What We Loved (and Didn't Love) at Nuit Blanche 2014
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What We Loved (and Didn’t Love) at Nuit Blanche 2014

Some reflections on the highlights and lowlights of Saturday's all-night contemporary art party.

This past Saturday night saw the ninth annual Nuit Blanche. This might be news to you if (a) you are just getting back from a long trip overseas, (b) you have been trying to avoid any general awareness of the annual event because of a fear of crowds, or (c) you can’t really remember what you did on Saturday night, and whether you really did see a bunch of trees covered in inflatable globes.

Despite a threat of rain, approximately 130 pieces of art went up and down over the course of this weekend (another 10 will be on display until October 13), and many, many Torontonians hit the streets to see them. One the biggest changes this year involved the very different layout of artistic zones: only City Hall has been done before, whereas Chinatown, Fort York, and Bremner Boulevard were new this time around—added, seemingly, in an attempt to ease the crowds. And while we welcome any effort to move the hordes out of the Financial District, there’s probably nothing anyone can do now about the jam-packed streets, the overly obnoxious revellers, and the undesirable wait times. Let’s all take a deep breath and accept it.

On the bright side, there are ways to avoid the madness if you so wish. After nine years, various neighbourhoods have become more or less reliably filled with interesting independent projects and are even developing their own Nuit Blanche personalities. West Queen West had a nightclub-y feel (partially thanks to, well, all the nightclubs in the area), featuring Nuit Blanche stalwarts the Gladstone Hotel, the Drake Hotel, and the strip of art galleries. The TIFF Bell Lightbox also continued its streak of strong programming for nerdy film and gamer types. This year, projects also hit St. Clair, the Sunnyside Bridge, Casa Loma, and Regent Park, and the thinner crowds there meant calmer nerves and more attention paid to the art. An evening spent with independent projects alone might might mean you miss some of the higher-profile installations, but you can always see them on Instagram later anyway.

That being said, there were a few art pieces that especially stood out this year, and here are a few:

Chasing the Global Rainbow

Yvette Mattern’s laser-light projections technically fell in Chinatown’s zone, “The possibility of everything.” But in reality, it crossed zones and even audiences. By projecting the lasers from the CN Tower, it incorporated a piece of Toronto iconography into Nuit Blanche like never before, and gave the tower an artistic purpose far beyond the seasonal changing colours (fancy though they are). It also went where not many Nuit Blache exhibits can go—into the sky—which added an entirely different level of whimsy to the event. And because of its size and scale, it wasn’t on display only for those making the effort to go out and partake in Nuit Blanche, which now not only involves a commitment of time and energy, but also of willpower. For those who, understandably enough, chose a non–Nuit Blanche activity on Saturday, Global Rainbow was a far-reaching reminder that something special was happening in this city—and that something, at its core, was very beautiful.

(Carly Maga)

Immersing yourself in HOLOSCENES

Photos by Yen Chung, from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

This year, Nuit Blanche instituted an artist-in-residence program. Lars Jan’s aquatic performance piece Holoscenes—which explored changes to global climate and water levels—was a fine launch for this initiative. It was difficult not to be mesmerized by performers dealing with the challenge of working in a large tank filled with variable amounts of water. The mood was alternately comic, graceful, and (for those with a fear of drowning), shudder-inducing. Based on the social media response, it seems Holoscenes was widely considered one of the night’s hits—and it points the way to how Nuit Blanche can nurture complicated pieces into becoming prime attractions.

(Jamie Bradburn)

Getting stuck Between Doors

Photo by Stephanie Avery.

This installation made waiting in line as enjoyable as going through the piece. Audience members would cheer people on when they made good choices or shout condolences when someone went through the negative doors (“I regret everything”). We enjoyed a philosophical conversation with our line neighbours about truth versus fiction, which was better, and whether there really was a difference—it was almost disappointing to get to the front of the line.

(Stephanie Avery)