Sunday, October 4, 2009

Nuit Blanche Yeahs & Nahs

Went to Nuit Blanche last night. Probably say 8% max of what was going on overall, so you can take all this with a grain of salt. But here we go... for my totally individual and biased... Nuit Blanche Yeahs & Nahs. (If you want a more comprehensive look at what went on, I recommend checking out Torontoist's photos and brief comments posted live during the event. Also please feel free to post your yeahs and nahs in the comments here.)

Nuit Blanche Yeahs

  • Crowds... when happy, interested, inspiring... cannot believe the amount of people who come out for this event. Still incredible.
  • Geoffrey Farmer The Blinking Eyes of Everything - I really only had it in me to line up for one work this year, and that ended up being Geoffrey Farmer's the Blinking Eyes of Everything (45 min - 60 min wait) which chilled out the hyperactive Nuit Blanche crowds with a quiet, hushed environment and the atypical suggestion to look inwards rather than outwards. Basically the church was cleared of pews and outfitted with six whirling flashing light machines. (Brion Gysin inspired) Around each machine about 9 cushions were arrayed for people to sit on and gaze into the strobes. Organ keys intoned. A banner near the altar proclaimed "destroy the word". Calming, community-oriented (in a non-festive way, more cultish but not too), contemplative and critical. Really nice.
  • Tom Dean's Sausage and Fires: Small Mercies - I didn't line up to roast a sausage, but just the scent of burning wood smoke, the sound of old-timey piano music and the sight of hundreds of people wrapped in Dean-provided blankets (labelled "Mercy" in reference, I think, to the small mercies that might get us through big downturns and hardships) was enjoyed by me and was certainly enjoyed by a large public -- also nice that this was dispersed throughout the Liberty Village neighbourhood, making the work feel like a repeating surprise of sorts.
  • Videos on the information/ad screens in the subway -- reminded me that this event was indeed affecting many spaces through Toronto, and used an unexpected space to do so.
  • Nuit Blanche info booths, tap water stations and snack shacks -- this seemed to be the only component of the festival for which large numbers were appropriately planned. And the volunteers... you dudes are amazing.
  • Crowds unexpectedly shouting out and cheering the words at DA Therrien's "Beautiful Light" at City Hall -- again reinforcing the sense of communal experience suggested by Farmer and Dean
  • Jeff Koons Rabbit at Eaton Centre - Just cuz. Mega!

Nuit Blanche Nahs
  • Crowds, when surly, drunk, hollering and toppling over each other
  • Lineups -- had never seen so many stretch on for so long before (30-45+ minutes each). Disappointing. And consequent nah: Better planning needed on crowds front, please.
  • TTC streetcar service on Queen and King -- OK TTC, I hear you on trying to encourage people to go on lesser-used routes like the 509 Exhibition. And I appreciate you running the subway all night in certain sections. But fact is, people on Nuit Blanche are going to expect they can use longstanding routes like the Queen and King cars. Without them shortturning at Yonge or passing them by after waiting for 20 minutes. Also: TTC streetcar driver letting people off at an Exhibition stop for which all exits were closed... what up?
  • Santiago Sierra's "No" - this work contained little of the force of the work for which this guy is known. Maybe if it was installed over a course of many days, or during the daytime, but it really didn't work here. Maybe that was the point, but if it was, it fell flat.
Nuit Blanche Whas? and Ah-Has
  • Discussing the crowding/overpartying problems with my boyfriend on arrival home, he said, humorously, "Well Art, welcome to the jungle! Music [and musicians and music performances] has had to deal with these types of distractions and transportation and presentation problems for years." Ergo... if we build a Lollapalooza-like setting for art, we might have to expect a Lollapalooza-like crowd atmosphere at times--with all the positives and negatives, attractions and turnoffs, that that suggests.
  • At the Venice Biennale, from what I understand, there's also huge lineups, lots of drinking and a party atmosphere. Why might some critics accept crowds, star-chasing and spectacular presentations over there, but not here?
  • Next time, I should stretch more, not be in ownership of a sore knee, and also commit to stay out all night (from what I understand, the crowding problem drops off severely from 4am to 7am)
  • Could we call Nuit Blanche Toronto's Stampede? (Toronto actually has many iterations of a citywide party fest, like Pride, Caribana, etc. But "Toronto's Stampede" is how I described the fest to an Alberta-raised out-of-towner.)
  • It's impossible to see everything in one evening. One solution for next year might be just sticking to one of the three zones, and hanging out there all night seeing all the official and unofficial projects (I totally missed all the independent projects in Queen West, which seemed like they could have been really good.)
  • Some of these projects would be great as longer-term public art works. Iain Baxter's Monopoly with Real Money was not so great as mass spectacle, but as an ongoing video installation/performance by the Toronto Stock Exchange ticker, it could be really great.
  • Overall theme that stuck out for me (could be personal, of course): People wanting something to believe in, something to engage in, something to see and belong to, either inwardly or outwardly. Wanting an epiphany, even if it comes (more from what I've noticed this year) by sensory deprivation and cloistering (esp. evinced in the Centre for Tactical Magic's Witches' Cradle) and returns to poorer, more closed-down, more stripped-down ways.
That's it from me! I look forward to hearing what others thought.


Michael said...

This year was for first Nuit Blanche.
I have to say that the city has never looked so beatuiful - it was too perfect. THe crowd was buzzing and I feel like we were all in unity because we were all out on the town for the same event. The weather was beautiful - it was like a cool summer's night. I had so much fun!

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Michael,

Glad to hear you enjoyed it! I wasn't doing any reporting night-of, so all my opinions I drew on were my own. Interesting to hear what a first-timer thinks.