This weekend was one of Toronto’s big annual art events, Nuit Blanche. The event started in Paris, France in the 1980s, but really took off in that city and across Europe in the early 2000s. The concept: keep the city open all night and turn it into a public art gallery. Here in Toronto that meant keeping the TTC running through the night until 7 am. It meant bars and restaurants stayed open later, sometimes until 4 am. Galleries opened their doors, but most importantly, it meant lots of installations of art and performance pieces in all the city’s public spaces and main thoroughfares. I knew that as a student of performance studies and the fine arts in general I had to go. It took some gumption to stay up much later than I normally do–after this summer’s working girl hours and the end of undergraduate parties, my schedule doesn’t cater to the night owl lifestyle anymore–but I’m glad I took the plunge and found a group to welcome and guide me.
I left buzzing–with way too much black tea running through my system. It felt like a holiday traipsing down Greenwood toward the subway station. I wasn’t alone either; similar pockets of people kept appearing from the side streets, bundled up for the night out. The subway itself was packed with people. Teenagers yelling and giggling because they had permission to wander around and socialize all night. Kids were out with their parents, toting balloons and paper crafts, but most of these groups were headed on the trains in the opposite direction. They’d been out early in the night, ready to head home before the night really became crazy.
The first thing I saw upon reaching the street was a drunk girl in a ladybug costume, slouched against a street lamp and slurring her exclamations of “I’m already drunk! I’m so drunk.” It was 9 pm and I thought, Oh no. This is going to be my night: drunk people and crowds. But thankfully, my crew found me and we headed off toward the Gladstone Hotel. Inside there were a few cash bars, but the night really wasn’t about that. Not that I was among other theater artists and graduate students. Other people with critical eyes for every make-shift and permanent gallery we came upon. I enjoyed wandering the floors of the Gladstone, adding my “secret” to the growing stack that would be included in a new play written that night by Theater Brouhaha. I loved walking up Queen Street at a slow pace, stopping at every odd pop-up gallery that struck our fancy–especially the homage to Toronto’s unofficial mascot, the squirrel! A stop at an Argentinian coffee shop (with fantastic empanadas and South American pastries) refueled us to finish the trip to our next stop, Videofag in Kensington Markets.
I did feel bad that my roommate and another friend were unable to meet up with our group. At the beginning of the night I had reached out to so many separate people to cobble together a plan. So many new friends volunteered numbers, suggested exhibits, and their tentative plans for the night. As is the case for these sort of festival free-for-alls, I wasn’t able to do near enough and I wasn’t able to meet up with anyone else; it was too hard to coordinate our artistic wanderings. We may have missed some friends, but we had a great time stopping off at the Mocca (Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art) for the David Cronenberg exhibit–one of my favorite stops of the whole night.
The Videofag stop was important because some friends from U of T and friends from my program at York were part of a performance by Digital Dramaturgy there from 9 pm to 1 am. I wish I could remember the name, but by that time my logical thoughts were so hazy with the late night and the rush of art and normal street stimuli that I can’t recall that detail. It was an interesting performance piece, taking up the entire gallery of the building and the area on the sidewalk outside. A woman dressed in white slowly dragged herself on a rolling chair toward a bucket of blue paint. Throughout the night she repeated this process, tracking new footprints and handprints (and hair prints? whatever prints from her ponytail would be called) across the white expanse. The performance itself would have been fine, but I was compelled by the layers that framed it. There was a live video feed being broadcasted of the event. Another projector trained on the wall behind the performer cast light patterns across her motions and the white space. Yet another camera/monitor captured and projected the sped up video of the performer’s action from the beginning of the performance to real time. And finally another television projected another pre-filmed component. There was so much more with the other performers curating the space on the sidewalk, but again, what intrigued me were the many different frames of technology and viewing space through which we as audience were asked to observe the performer’s movements.
But, as compelling as the performance was, we could not stay there the entire night. A long walk back to the center of downtown and Queen’s Park meant the breaking up of my group. I went alone from there down to Nathan Phillips’ square to see the bigger installation pieces by Ai Weiwei (3,000 bicycles!!!) and to pick up my indulgence for the night: food truck poutine. Again, I had decided that it would be a holiday, no matter what. It wasn’t a bad way to end the night. The next morning I looked through the event booklet, sad that I hadn’t seen more of the event. By the afternoon, I was exhausted from the late night and depressed from the pressing work of the new week. The way I see it now: I was part of the crowds, I participated as much as I could, but at the end of the day, there’s only so much live/interactive/new/installation art that a person can take in for a night. Let alone a sensitive, morning person like me!
It was a great adventure in Toronto. We’ll see if I feel like braving the crowds next year–or whether I’ll find a way to become involved in my own art project and addition to the temporary galleries of Toronto’s Nuit Blanche.