Last night was Toronto’s annual ‘All Night Contemporary Art Thing’, Nuit Blanche. Now in its sixth incarnation, the event has gone from inspiring wonder in audiences to inspiring complex plans on how best to navigate the crowds. Many people start out at 7 pm and go until 12 or 1, which makes sense but creates a frustrating logjam of people at every installation.
AES+F, The Feast of Trimalchio. Image: vvork.com
While it will always be a challenge to bring universally pleasing, high impact, accessible art into public areas that lasts from 7 pm to 7 am, I felt that this year was more successful than past years, in part because there were fewer works that involved lining up, and in part because, well, I had a plan.
In order for Nuit Blanche to really succeed, audiences need to be flexible too. This year, I napped from 9 pm to midnight, got up and ate dinner, and three of us headed out on our bikes. We got home at 6 am, very cold and a little wet (it rained at 4:30 am), but generally satisfied with our experience.
Aside from some disappointments (the wading pool at MaRS was insipid) we saw some good work. The video installation The Feast of Trimalchio, by Russian artists AES+F, installed in a corner of Queen’s Park, came highly recommended and didn’t disappoint. We could have stayed all night, taking in the mesmerizing, stilted images of models arranged in a display of artistically styled international relations. Then we ducked into Hart House where we shared minty grasshoppers with artist bartender Dean Baldwin inside his tiny wooden igloo. Some architect should hire Dean to build his fantastic little mini-bars inside clients homes.
After Hart House we biked down to College to the MaRS Centre, where artist Richard Purdy’s piece L’écho-l’eau disappointed us – it was a wading pool that had a few logs in it. Blah. The thing about Nuit Blanche is that it really asks artists and curators to rise to the occasion. People want to see interesting, powerful art. They want to be impressed.
By this point, we were in a hurry to see the start of the tennis match, The Tie-Break, in Commerce Court. A re-enactment of the legendary fourth set tie-break from the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Finals between Björn Borg and John McEnroe in 1980, the piece included a lengthy intro video followed by artists Geoffrey Pugen and Tibi Tibi Neuspiel dressed up in 1970s tennis gear trying to emulate the actual event play by play. It was good!
Also in the financial district was Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard’s excellent ‘environment’ Soon where searchlights prowled across an otherwise empty courtyard. There was a thunderous soundtrack overhead and lights flickered on and off. It was like being in an action movie, and wouldn’t have been nearly as good if it hadn’t been practically desolate.
We snuck into the Scotia Tower to see City Mouse, a small woodland by Julia Hepburn complete with taxidermy creatures, inside of which the artist had created miniature scenes of banal work routines (paper shredding, etc) Outside the Design Exchange we noticed something happening in a TTC bus shelter.Curiously, at 5:30 am there were still people lining up to take home whatever Basil AlZeri had left of his earthly possessions, from his piece The Free Shop.
The downside to going out in the early morning hours is that with fewer people out and about, some exhibits had shut down well before 7. Especially since it was lightly raining. And in some cases, as with Flightpath by artists Usman Haque and Natalie Jeremijenko in Nathan Phillips Square, what had probably been quite an interesting piece had devolved into stragglers valiantly suiting up and ‘flying’ the very short distances from points a to b. It was a little sad, the party clearly long over.
Last but not least, we swung by to see Isabelle Hayeur’s Ascention – which I knew would be fantastic. As the haunting video played silently, leading us down a dark hallway of gothic arches, we sat in the near-empty church, absorbing it all.