Toronto Celebrates the Apocalypse with Nuit Blanche 2012
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Toronto Celebrates the Apocalypse with Nuit Blanche 2012

2012's edition of Nuit Blanche explores themes of destruction, revision, and renewal.

Symposium: Until The End of the World, featuring Arthur Kroker, Brenda Longfellow, and Slavoj Žižek

Nuit Blanche
Curated events: Dundas to Front streets, between Jarvis and Spadina
Independent projects: St. Clair Avenue to the waterfront, Roncesvalles Avenue to the Distillery District
September 29, 7:03 p.m. until dawn

The first thing that captured everyone’s attention this morning, as journalists and artists gathered at the Gardiner Museum to learn about this year’s Nuit Blanche, was not the posters and not the press kits, but a robotic chair in pieces on a low platform, busily going about the process of rebuilding itself. The piece, created by Max Dean, Raffaello D’Andrea, and Matt Donovan, will be on display at the Gardiner for the full 12 hours of Nuit Blanche, taking itself apart and putting itself back together again. Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre), chair of city council’s economic development committee, later commented that he wished his body “could put itself back together so easily after it fell apart.”

The piece is an apt stand-in for the marathon arts event as a whole, in which installations and events will all be connected to one another though ideas of destruction and reinvention.

The 12-hour, nocturnal celebration of the arts is in its seventh year, and since 2006 has featured 700 official art installations by more than 3,000 artists. Many unofficial events also crop up during the night of Nuit Blanche, as independent art collectives, artists, and bands host events, play shows, and throw parties throughout the city. This year, 158 projects will make up the official event, including 58 exhibition projects, 96 independent projects, and four sponsor projects (each hosted by one of Nuit Blache’s four major sponsors: Scotiabank, Chevrolet, the Eaton Centre, and Timothy’s). This year also marks the first time that City-produced projects will be hosted along King Street, from St. James Park in the east to Simcoe Park in the west.

Museum of the Rapture by Douglas Coupland.

But back to the apocalypse. City Hall will be home to an exhibition of 14 artworks, tied together by the theme “The Museum at the End of the World.” Curated by Janine Marchessault and Michael Prokopow, the pieces will address how “the idea of Doomsday can be at once the fire of speculative lamentation and the spark of insightful creativity.” Works that will be a part of this exhibition include Museum of the Rapture by Douglas Coupland (a series of living tableaux); Postcards from the End by Sarah Beck (which blends photo ops with disasters); and World Without Sun by Christine Davis (exploring the multiple subjective environments that make up the universe). The subterranean parking complex beneath Nathan Phillips Square will also be home to a number of exhibitions, including Thomas Blanchard’s photography installation The Vault.

World Without Sun by Christine Davis.

Musing on the end of the world in not confined to the heart of the city’s legislature, however: in Zone A (concentrated along King from Bay Street to John Street), Green Invaders by Yves Caizergues explores themes of alien invasion through the aesthetic of early video games; in Zone B (bounded by Dundas, King, Yonge, and University), a 1,600-square-foot vertical sculpture called Flat Space will be built in the middle of Bay Street; and in Zone C (from Yonge to Jarvis and Queen to Front), Smells Like Spirit will conjure the spirit of Kurt Cobain in a meditation on the way that audiences create—and can ultimately destroy—performers.

Sponsor projects continue the theme of fragility, destruction, and renewal: outside of the Eaton Centre, two huge inflatable sculptures, Dancer #1 and Dancer #2, will be on display. Made of recycled billboards, the pieces echo the forms of graffiti, reimagined as massive, interlocking shapes.

Dancer #1 and Dancer #2 by Max Streicher.

Perhaps most the most exciting announcement related to a project called Symposium—Until the End of the World, a symposium and film screening that will be held at City Hall. Featuring speakers Arthur Kroker, Brenda Longfellow, and Slavoj Žižek, the event will consider the profound economic and environmental issues confronting the planet. Sara Diamond, OCAD University president and chair of the event’s Artistic Advisory Committee, made no secret of the fact that securing Žižek’s appearance felt like a coup. “I’ve been trying to get him here since I arrived at OCAD,” she said, thrilled that Nuit Blanche curators had finally convinced him to make the trip.

A series called Nuit Talks, held in the days leading up to Nuit Blanche, is also suitably apocalyptic: the ROM will host one called “Is Contemporart Art Becoming Extinct?” and the Fairmont Royal York will host another titled “The Paranormal in Contemporary Art.” Nuit Blanche’s curators will hold another discussion at City Hall, which will take the form of an anthropological journey through the event.

Though Nuit Blanche is shaping up to resemble a fantastic party at the end of the world, we hope more elements will also be woven into the event. John Doig, a senior vice-president of lead sponsor Scotiabank, announced that Scotiabank will be conducting an interactive donation campaign: over the course of the night, they’ll be asking attendees to submit pictures of their favourite events (or, as he called them, “richness experiences”) to the Scotiabank website; for every picture uploaded, Scotiabank will donate $1 to Arts for Children and Youth.

As the press announcement wrapped up and people began to drift away, the robotic chair again collapsed with an audible bang, startling most of the room into gasps. Co-creator Max Dean, who was on hand, was positively delighted by the reaction. “A chair is something we trust so much,” he mused. “It’s the closest thing most of us experience to a prosthetic—for our back and legs—and we spend so much time sitting in chairs every day. It’s never something that we expect to jump out from under us, and have a mind of its own.”

CLARIFICATION: August 25, 11:51 AM Sara Diamond is excited that Žižek will be participating in Nuit Blanche, but is not responsible for arranging his visit. Wording we originally used created some confusion on this point and we have rephrased accordingly.