Our two correspondents share their takes of what worked, what didn't, and how not to puke at Nuit Blanche 2015.
Nuit Blanche is kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, and can have wildly different outcomes. The two correspondents we sent out are living proof of that.
Sarah’s Nuit Blanche Adventure:
6:00 p.m.: I wake up from a nap and spend an hour lying in bed finalizing plans for Nuit Blanche with my girlfriend, Helen, and our friends Earvin, Shay, Laura, Sebastian, Cristina, and Tyler. What I really should be doing is my homework. (#priorities)
7:15 p.m.: Sebastian, Helen, and I down a mickey of Jäger, and pack 10 tall cans of Snapple Vodka for the road. Helen packs a “bread sandwich,” a “good luck charm,” she says. We walk towards Sherbourne Station, and meet Shay along the way.
8:06 p.m.: Nuit Blanche’s Renegade March of Magical Creatures is described on Facebook as such: “Witches and Wizards do battle with magical creatures as DJs and fire spinners spread music and mayhem through downtown Toronto!” Holy shit, right?! We meet Earvin and the five of us take a packed bus south of Ossington to Argyle, where said march is nothing more than a renaming of the White Night’s “party bus” and 70 or so Kandie Kids in Kigurimi onesies high on ketamine. We march slowly, so slowly, to Dundas and Ossington before my impatience kicks in. I suggest turning back.
8:24 p.m.: We take a side street towards Shaw and find ourselves at Miro Oballa’s Memory Cube, an installation that projects one’s Facebook photos onto the walls of the exhibit. With incriminating photos featuring former lovers and teenage/young adult shenanigan-ery, I instead opt to enter the cube with an older couple. Inside, soft techno music plays while we are bombarded by countless photos of couple’s vacation home, (grand)children, and black Labrador retriever. I secretly wish for a naughty picture of the two to appear. It never does. I leave the cube, dissatisfied.
8:46 p.m.: Just up the street is Bryan Belanger’s Make Your Bed, a literal bed of plywood. Underwhelmed, we head over to Artscape Youngplace, the words “WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT OTHERS?” written in bold, white marker on the wall, a question I realize in retrospect isn’t rhetorical. I scribble down a Notorious B.I.G quote (FBGM) and mistake a closet for art before getting into a tiff with a woman bitching about the venue’s gender-neutral bathrooms. Bored, again, I suggest leaving the gallery. I write in the gallery’s comments book: “Just okay.”
9:04 p.m.: Outside, the flimsy plywood bed is now broken. “We may not want to make this bed, yet we all have to lie in it. It’s beautiful, haunting, and something we all must come to terms with,” the installation’s descriptor reads. I think the bed is more beautiful this way. We head over to Trinity Bellwoods, and indulge in a couple of games of inebriated Ping-Pong while we wait for Laura to arrive.
9:30 p.m.: What should have been a five-minute walk to Bathurst somehow takes a half an hour. We find some non-art stuff along the way.
10:21 p.m.: Outside of Queen West Soho is an automatic teller machine that spits out tarot readings, and I listen as the technician, a Pisces, tells me about Piscean astrology. (I’m a Cancer and I cannot care.) Down the street, we join a line dance, a techno rave, and a wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube-man dance party before heading up McCaul. We give up on the massive lines for Dr. Martha Ladly’s CBC Newsworld Holodeck and Beaver Hall Gallery’s Nostalgia exhibit, and head towards Nathan Phillips Square, where Earvin and I take photos for the Inside Out exhibit at City Hall.
11:58 p.m.: Helen eats her “bread sandwich,” which, in reality, is a slice of bread folded in two. She says while she unwraps a piece of paper towel, “If I eat this, I won’t puke.”
12:17 a.m.: We buy a chocolate-vanilla twist for Laura who has never had ice-cream-truck soft serve, and I become annoyed when Helen lies in the road and claims that she is art (this is mostly because I have to do her laundry). In an instant, as I try to take a photo, 15 or so men jump into the frame, presumably becoming art in the process.
12:35 a.m.: Down the street, a person harassing Laura for her number gets arrested by four cops after drunkenly threatening her with his nightstick. I try to diffuse the situation by singing Dr. Jean’s “Banana Dance” song, a song that gets stuck in my head for the next eight hours.
12:46 a.m.: We meet Cristina and Tyler and make the long trek southbound on Bay towards the Harbourfront. We pass by an underwhelming Les Bosquets in Toronto, 2015, a large projection of portraits featuring young people living in Parisian housing projects, and Union Station’s The Eyes of the Bridge, a montage of eyes of people around the world who wish to be in Toronto.
1:13 a.m.: At WaterPark Place, we skip Beaufort 9: Strong Gale and Beaufort 9: Requiem for Harley Warren (“Screams from Hell”), 2015, and head right over to the Guayoyo Creative Collective’s HERE exhibit by Erin Hug and Isaac Luy. Confused by whether it is a multimedia installation (someone said there would be some acting?) and motivated by the prospects of finding more booze, we leave before any acting occurs, turning back only to find a huge crowd gathering around a drunk person they mistake to be part of the installation.
1:46 a.m.: I have an irrational fear of moths and butterflies (see photo below), so naturally all of my friends want to go into Carlos Morales’ Beaufort 12: Black Cloud, 2007, an installation of over 30,000 black paper moths. What my friends don’t know, however, is that I’m not afraid of paper. Suckers.
2:11 a.m.: We seek refuge in a tent along the Harbourfront before deciding to walk towards Tortilla Flats for extended last call, but the line is too long so we head towards the AGO.
4:00 a.m.: Tonight’s #art is a bunch of wooden spoons stained with purple berry juice, and a video of the spoons in case seeing them in person just isn’t enough. Upstairs, we watch two women dance to tribal music. I wonder if this is part of the installation.
4:40 a.m.: At College and Queen’s Park is Tania Bruguera’s, Untitled, 2015. We are asked to vote for or against abolishing borders, though I’m not sure which border she’s referring to so I just answer “no.” We head to a nearby park where, for the first time tonight, I sit for an extended period of time (half an hour). We make our way towards Bay Station and hop on the night bus back home.
5:43 a.m.: Home at last.
All in all:
- Time: 10 hours (7:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.)
- Distance travelled: 36 kilometres on foot (48,000 steps)
- Number of installations seen: 22
- Favorite installation: Miro Oballa’s Memory Cube
- Money spent: $0
Will’s Exciting Nuit Blanche Diary
7:15 p.m.: At first I was excited to write about Nuit Blanche, but now whole idea is making me neurotic. I’m supposed to be writing this in a time-stamped, diary-style format, which would seem to call for a series of biting, MST3K-esque witticisms at the expense of the art, but I don’t want to be the snarky philistine who knee-jerk dismisses anything he doesn’t understand before going home to watch some stupid garbage on Netflix. While there’s nothing I enjoy more than bemusedly wandering the contemporary art installations at a gallery, I am only medium-smart, and am bad at analyzing difficult art in terms more nuanced than, “Well, that was neat.”
Of course, Nuit Blanche is nothing if not a populist, layman-friendly art event, but this also contributes to my unease. While I like anything that makes contemporary art accessible for the hoi polloi, it seems that all my Facebook friends who I most want to impress make a big show about staying home during the nightlong community event. Also, as its title would indicate, “Scotiabank Nuit Blanche” is a big, corporate-sponsored, government-approved art event, so I instinctively assume it’s not cool to like it.
So, if you want to stop reading right now, I won’t blame you. But if not, come along with me on this long, dark night of the soul.
7:30 p.m.: I begin at Queen’s Quay and York Street–which manages to be one of the saddest, most alienating areas even in a city that includes Etobicoke and Scarborough. This is especially true at night, when the glass-and-steel condos look otherworldly and the lake looks like a black void and the streets are so barren I don’t know how the fast-food chains stay open. It’s early in the night, and so far, it’s just me and a few other art lovers getting our Nuit Blanche maps blown out of our hands by the wind.
7:40 p.m.: My first exhibit: Mary Mattingly’s Torus, a circular, floating vessel in the harbour surrounded by a steel, gridlike, tunnel-like architectural wrapping. There is also a tree branch and a few tree stubs. We all line up to walk in it, but I am nonplussed. The standard for interactive excitement at Nuit Blanche is much lower than even the toddler section at most amusement parks.
7:50 p.m.: Carlos Amorales’s Black Cloud at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery is made up of 30,000 black paper moths, pasted to the walls and ceiling of the building. “It evokes the experience of a plague, where the boundaries between beauty and awe, good and evil, calm and calamity are constantly blurred,” says the description. It’s impressive, although I did not count to see if they were being honest about that whole “30,000 black paper moths” thing. I’m on edge, because it’s impossible to walk two feet without barging into somebody’s photo.
8:17 p.m.: I get excited when I see a video installation on Queen’s Quay featuring peppy, upbeat music, and animated images of the waterfront. It turns out to be an ad for Redpath Sugar. A Redpath employee offers me cookies, and I eat them.
8:26 p.m.: Heather and Ivan Morison’s The Cleaving is an enormous barricade of logs and tree trunks blocking Queen’s Quay. It is described as “detritus of a city rebuilding itself,” and indeed, it does look quite bleak at Queen’s Quay and Dockside Dr.–which, despite the presence of Corus Entertainment and George Brown College, feels like the edge of the world.
8:30 p.m.: Some steelworker guys are playing with lava in the George Brown College parking lot. This is without a doubt the most crowd-pleasing exhibit so far.
9:00: The night takes a big turn upwards with the University of Waterloo School of Architecture’s RE/COLLECTION at 180 Shaw Street. It’s another interactive installation where people can shape the artwork with their collective memories, etc., but I’m quickly distracted by the blinking neon lights being projected onto a building outside. I like lights. Wheeee!
9:08 p.m.: There are times when the artists’ ambition can’t help but exceed their grasp. For instance, FriendsWithYou’s Light Cave, a “cathedral of the spirit” on the patio of 150 York Street. According to the description, it is a “symbol of light and connectivity in an architectural abstract form,” and “the interactive experience is manifested with the purpose of joining people together in a physical sense.” That’s all well and good, but the reality is that it feels less like a “cathedral of the spirit” than a colourful tent where people can take selfies. While it’s reportedly “the largest standalone sculpture by FriendsWithYou to date,” it’s also fairly dwarfed by all the skyscrapers in the financial district. Still, “A” for effort.
9:22 p.m.: I go on a long detour to King Street just so I can take a picture of the Sicilian Vampire banner outside the Forget About It Supper Club, and tweet that it’s my favourite Nuit Blanche exhibit.
9:30-9:47 p.m.: I’m in the neighbourhood anyway, so I go into the TIFF Bell Lightbox to see part of Michael Lane and Colin Geddes’ Kino-Blender Vol. 1. This mash-up movie incorporates clips from Zardoz, Zabriskie Point, Koyaanisqatsi, The Road Warrior, His Prehistoric Past, Encino Man, and many others. There is a long clip from The Gods Must Be Crazy, which is a movie that I’ve never thought about nor heard mentioned a single time in the last 20 years (and no wonder–turns out it’s incredibly racist!).
10:08 p.m.: Nuit Blanche celeb sighting: Councillor John Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale) on Queen Street!
10:09 p.m.: In contrast to the sparsely populated areas I’ve been so far, Nathan Phillips Square is a mess. Revellers can get their pictures taken at photo booths, with their photos added to the Inside Out installation on the Pan Am Toronto sign. In my notebook, I write: “‘In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes’ – Andy Warhol.” I am immediately overcome with self-loathing. I deserve neither your respect nor your love.
10:11 p.m.: Best Nuit Blanche exhibit so far: the “Rob Ford, Councillor” signs in the office window above the entrance to City Hall.
10:15 p.m.: Katy Chey’s Park Here is a small patch of forest (with trees, grass, etc.) in City Hall’s underground parking garage. I have never been to the City Hall garage before, and am briefly starstruck by the realization that this is where TV news cameras would catch Rob Ford hopping into his Escalade and nearly running over media.
10:30 p.m.: I dread any occasion that brings a lot of tourists and suburbanites to Queen Street, because I have to listen to them giggle like eight-year-olds when they pass the Condom Shack. “Only in Toronto!” they inevitably say–incorrectly–while blocking the sidewalk to pose for selfies.
There’s something at the CityTV parking lot called On Tilt: 30 Air Dancers in a Parking Lot. The air dancers have sickening painted smiles, and the speakers play horrible pop music. Total garbage.
10:55 p.m.: I use my media pass to skip the line at the AGO, because I’m better than you. I see Lisa Myers’ Each Portion, a three-screen video installation in which pigment from berry-picking is absorbed into various material. “This stop motion animation conveys the way we absorb familiar stories through food,” says the description. I’m happy to be able to sit down.
11:10 p.m.: Best Nuit Blanche exhibit so far: the “What Would Jane Jacobs Do?” flyers that Reg Hartt has posted around town.
11:32 p.m.: I’m tired and want to go home, and briefly consider fabricating the next few entries in this diary, but journalistic integrity compels me to keep going. I take a long, reflective walk up St. George Campus to the Bata Shoe Museum to see Cyril Williams’ Shoes That Line the Lane. Inspired by the tradition of hanging shoes on a public wire to honour a dead person’s life, this alley contains hundreds of shoes on dozens of wires. “That’s neat,” I say to myself.
11:42 p.m.: Projected onto the side of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Aziz + Cucher’s Time of the Empress depicts animated modernist buildings disintegrating into nothingness. Best Nuit Blanche exhibit so far: the buttery popcorn I bought at Shopper’s Drug Mart.
11:52 p.m.: Though I badly want to go home, I make one last stop: Ekow Nimako’s Silent Knight, a LEGO sculpture of a white barn owl, at the Gardiner Museum. It was allegedly made from more than 50,000 LEGO pieces, but again, who’s counting? It is surprisingly beautiful, and I like it significantly more than most actual, living birds.
12:15 p.m.: I retire to my home to watch some stupid garbage on Netflix.