Photo by Metrix X from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
Oh Nuit Blanche, what hath thou wrought?
For the second year in a row, we’ve polled Torontoist readers to find out what they thought of the night, and for the second year in a row, the haters are out in full force. We can’t really blame them: most people probably don’t head into a free cross-city art party hoping to not enjoy themselves, but the cumulative effect of this year’s Nuit Blanche, like last year’s, was disappointment. The city is on the right track, so close to getting it right—but in many respects still seems to be fumbling in the dark.
Here are some ways to make Nuit Blanche better in 2009.
Itineraries are great and all, but Nuit Blanche shouldn’t require one to have a good time. The spontaneity of rounding a corner or getting lost and finding something new and unexpected and exciting—something that made 2006’s Nuit Blanche so great—seemed largely absent this year, as exhibits were sparser and far more spread out. Though that layout choice was presumably to avoid crowding, the result was just as much crowding and far more urban sprawl.
A million people on the streets at one time deserve something huge. Blinkenlights’ Stereoscope at Nathan Phillips Square was one of the more interesting exhibits this year, and while watching Pong did get a little boring after a while (unless you got to play it yourself), Nuit Blanche needs more pieces like it, pieces that can accommodate thousands of people at a time, that get Torontonians to see significant pieces of the city in a different way, and that, hopefully, we can somehow Rickroll.
Don’t Sacrifice The Execution
On Nuit Blanche eve, the Star published a nice long article about conceptual art, describing it (by way of the Dictionary of 20th Century Art) as “…art in which the idea or ideas that a work represents are considered its essential component and the finished ‘product,’ if it exists at all, is regarded primarily as a form of documentation rather than as an artifact.”
This year’s Nuit Blanche was, consistently, a fine example of what happens when concept trumps execution: it was full of underwhelming exhibits better on paper than in the streets. Take Dundas Square’s Fifteen Seconds, for instance, where Daniel Olson shone a huge spotlight on passersby, one after another, for the course of the night. It’s a fantastic idea, but in practice it just didn’t really work, in large part because it’s hard to imagine any intersection of the city where a spotlight would be less effective than at the utterly light-polluted Dundas Square. Or how about the dropped office ceiling for Domaine de l’angle #2, out back of City Hall, which seemed less like some magnificent and disturbing office/alley hybrid and more just like a really brightly-lit alley?
That’s just the beginning; if you went out to Nuit Blanche with specific exhibits in mind, you can probably think of at least a half-dozen more examples yourself. Good ideas require good execution; good ideas are just, and only, that. Now there’s a concept…
Get Us Involved
By all accounts, one of this year’s winning exhibits was Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace, where participants added handwritten wishes on white paper to a “Wish Tree.” Immersion is important, however you define it, whether it means wearing zombie makeup, playing Stereoscope Pong, or just letting people into a building they miss. If the art isn’t supposed to be made by the public, it must still be for the public; if it must be protected or held at a safe distance, it probably belongs in a gallery. To that end, artists shouldn’t keep their work behind fences, tape, or glass; they should, instead, let the public get up close with the exhibits, as close as they can get so long as they don’t ruin it or risk killing poor mascots.
Free the TTC
A free all-night contemporary art thing is not free if getting to, from, and through it requires a day pass or a pocket full of tokens. If Nuit Blanche wants to continue expanding—and if there’s enough art to go around, it absolutely should—the TTC must be free, all night, everywhere, and it must provide far more frequent service on all zone routes for the entire thing. We’re talking you-can-always-see-a-streetcar-coming level of service; they’ll need that even more if it’s free. As far as incentives go—both to get out to the night in the first place and to migrate from zone to zone—getting around gratis is a pretty big one.
Ban Non-Pedestrian Traffic
Do it. At least along the main routes that the bulk of exhibits are on, ban all non-emergency, non-TTC, and non-pedestrian traffic—cars, scooters, Segways, and, yeah, bikes—and open the entire street up. Streets are for people, especially on a night like Nuit, and it’s wildly impracticable, totally obstructive, and more than a little dangerous to take a car or bike out along the arteries of Nuit Blanche, especially in the earlier hours when the city is swamped (unless, in the case of a bike, you’re walking it beside you, and even that’s not a great solution). To reduce crowding along sidewalks and to really let the city breath a little, cars and bikes have got to be sacrificed at the altar of the Nuit Blanche gods—provided the TTC gives us all a break.
Somehow Ban Trashed, Annoying People from Participating
It just might work if we called it art.