“It’s an intervention into Nuit Blanche,” says queer artist Alexis Mitchell of her upcoming installation at Toronto’s annual all-night art party. “[Nuit Blanche] is mostly drunk straight people. People always call it Straight Pride.”
The annual Scotiabank Nuit Blanche art festival has the same chaotic excess and general intoxication as Pride but lacks some of the politics or community feel that pervades the Pride parade. Mitchell and her fellow collaborator, Sharlene Bamboat, are looking to claim some queer space within the massive evening spectacle that runs between sundown and sunrise on the night of Oct 1.
Their installation, Border Sounds, takes the form of a silent disco party in the parking complex below the Atrium on Bay. Each visitor will be invited to don a pair of headphones, which will play mashups of danceable dubstep as well as passages of text read aloud from the passports of five nations: Canada, India, Pakistan, Israel and Palestine. The artists are hoping participants will consider the tension between the equality proposed by state documents and the reality of migrating bodies.
“With the exception of Palestine, each passport has basically the exact same thing written in it,” explains Mitchell. “It’s this ironic telling of ‘We’re all the same,’ but depending on which country you’re coming from, you may not have the same access to those borders.”
“For instance, I can’t go to India,” says Bamboat, who is Pakistani and works for the South Asian Visual Arts Centre in Toronto. “I tried to go for research a couple years ago. I got funding and was accepted by a film institute in Delhi, but I couldn’t get this visa to go. It was an absolute nightmare. And this is not just me: tons and tons of people have trouble travelling within South Asia.”
Conscious of Nuit Blanche’s somewhat prescribed audience, Bamboat sees the use of a transient space like a parking lot as crucial not only to the political commentary of the piece, but also to the disruption of the evening’s reputation as heterocentric and corporate.
Mitchell adds, “Usually the underground parking garage, especially for women, is this dark, scary place, but we’re in the safest place that night, because we’ll be sheltered from any potential rowdiness and have queers and friends around us.”
That said, the duo hope to reach a new audience as well. “The kind of person who comes to a gallery, for the most part, is versed in a certain analysis. They’re already interested in it,” Bamboat reflects. “[Nuit Blanche] is a wider platform, and you get people from all over the place who come into the city to experience art.”
And, of course, different individuals will glean different things from the disco.
“You pick up a set of headphones, and you don’t know what you’re going to be listening to,” says Mitchell. “Depending on where that person’s coming from, that first interaction is telling of so many different things: their relationship to that country, their relationship to where they’re from, and what kind of access or limits to mobility they’ve had to deal with in their life.”
Needless to say, the politics at hand are dense, personal, even distressing. But true to queer form, the artists see an interactive, ephemeral and, above all, fun approach such as a disco as the best way to engage in such a critique.
“You can talk about heavy stuff in a fun and campy way,” Bamboat says.
Border Sounds can be experienced all night during Nuit Blanche in parking level P1 under the Atrium on Bay.