Sunday, October 01, 2006

The night is all right: Nuit Blanche 2006

It was awfully nice of Toronto to plan such a large event especially for me, I thought. (I mean: performance and installation art? Walks around the city? From 7 pm to 7 am, because I'm a night owl & chronic insomniac?) But who else was going to show up? Well, everyone, as it turned out.

This is going to be the longest squidpost ever! You might want to get a cup of tea or something.

My nuit, in chronological order:

7:30: On the subway to my first destination: Off The Map Gallery. I'm fretting a bit about being half an hour late to get started, until gallery owner Antonia and artist Miroslav Pavlovic get onto my subway car. They're a bit giddy because they're coming from the official Nuit Blanche participants' party, where there was free wine & they got to meet the mayor.

No-one else is at Off the Map yet. The plan is for Miroslav to spend all night working on some of his three-dimensional paintings. I watch him set up, and he explains to me how he layers paint onto white bristol board & then slices the board up & assembles it into flat sculptures.

Painted paper

8:15: Man, that Lansdowne bus takes forever.

9:00: Having rushed down Queen, I arrive at Katharine Mulherin Gallery just in time. Ryan and Marlena are getting into costume and having strawberry-based fake blood applied to their faces and bodies. Margaux assigns jobs to those of us milling around in the small display room with the plate-glass window. My job is to draw pigeon masks on blue bristol board with a fat marker. Curious onlookers begin to gather on the sidewalk outside. There are about 8 of us inside, none of us 100% clear on what we're going to be doing.

"Why are they looking at us? Why are we interesting?"
"Can we moon them?"
"So, we're just going to stand around in here?"

Preparing for pigeon dance

9:15: Ryan's keyboard is set up on the sidewalk in front of the window; he begins to play, & he and Marlena sing. The group of us inside, all wearing masks, begin to sway to the music and act like pigeons. Much giggling ensues.

"Okay, everyone kind of huddle together here! Now let's all shuffle over there!"
"Let's press our faces right up against the glass!"
"Some of them look kind of hostile. Maybe they don't like pigeons."
"Everyone sink to the ground when they sing 'down down down!' "
"Can we moon them?"
"Conga line!"

I see lots of people I know among the spectators. Do they recognize me in my pigeon mask?

10:20: Talking to Misha and Carl outside on the sidewalk. Queen West, from Dufferin all the way to Trinity Bellwoods park, is thronged with people, many of them in odd costumes. "This is weird," says Misha, looking around. "It's like wartime. Or Halloween." I think "Hipster Mardi Gras" would be an apt description.

11:00: The area around OCAD is also thronged with crowds -- in fact, Amos Latteier's educational walking tour about rats is completely booked up. I meet up with Alison, and we decide to wander around & check out the installations.

11:15: Inside Darren O'Donnell's "Ballroom Dancing" performance/installation in University Settlement House. Wow, this is one huge, manic party.

We run into Ron and Himy. Children are DJing, and everyone is whipping rubber balls at each other, trying to bodysurf on the balls, and generally having a great time.

11:30: Police tango in the street at the intersection of McCaul and Dundas. Huge crowds of people watch. The policewoman is actually performance artist Diane Borsato, and I'm sure I recognize the policeman from a tango performance at the World Dance Alliance conference.

11:45: We drop in on the Tanya Mars performance on a traffic meridian in the middle of University Ave., but the crowd is so huge we can't get close to it. Who knew this many people wanted to look at performance art?

12:00 The streetcar back to Queen West is slooooooow.

12:30: Meet Mo in the lobby of the Gladstone. We scan the amusing exhibits of hotel ephemera from bygone decades, then have a look at the car wash across the street, where videos are being screened. The crowds on Queen West, like the ones we saw near OCAD, are a bit overwhelming. I have an urge to start flailing my arms and screaming.

1:15: We walk up Dovercourt, hoping the Dundas streetcar will be running more smoothly than the one on Queen. Dovercourt is deserted. Near Luna Cafe, we see this on a second-floor balcony:

An indie Nuit Blanche exhibit! We look at it for awhile and realize it's a film loop, not a slide projection; the image never changes, but the background kind of buzzes.

1:30: Is the Dundas streetcar still running?

1:45: Take a taxi back to the Zone B Hub at OCAD.

2:00: Walking tour led by Brenda Goldstein & Anthea Foyer departs from Zone B Hub. The crowds at OCAD have diminished only slightly, and the tour group is large, but we wander into Chinatown and Kensington, where it's very quiet. It starts to rain, and I realize I left my umbrella back in the Mulherin Gallery.

Brenda and Anthea stop us at successive parking lots to tell episodes of a long shaggy dog story about a putative ancestor of theirs who was a female chess prodigy in the 19th century. What does this have to do with our surroundings? We grow increasingly curious. At the second-last stop they tell us we are following the route traced on a map found among their great-aunt's papers; at the last stop, they unveil this lovely little room:

Where we wound up
(You can see our tour group in the mirror.)

3:30: Alison has gone home, but loaned me her umbrella. Mo and I arrive at Hart House. There's supposed to be coffee and sandwiches here, but supplies of both have long since run out. I neeeeeed coffee. Mo tilts the urn and succeeds in draining about a third of a cup of coffee out of it, which he very kindly gives to me, since he's getting a beer from the still-open bar.

3:45: There's a kind of dance yurt set up in the Reading Room. Hart House is still pretty crowded.

4:00: We chill out for a bit at "Dark Hart," the Fastw├╝rms installation in the Hart House pool. (I like saying "Fastw├╝rms".) There are trays of candles all around the pool, and a video projection on the wall. We watch as two guys strip down to swimming trunks and jump into the dark quiet pool, which makes the lifeguards very angry.

4:30: We visit Fujiko Nakaya's "Fog in Toronto" installation, perhaps the most-photographed piece of the whole evening. An extremely dense, illuminated cloud of machine-generated water fog hangs over a section of Philosopher's Walk. The artist's statement calls it "a bonsai of atmosphere." As we watch, people keep walking out of it, like the returning alien abductees at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Inside the cloud, the fog is so opaque, you can barely see your own feet following the path that will lead you through and out.

5:00: Mo heads back to Queen West & his home; I arrive at the School of Continuing Studies, where Coach House's Night Bulb event is in progress. I walk in to see Steve Venright sitting up on a sleeping bag in the lobby, a sleep mask pushed back on his head. He was supposed to sleep through the night while somniloquist recordings played, but he's had insomnia, and has instead spent much of the night talking about 9/11 conspiracy theories with Jesse and Olia.

Sherwin Tjia, who was at the pigeon performance earlier, is here in costume as a Poetry Doctor, with Maggie Helwig in the role of naughty poetry nurse:

The poetry ER crew

Sherwin will examine your sick poems, and can also tell your fortune using an enormous book he has brought with him. It contains 1200 of the pseudohaikus from his book, The World Is a Heartbreaker, one poem per page. The only reason it doesn't contain all 1600 poems is that the largest bolts they had at Canadian Tire were only long enough to bind 1200 pages together. Ask the book a question, let it fall open to a random page, and there's your oracular answer. Bibliomancy! Pseudohaiku prognostication!

There is COFFEE here, at last, and someone gives me a bag with a bagel and some fruit in it. Apparently Night Bulb was a mob scene earlier, like everywhere else, but by this hour it's pretty quiet. A good place to pause for breakfast.

5:30: Sherwin and Maggie nip out to visit the fog installation, leaving me to watch the big book and the Poetry ER tent. bill bissett materializes, wearing a sort of nautical jacket and flat-brimmed hat & saying "Excellent" a lot. A young man comes in looking for the poetry doctor, and seems disappointed that the doctor is out. I offer to tell his fortune with the big book.

"Just ask it a question," I say.
"Should I ask it out loud?"
"It's up to you."
"Okay, I'll think my question."
I hold the book, he points to a spot, and I open it. The poem reads:
I can see
why the monster
would want you.
"Yeah, that works," he says, pleased, and leaves.

6:00: It's still dark. bill reads out front, on the steps of the building.

6:30: Birding and poetry walk, led by Maureen Scott Harris, leaves from the SCS. Maureen knows all the wooded nooks and crannies of the campus, and the names of the birds that live there. In a courtyard of the Environmental Science complex, we glimpse a cardinal darting from tree to tree. The sky is brightening, a bluish light suffusing the familiar buildings and gardens. In the miniature forest next to the Social Sciences building, we see a tiny songbird. Maureen says it's a kind of warbler called an ovenbird. She tells us it's a ground-feeder, and it obligingly alights on the ground and hops about, pecking. I look at it through my binoculars: it has an olive back and a stripey breast. I don't think I've ever seen one before.

7:30: We've walked to within a couple of blocks of my building. I say goodbye, go home, take a hot bath & fall asleep.

I did it! I stayed up all night! It was so much fun. All photos here.


Anonymous adam said...

I thought ovenbirds were from Central America for some reason. Anyway it's good to see pics of all the stuff I missed! My dad insensitively had his birthday the same night so I didn't make it downtown until about 11:30 and I was so full of thai food I didn't feel like moving much once I got there. At least I made it to the fog sculpture, which has me thinking of what i can do for halloween.

5:34 p.m., October 02, 2006  
Blogger Shaun said...

Very awesome blog!:)

Love the details! *props*

** Shaun **
My awesome blog:


12:57 a.m., October 03, 2006  
Blogger Darren O'Donnell said...

great pics!! i put a couple in a power point show about my stuff that i show in LA last night and again tonight. hope that's okay!!

see you around.

7:28 p.m., October 06, 2006  
Blogger Nadia said...

Hey Darren - That's fine! Glad you could use them!

Adam - According to the info page I found on ovenbirds, they winter in Central America. So you're right, at least for half of the year!

8:00 p.m., October 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anthea is my sister.. im so proud of her.. glad you enjoyed her walk.

6:14 p.m., March 08, 2007  

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