Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Nuit Blanche II: The sophomore jinx

Okay, so if you didn't see it for yourself, you've probably heard by now: Nuit Blanche '07 was no Nuit Blanche '06. There were several reasons for this. A larger, rowdier crowd (many exhibits were too crowded to get into or see, and there were several reports of installations being stolen or destroyed before the night was over), and awful transportation didn't help. (The subway ran all night, but it was still hell trying to get around.) The most significant disappointment, as I saw it, was the lack of large-scale immersive installations this year. Last year's event featured a cloud of dense, illuminated fog in a campus park, Darren O'Donnell's ridiculously fun ballroom party, and 3 different exhibitions in swimming pools -- all astonishing, dreamlike environments you could get utterly lost in at unreal hours of the very early morning. There was nothing like that this year, or if there was, I couldn't find it.

Then again, if my expectations hadn't been so pumped by the gloriousness of last year's Nuit, I probably would have enjoyed this year's for what it was: a pretty good all-night art party. There were some fine highlights, and the whole thing was worth a recap.

8:30 p.m.: Having made reservations earlier, then wandered around a bit & looked at the nearby Cecil St. Community Centre, Leigh Anne, Alison and I check into the Dumpster Hotel. This is, in fact, a posh, one-suite hotel made out of a dumpster. It is located in a back alley at College and Spadina. Our lovely room has all the amenities, except a roof, which means that people on the outside can climb up the side of the dumpster and take photos of us.

Audience member

We have been told we can call for room service, so I decide to give it a try, and pick up the phone that's lying on the desk.


The concierge answers. I can hear his voice, and see a tiny, ghostly image of his mouth in a black & white viewscreen on the phone.

"Can I help you?" asks the mouth.

"Room service! We'd like to order room service!"

"Yes, very good, what would you like?"

"We would like some service! In our room!"

"What would you like them to bring you?" the mouth asks patiently.

"Snacks! And champagne!"

Seconds later, there is loud banging on the doors of the dumpster, and a voice bellows, "ROOM SERVICE!" The doors creak open, and women in sanitation uniforms bring us potato chips and sparkling apple juice, while a crowd watches from outside.

Room service!

9:30: After our hotel stay, we head over to Baldwin St. to get something to eat. On the way there, we pass the beginnings of a performance/installation in which the entire contents of a Baldwin St. apartment are being transferred to the northwest corner of Cecil and Beverley; they will be put back when the night is over.

10:45: We pass Cecil & Beverley again; considerable progress has been made. There are places to sit now, and shelves of neatly folded clothing. Between this & the Dumpster Hotel, there's an interesting theme about the boundaries and definitions of indoors and outdoors, public and private space; unfortunately this doesn't seem to have been pursued much beyond these two pieces.

11:00: Kensington Market. We watch a Punch & Judy show put on by Clay & Paper Theatre. In this version, there's no Judy; instead, Punch meets Prime Minister Stephen Harpy, throws his Blue Book of government policy out the window, then beats him to death with a broomstick. An RCMP officer, a hangman, the Devil and, finally, God meet similar treatment. "I don't know why," Alison observes, "but there's something endlessly entertaining about little puppets hitting each other with sticks."

We run into lots of people we know. Ron joins us as we wander up Kensington Ave.

11:30: A man in a dapper uniform and impressive moustache glides by on a bicycle, then turns sharply and brakes near us. He leaps off the bike and runs up to us, crying "Telegram! Telegram delivery!" in a Pink Panther French accent. He rifles through his bag, and produces a telegram for Ron: it is actually addressed to Ron.

Nuit Noir telegram 2

Tino, it turns out, is on a mission to deliver 50 (or was it 100?) telegrams to people he knows, whom he hopes to find wandering the streets this evening. It's his own independent project: he calls it Nuit Noir. (This was one development I liked this year: the proliferation of guerilla indie knockoff groups and projects. Margaux Williamson, Ryan Kamstra and some friends had one called Nut Bland; the TPSC's was called Not Blanche. Also, Jonathan deserves some kind of prize for suggesting the Toronto Tree Tour's Nuit Blanche event should have been called "Blanche Du Bois.")

12:30: I've gone to Queen West by myself. There are thousands and thousands of 20-year-olds here.

1:30: I meet some friends and watch a bit of Misha Glouberman's Cobra event at Mercer Union, but other than that, nothing is really grabbing me in this neighbourhood. I get a cup of coffee and decide to head over to the Church of St. Thomas, up on Huron St., where Maggie has organized some stuff. Jordan Scott is supposed to be reading Thomas Merton aloud by flashlight for 7 hours, in a tiny back room.

3:00: Finally arrive at the church, having walked the entire way without seeing any streetcars or available taxis. Jordan Scott is stuck in an airport in Rome. The flashlight and books sit forlornly on a table in the tiny room. The church does have a very nice Levitating Rock, however, billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Levitating Rock

Maggie says people have been coming in and telling her all night that this year's Nuit Blanche is a bit of a disappointment. She's only seen the Lower Bay installation, and says that was underwhelming too. I decide to walk over & see it anyway.

4:00: Apparently, earlier in the evening people had to wait in line for a full hour to get into Lower Bay, but by the time I get there, there's no line at all & I walk right in. I'm afraid Maggie was right, though. The installation consists of low, rhythmic thumping noises. With the dim lighting, large security guys, and throngs of 20-year-olds, the overall impression is of a fashionable but dismal industrial-themed nightclub, missing only the overpriced fruity martinis.

Lower Bay

And honestly, Lower Bay has lost a lot of its mystique, for me. What with the Bloor trains being routed through it for a month earlier this year, the constant film shoots, and its routine use as a training area for new drivers, it's not a Ghost Station so much as an auxiliary station. Now, Lower Queen...that I'd line up to see.

4:30: In Hart House, Darren O'Donnell's "Slow Dance with Teacher" looks, at this hour, like a '50s-style dance marathon on its last legs. Exhausted teachers and patrons cling to each other and sway to slow music. Half an hour later, when I look in again, there's no-one there. The exhibits in the rest of the building all seem to be video projections; the pool's not open this year, and there's no dance room. The posters advertise "Early Bird Breakfast from 4:00," but there's no sign of this anywhere; people keep coming in & asking the attendant at the front desk, who has no idea.

5:00: Wander around campus. "Event Horizon," the installation in King's College Circle, is just silly. Newmindspace's "String of Diamonds," a few blocks north, is minimal (I learn later that a lot of it was stolen early in the night), but peaceful. I watch the cluster of red and black balloons, with its long tail of little white lights, rise and fall in the breeze.

6:00: Back to St. Thomas for a reading in the garden by Sean Dixon, Mark Truscott and Jessica Westhead: a fantastic lineup at any hour. Also I get to meet Mark and Lisa's 3-month-old son Sam, who is fascinated by the sight of the trees above us against the pale dawn sky.

7:00: I am very, very tired, and my legs hate me. Fortunately, it's a short walk home.

Full set of photos here.


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