Nuit Blanche 2009: That All Night Contemporary Art Thing

Here are some picture highlights from my Nuit Blanche night this past Saturday in Toronto:

Nite Lite, a gigantic lite-bright made of stained plastic bottles, to draw awareness to the waste plastic bottles create. This was a fun interactive installation that everyone seemed to really enjoy, even if they mostly missed the message behind it.

Ruby Choose-A-Day, a group exhibition and multimedia installation celebrating the 40th anniversary of  The Toronto School of Art. The “ruby” display didn’t really work, but the idea of setting up a nude model drawing class open to the public was a brilliant way to celebrate and simultaneously market the school.

City Sonic: The Cameron House in Motion. The infamous ants were restored to their former glory and replaced on the walls of the Cameron House, while video projections of the typical Cameron House regulars played on the walls.

Bright Lights Big City, the CN Tower’s colorful lights were made to sync up and pulse to the beat of local radio station CIUT 89.5 FM.

Wild Ride, where in the heart of the Financial District the streets were closed to traffic, and two carnival rides were made free to the public and staffed by recently downsized businesspeople. The line ups were of course insane, but the irony of the fair in the middle of the economic crash was note perfect.

Monopoly with Real Money, performance art in which a group of Toronto celebrities played Monopoly with real money all night while it was filmed for all to watch. Ian Baxter constructed this performance for the first time back in 1973 during an era defining recession, and apparently felt it a fitting time to re-stage the event.

Light and Dark, an exhibit of paintings of elastics by Joanna Strong displayed in the Campbell House Museum. Apparently the modern subject paired with the archaic setting proved inspiring for the artist. I was not quite interested in this one, especially since we had to wait in line for almost 40 minutes just to get in.

Moon-een on McCaul, this was OCADs mixed media displays all around the campus. Underwhelming for the most part, and a bit strange, like these blow up baby things that were scattered along the streets. Whatever message they were trying to inspire was completely lost.

Rescue Bubble, people were trapped inside this pylon orb while onlookers tried to help them get out, which was impossible as the structure would collapse quite easily on itself. An interesting look at the idea of being attracted to something that draws you in and then traps you inside it. It proved to be a tangible take on things we get sucked into without realizing the consequences, like credit card debt.

FIRE AND SAUSAGE: Small Mercies. This was by far the most effective of all the exhibits I experienced. The theme of economic disaster was present in many of the works displayed this year, but none quite drove the point home as well as this. All across Liberty Village stations were set up where you lined up to receive a free mug and fleece blanket – both of which said ‘Mercy’ on them – and the volunteers literally wrapped you in the blanket, then you took your mug over to the chefs from Jamie Kennedy, where they served up free sausages and filled your mug with organic hot chocolate cooked up on a fire. The disaster feeling was slightly disturbing, but the comfort after the fall was what this was all about – when people come together, are at their best and most generous.

A Sultry World, in which the artist was sitting atop an uncomfortably high contraption wearing a gigantic velvet red dress. The audience was welcomed to crawl under the dress, where you could literally see up her skirt. There was a hole in the seat contraption she was sitting on so you could see her panties, and pillows, notebooks and pens were laid out for participants to sit on, read through others comments, and comment themselves. I flipped through and read the same “I see London, I see France…” comment about forty times. I wrote an apology note to her on their behalf. Sitting on top of that structure for twelve hours while strangers stare at your crotch is quite a feat of endurance.

Twofold, a beautiful art installation made of perfectly arranged bamboo sticks lit up in cascading colors.

So, I was out for 10 hours that night, did a whole lot of walking around the city and experienced some great art. A lot of people seem to complain about Nuit Blanche every year, and I agree that you have to wade through a lot of shit to get to the truly good stuff, but I always find it to be worth the effort. There was so much that I didn’t get to see, and what I’ve shown here is only a small selection of what I did see. My only complaint is that it isn’t spread out over a couple nights so that I could have the chance to see everything.

Another note – having the TTC open all night and bars open later than usual is always a great thing in Toronto. The club kids have us “art fags” to thank for that. Yes, I actually heard some club guys from Newmarket – truly a city of greatness – saying it was “clubbers vs fags” while describing the massive crowds flooding Queen Street all night. Embarrassing, but somehow, expected. They offered us a ride home thinking we were part of the club scene, we politely declined.