The Nuit Blanche Curators, In Conversation
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The Nuit Blanche Curators, In Conversation

The three curators of Nuit Blanche explain the methods behind our meandering.

Yonge Street was more like Nuit Violet at last year's Nuit Blanche. Photo by {a href=””}Dan Cronin^{/a} from the {a href=””}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

This Saturday, from sunset to sunrise, Toronto will once again turn into a city filled with atmospheric humming, LED light installations, temporary sculptures, and many, many art-lovers. The sixth annual edition of Scotiabank Nuit Blanche is upon us, bringing over 130 contemporary art things to the city’s sleepless spectators divided within three zones in the downtown core.

But as Torontonians get caught up with schedules, maps, coordinating meetups with other groups, sore feet, grumbling stomachs, and numb fingers, sometimes the art itself ends up getting lost and the themes of each zone, unifying the exhibits, become background information. So, this year, to help Torontonians see the what random police arrests and a woman rolling a rock down Yonge Street have in common, or what unites window washers and camera-operated robots, here’s what the three 2011 Nuit Blanche curators have to say.

Curator of Zone A, Candice Hopkins. Photo by Chris Shepherd.

Candice Hopkins, Zone A

Restaging the Encounter

Zone Borders:

Most of the exhibits will take place from Carleton to Bloor along Yonge and University.

Describe the zone in 10 words (give or take):

Experience the city of Toronto for both its history of place and political potential.

Okay, now actually describe the zone:

I was very interested in the ideas of politics and performance and how the city can be transformed in such a short period of time. As I say in my description of the zone, I want to try to capture that moment when the political becomes poetic. So a lot of the exhibits are trying to reenact historical moments, bringing historical moments to the present. Not only moments but spaces, too.

What I really want to get across is the potential of political interaction, and just to see the city differently even in such a short period of time […] I was concerned with the idea that the city is transformed for 12 hours, and the possibility of protestor change. So I was looking for an art exhibit that calls upon a certain moment in Toronto’s history or that considers the potential of urban spaces. And by that, I mean that they can be activated by people themselves. Because at Nuit Blanche, really the city is being taken over by spectators, so all the projects try to activate that or elevate that. They are intended to be participatory in some way.

Also, many of the artists when I approached them were thinking about Nuit Blanche critically in how to engage with the idea of the spectacle, especially Karen Henderson, Germaine Koh, Jason de Haan, and Kevin Schmidt.

Exhibit Highlights:

L’écho-l’eau by Richard Purdy

What Richard has done is a historical reenactment of the log run, which were common in the 19th century and crucial to Canada’s trade and business. Participants are invited to walk across the logs that are actually floating in the water. It’s a nostalgic moment but also calls attention to this as something very important to Canada’s economy. The water and the logs also create a mirror, which is something Richard has practised throughout his career, and it will reflect the building perfectly.

The Police Station by Althea Thauberger

Over the course of the night, she is setting up a faux-police station made with ATCO trailers in reflection of the G20 protests. There will be actors who will be mock-arresting members of the public based on random profiling information. It’s a kind of tongue-in-cheek comment on the way the way police target people already, but this time it’ll be because they’re wearing a red shirt or something. The participants will have their mug shot taken by the artist and the artist’s assistant, and once they receive their mugshot, the members of the public will be released.  A lot of these ideas engage in a moment of tension between people and authority, and we’re interested in the emotions that are still in hand in Toronto because of the G20, especially now as the cases are coming forward in court.

Image of Germaine Koh's Erratic, courtesy of Nuit Blanche.

Erratic by Germaine Koh

She’s taken a boulder from the Canadian Shield, and is rolling it all the way down Yonge Street and dropping it into the harbour. And in doing so, she’s commenting on industrial development. Rolling the boulder is something that can easily be done by machinery and cranes and bulldozers, but she’s using human power. And well, we’re hoping people will help her out too. She’s going really far back in a way [to recapture a historical moment], to when the city was built at a glacial speed.

Curator of Zone B, Shirley Madill. Photo by Chris Shepherd.

Shirley Madill, Zone B

The Future of the Present

Zone Borders:

The Yonge and Dundas area, mostly in the southeast corner. If things went over the borders, we weren’t too concerned about it. Most of the works are concentrated around City Hall, and as far north I think as Gerrard. Most of the pieces I’ve included are pretty close together. It’s around the 600 block, the Metropolitan Church and the Ryerson loading dock. It’s not the kind of thing you can do in an exhibition, where you have a piece one right next to the other to create a story, but at least the journey will give you a sense.

Describe the zone in 10 words (give or take):

A showing of work by artists who embrace new technologies and immerse in strong social interactions.

Okay, now actually describe the zone:

One way of looking at it is through the technology that is so much a part of our everyday lives. I was really concerned with work that really did marry the technological and the personal. The public space is huge in Nuit Blanche, but all of these are very intimate psychological relationships. Spectators can come close with the technology in that form—be it illusionary, auditory, visual, etc.—and it is directed by the people. It was important for me to look at work that would have technology engage with the public in a much more personal matter—that they establish a social sphere of engagement. They do bring the personal into it.

Exhibit Highlights:

Paparazzi Bots by Ken Rinaldo

They’re robots that engage directly with the spectator. They photograph people and those images are displayed for all to see. But they don’t photograph everyone. We don’t know why, but they only photograph certain people: maybe they smile or move a certain way. There is a selection process that position [the robots] in a different way.

Image of Rose Bond's Intra Muros, courtesy of Nuit Blanche.

Intra Muros by Rose Bond

Her animation is very much about creative process; there’s an intimate story that is being told. Whenever she begins a new work, she does spend a great deal of time in history and research with a certain building and then projects her animation in the windows […] so the appearance is that the animation is what is happening behind the windows. [Intra Muros] was done in 2007, and is being redone for this space. She creates a narrative, like little animated movies, and insinuates the building and architecture so that it becomes a story that very much could exist within that building. It’s like when you walk by a house and you can see through the window; it’s that same voyeuristic thing. It actually is voyeuristic because you’re looking at a continuous loop, witnessing her own struggles with the creative process.

public preposition No. 3/swing stage by Mischa Kuball

This is taking place at the Toronto Eaton Centre’s Skyscraper. He’s done very similar work before in which he uses light and a swing stage—the swing stage is the stage window washers use—and we’re hoping that the winds won’t be too great for it that night.

With Mischa, he thinks that even with any public space or public art, it’s political no matter what. Even people in a public space are political by just being there. So this is a performance work that is light-activated, where the professionals who do window work will be on the stage and the whole thing orchestrates what they’re doing. When they move, when they touch the windows, they’ll light up. It’s the rhythm of the simple act of cleaning a window that’s being shown. There’s also a correspondence of the inside and outside that’s happening, too. [Mischa is] looking at the labour we don’t see every day, and just brings it to light…You wouldn’t be paying as much attention to the labour activity unless it was highlighted like this, in the middle of the night.

Curator of Zone C, Nicholas Brown. Photo by Chris Shepherd.

Nicholas Brown, Zone C

You had to go looking for it

Zone Borders:

East to west, it’s Church Street to no farther west than Bay Street. There’s one project on the west side of Bay Street. Then, north to south it’s Queen Street to Front Street. If you include the independent projects, then it goes a lot farther west, almost to Bathurst. But my chosen, curated events are pretty close together, which I’m really excited about. It’s something that people can enter from any of those edges and find their way around quite easily.

Describe the zone in 10 words (give or take):

Look for otherworldly encounter, ambivalent assembly, and enthusiastic competition.

Okay, now actually describe the zone:

The big element that defines my vision for the zone is the area itself; it’s located in the Financial District. It’s a very charged area in terms of perception; people go there to work during business hours, and nothing really else. And a lot of people don’t find themselves there that often.

I looked at it as an opportunity to think about the hours of Nuit Blanche, our opportunity to invade the financial district. It’s a place that we don’t necessarily feel we’re allowed to be. And with that, it brings with it a lot of implications—for instance the events of the G20 and that area being locked down. It’s a place that can be very exciting and redefined by the context of Nuit Blanche.

It’s a celebration that comes with a certain apprehension and uncertainty because of how protected it is, much more so than any other areas in Nuit Blanche. It’s under security, it’s under surveillance, and it kind of completely empties out at night. You know, there are some restaurants, but not very many. But if you are there after hours, you feel a presence; there’s a ghost like quality that some artist are playing with. Ninety per cent of the curated projects are commissioned specifically for Nuit Blanche, so there’s a great opportunity to work with the artists and discuss with them my own ideas and have them respond to the area. And they’re very much in the same mindset as me, that this is not a place you often find yourself at 2 a.m.

Exhibit Highlights:

Soon by Iain Forsythe and Jane Pollard

It’s a large-scale experience, an installation that’s going to happen in the Commerce Court courtyard. They’re interested in the idea of an unforeseen or unexpected arrival. Their work involves all these spectacular elements of light and sound, and they’ve been deliberately cryptic about what that’s going to be so I’ll try to respect that as best I can and not give too much away. But it deals with an unexpected incursion of a space that we can’t really define, but visually and with and the sound and all the sensory stimulation that will happen, you can feel it. You just know that something has arrived here that doesn’t belong.

Barricades by Jeremy Jansen and Niall McClelland

This is a more explicit engagement with the ideas that came up around the G20 and of that area being [sectioned] off. They’ve used a lot of the materials associated with that time, or any time something is locked down, so they’re using these sheets of plywood that, at the time, were covered over the windows and statues—even public statues were covered in this plywood—in order to protect the city from its own citizens who wanted to damage it. That’s an incredibly alienating feeling.

So they’re taking all these materials and turning them into what could be described as minimalist sculptures. It’s a way of turning them on their head and saying, “We don’t need to cover these things up, to protect them from the citizens, we can come to this area and play and look at these materials that have been neutralized.” They can just be looked at as aesthetic objects, things of beauty or interest. They call it a sculpture garden in the middle of Yonge Street, where you can just kind of hang out.

Image of Mark Dudiak's Hall, courtesy of Nuit Blanche.

Hall by Mark Dudiak

What he has done, he’s taking this outdoor sheltered pedestrian walkway on Court Street and Toronto Street, he’s turned that into this pavilion, with one giant long row of picnic tables that will be a kind of refuge. Because, one of the most important things of Nuit Blanche is that its so exhausting—you get tired, cold, hungry, your feet start to hurt […] So he’s created a place for refuge, you can sit down on these picnic tables and relax. But what he’s also done is he has created these huge and hilarious collages, that kind of replicate a beer tent for Oktoberfest, made from images of all these different kind of junk foods like hot dogs, candy, doughnuts, burgers.

These are massive, like 150-foot banners, and they’re incredibly detailed. Of the valley of images of these foods that create these kind of baroque patterns, they’ve all been sourced or pulled from Google image searches so that not one repeats itself […] They’re a giant printed textile work. And there are two aspects to it that are equally important. First there’s the joy of looking, and then there’s the opportunity to take some respite. You can sit down, relax, hang out, eat the street food you just picked up, and talk. The artist knows you don’t need to be talking about his art exactly; you can be but you can also talk about your night so far or what have you.