OVERNIGHT ART GALLERY
Prevalence of street performers underscores emphasis on Nuit Blanche as public entertainment.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
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.