OVERNIGHT ART GALLERY

Preva­lence of street per­form­ers un­der­scores em­pha­sis on Nuit Blanche as public en­ter­tain­ment.

Toronto Star - - GTA - Christo­pher Hume

As usual, the most mem­o­rable part of Nuit Blanche was the crowd it­self. The art­works — some of them, at least — were re­mark­able; yet even they were over­whelmed by the ocean of hu­man­ity that poured into Toronto Satur­day night and Sun­day morn­ing.

This year’s ver­sion — the 10th — of­fered a mix of spec­ta­cle, sub­ver­sion and nar­cis­sism, ev­ery­thing from a park in an un­der­ground park­ing lot to an enor­mous pile of de­bris in the mid­dle of a street. Then there was the gaunt­let of garbage in­stalled — point­edly, if pun­gently — at City Hall.

But what re­ally trans­formed Toronto were the hordes that showed up. By com­par­i­son, the art seemed lit­tle more than an ex­cuse for the great out­pour­ing. The sight of Dun­das Square, or bet­ter still, Queens Quay teem­ing with peo­ple — mostly kids — in the mid­dle of the night, is enough to stop one dead in one’s tracks.

The pre­pon­der­ance of street per­form­ers un­der­lined the grow­ing em­pha­sis on Nuit Blanche as public en­ter­tain­ment.

The idea of turn­ing the city into an overnight art gallery has mor­phed into one that sees the ur­ban tableau as a se­ries of stages. The au­di­ence has be­come a crowd so vast it dom­i­nates and dwarves the show. The art here func­tions as an ar­range­ment of land­marks that map out where the crowd can and can­not go. It is the means as much as the end, a way of mak­ing things hap­pen as much as much as the hap­pen­ing. The crowd en­livens the city more than any in­stal­la­tion.

The use of Queens Quay, for ex­am­ple, put the spotlight on a precinct not nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with cul­tural events of any sort. But as the area makes the tran­si­tion from post-in­dus­trial waste­land to en­light- ened mixed-use neigh­bour­hood, it seemed ap­pro­pri­ate to en­list the arts to at­tract the hordes and bring the fast-chang­ing wa­ter­front into public con­scious­ness.

On Nuit Blanche we are al­lowed to do things nor­mally for­bid­den. That means walk­ing down the mid­dle of a street and fires in park­ing lots. The event is in­her­ently sub­ver­sive. Again, the pres­ence of the crowd is an en­abling fac­tor, one that en­cour­ages be­hav­iour hid­den the rest of the week. As the om­nipresent odour of pot in­di­cated, mar­i­juana is as pop­u­lar as ever, de­spite the Prime Min­is­ter’s dire warn­ings.

Events such as this of­fer strength of num­bers; smok­ing a joint in Nathan Phillips Square at 11 a.m. on a Mon­day morn­ing might at­tract at­ten­tion, but not at 11 p.m. on Nuit Blanche. The tem­po­rary free­dom is ex­hil­a­rat­ing, of course, es­pe­cially to the young. No ques­tion, the night re­sem­bles a frat-house party at times. The dif­fer­ence this time is that the whole city’s in­volved.

At the same time, there was a clear sense that the city wasn’t fully pre­pared for the on­slaught. Wash­rooms were hard to find, garbage bins over­flowed and street­cars had dif­fi­culty get­ting around. It might be eas­ier at this point sim­ply to shut down sec­tions of the down­town core, not just se­lected streets. It might be help­ful, too, to con­tain Nuit Blanche ge­o­graph­i­cally to make it eas­ier to see more of the works, of which there were more than 110 this year.

Still, Nuit Blanche is a sure sign of ur­ban health. It pro­vides the or­ga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple as well as the con­text. With­out the city, the event would be form­less and ar­bi­trary. A pile of garbage in the mid­dle of an empty space is pretty much busi­ness as usual.

Out­side City Hall, it be­comes a pow­er­ful state­ment not just about trashy pol­i­tics but our need to think more about how much junk we pro­duce. There’s no end to it. chume@thes­tar.ca

MELISSA RENWICK/TORONTO STAR

Anan­dam Dancethe­atre take their per­for­mance, Glaciol­ogy, to Nuit Blanche. Per­form­ers slowly rolled over and un­der each other on Queens Quay W., “cre­at­ing a shift­ing im­age of bod­ies as land­scape.” Such an ex­hibit un­der­lines the event’s em­pha­sis on public en­ter­tain­ment, writes Christo­pher Hume.

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