mercies stations, where people could sit around fires and eat free sausages on twigs and drink free organic hot chocolate (mine tasted very bitter and was uncomfortably thick), were set up in the area. I was given a blanket and told to keep the tin cup my hot chocolate came in.
The Apology Project consisted of a large group of people wearing large paper bags over their bodies saying "Sorry" as you walked past them through a corridor that led to Surrounded In Tears, a sound installation where 100 individual cries were emitted over speakers suspended from the ceiling.
Even at 3:30 a.m. there was a 75-minute wait for A Sultry World, where people were invited to crawl under a massive red skirt worn by a woman standing on a 10-foot platform and discover a sensory chamber created underneath it. I didn't wait around and headed back north to Bicitycle, where people attempted to ride bikes towing goods salvaged from the streets — similar to what many homeless people use as their lifeblood.
Take Shelter, where participants were invited to build shelters out of cardboard boxes and canned food, sounded interesting. But by the time I arrived, it had degenerated into several people kicking around and jumping on the boxes in the Metro grocery store parking lot. I went into Metro to view Invade, where the shadow of a plane was projected on the ceiling as the sound of an engine was piped through the store. It was underwhelming.
Dance Of The Cranes, a 13-minute choreographed routine featuring two high-rise construction cranes, shut down at 3 a.m., so I missed it.
My last stop was the Liberty Towers Presentation Centre for Catastrophe Theory, a multimedia installation featuring videos and a large number of concrete letters that people could make into words and messages.
Since art is open to the interpretation of the individual, I'm not going to bore you with mine of all of the things I saw at Nuit Blanche. Besides, the biggest thrill of this event for me is always seeing the city streets still filled with people at an hour when I'm often one of the only people walking around. This was the case when I arrived home at 4:50 a.m. 
As an avowed night owl, I wish Toronto could be this alive more than one night a year.
Feel free to have a look at some of my crappy Nuit Blanche photos:


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