I’ve given up on judging Nuit Blanche by the standards of a normal exhibition. It is such an anomaly in terms of presentation, format, and context that it is isn’t really fair or even interesting to say it was a good year or a weak year. The most overwhelming aspects of it – the people and the scale – function in too many different ways to sum up, and the crucial aspect of it – the time limit – lends an inescapable breathlessness to the proceedings that has nothing in common with your usual gallery visit. What with the social factor, it’s more like an insanely overpopulated all-night opening than a quiet afternoon contemplating canvases. Plus, like any good opening, it’s a freakshow, an endurance test, a party, and a bore, among other things, at any one time.
Bundled up against the cold, I headed out on my bike, my wife’s iPhone in hand so I could tweet reports from the road (follow me @ TerenceDick). I gave up after the first couple hours, my pith run dry. I’ve since regained my faculties and will now sum up all I witnessed that was worthy of comment in as few characters as possible.
Healthy treats c/o Mammalian Diving Reflex
My traditional starting point has always been Hart House at U of T and it was here I decided to avoid any institutional spaces because the Nuit is not for roaming galleries that I could otherwise see during the day. The Nuit is for curious markets like Mammalian Diving Reflex’s grasshopper farm and snack table. I passed on the insect edibles and felt bad for MDR because they will always be judged against their previous NB triumph, Slow Dance with Teacher.
AES + F, The Feast of Trimalchio
In nearby Queen’s Park, I could see no evidence of Jason de Haan’s rings in the trees and instead followed the crowds to AES+F’s video installation in-the-round. This is the type of crowd-pleasing experience that NB needs: it’s spectacular, easily viewed by the masses, well crafted, and full of content. Even for skeptics, there is clearly some work there. Sam Durant’s lightboxed political posters, however, could have benefited from being placed farther away, the better to be seen as provocative icons to be happened upon in the night. Karen Henderson’s erupting inverted falls video was sufficiently off the beaten path to make for an oasis of contemplation in the pedestrian quad at Victoria College.
Kevin Schmidt, Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
Heading down Yonge Street from Bloor, I bemusedly observed the buskers working the crowds before remembering that this was Kevin Schmidt’s contribution to the event: an army of street musicians all playing from a select repertoire. I decided at that moment that it would be my favourite piece because it snuck up on me (I like surprises) and made use of NB’s limitations to great effect; the crowds became part of the work and the stroll down an otherwise busy street was subtly soundtracked by songs of celebration and regret.
Althea Thauberger, The Police Station
Fellow Wester Coaster Althea Thauberger aimed to interact with the crowd as well but the bottleneck of arrested folks taken into her false police station kept it from being little more than a point of confusion for most on the outside (I had to explain to a number of passers that it wasn’t a real station).
Germaine Koh, Erratic
I caught up with Germaine Koh’s travelling boulder as it headed south past Gerard. After receiving facebook updates requesting assistants to help with the pushing, I was surprised to see it move along a system of rolling rods like the Egyptians used to move large bricks for building pyramids. I thought they were actually going to roll the thing down the street. Still, as an in-your-face gesture of artist’s labour, it was an effective interruption in the often times oblivious wanderings of the crowds.
Christine Irving & Interactive Art, The Heart Machine
The masses were way more interested in the type of big-wow art that Christine Irving and friends created in their mini-Burning Man by the bus depot at Bay and Dundas. People like spurting towers of fire and the pounding DJ beats made it all the more of a party. Not my thing however (it's just too easy, too close to entertainment), and neither were the rave fashions from twenty years ago that have now made a reappearance on the teens who were not yet conceived during those heady acid house days. I even saw one youngster sucking on a soother!
Dylan Riebling, 12 Hour Dolly
Far quieter and more perturbing for the masses was Dylan Riebling’s 12 Hour Dolly: a circling camera and a series of volunteers ready to be objectified. The idea has potential but left me wanting something more: a more isolated location or a live feed, perhaps.
Jeremy Jansen & Niall McClelland, Barricades
My favourite zone is always the business district as it is the one most transformed in the night. I had to pass through Jeremy Jansen and Niall McClelland’s walls of police tape, Curtis Grahauer’s rain tunnel, Maura Doyle’s hidden pile of bones, and the gathering of lit candles that was Camilo Ontiveros’ Memorias to get to where I wanted to go.
Tibi Tibi Neuspiel & Geoffrey Pugen, The Tie-Break
Simply for sheer oddity and ambition, Tibi Tibi Neuspiel and Geoffrey Pugen's all-night tennis match was memorable. It was the best example of artists doing things simply for the delight in doing something that occurred to them; the kind of idea that most of us drop once we’re sober are those that artists see through to completion, and the world is better for it. Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth’s Soon, a banking courtyard flooded with searchlights, strobes, smoke machines, and noise, had a clearer meaning particularly in the context of impending occupations to emulate those on Wall Street. They successfully transformed the night into a temporary zone of heightened dramatic experience.
Too many other pieces failed at this. The project at Nathan Philips Square – a collection of scaffolding towers connected by zip lines carrying occasional travelers around the space – was just the grossest example of art that tries too hard and fails (any work that needs laser light shows and smoke machines to liven up the proceedings needs to be rethought).
One of the Leitmotif installations
My night wound down as I headed through the crowds on Queen West, stopping in to hear one of 144 versions of Smells Like Teen Spirit at the Toronto Underground Cinema, checking out the cube vans that made up the Leitmotif exhibition in Parkdale, then turning north when I ran out of art at Roncesvalles, heading home, and crawling into bed.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. He is currently working on an article about General Idea and Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog.
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Posted by Terence Dick, on 2011-10-05 11:39:20Doh!