Nuit Blanche is one of my favourite Toronto festivals, both in concept and execution. Even if the installations are disappointing (more on that later), they can still be surprising or make me see something in a new way.
Here are some tips for the annual sleepless night:
Don’t go in large groups. You will get separated from each other, and you don’t want to spend the night texting instead of experiencing. Better yet, turn your phone off. No one will be reading your tweets because they’ll be out, too!
If you’re going in for the long haul, make sure you stop somewhere for a bite between 1 and 2am; you’ll need the extra energy and your feet will thank you.
Lastly, any discussion of “Is this art?” is useless. Deal with it.
One of the cool things about the night is how many non-art people get to discover and discuss art. Whether they view it as a learning experience or a glorified rave, they are immersed in artistic practices and histories, and, more often than not, revelling in the work of queer artists. Reena Katz, Kent Monkman, David Frankovich and countless others round out this year’s queer quotient.
In 2008, Luis Jacob joined the ranks of those who’ve played Maple Leaf Gardens (a list that includes Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, the Beatles and Muhammad Ali) with his installation Without Persons.
This year, DJs Cozmic Cat and Denise Benson are behind Night at the Indies, and Cozmic Cat will pop up again in Zone B’s Dances with Strangers, commissioned with Kianga Ford. I do love me some Cozmic Cat, but Zone B would have had my eyeballs anyway this year, especially with its theme: Sound and Vision.
At its best, Nuit Blanche is sensory overload; at its worst, it is a crashing bore. Those moments are few and far between, but when they happen, oyyyyy. My challenge to those artists lucky enough to be given huge spaces to create in is: fill it.
Nothing is worse than trekking all over, weaving through crowds all hyped up with anticipation, only to have that anticipation dashed when an installation is less than what was promised. Last year I walked from Riverdale Park out past Queen and Dufferin streets, looking for what turned out to be a tiny little projection in a tiny little window that you had to squint to see. If you have a giant parking lot at your disposal, for Liberace’s sake, use the whole space! Don’t sequester your idea into one roped-off little corner. Intimate art experiences are okay, but placing a small installation in a large space just makes it look half-assed. The city is staying up late and pulling out the stops just for you — don’t let us down!
Because of this, I usually favour performance installations or the interactive ones. David Balula’s The Endless Pace (Variation for 60 Dancers) got mad respect from me, with the dancers going for the whole 12 hours. Any time you have 60 dancers in synch, it’s an impressive sight.
But if there’s an image that defines Nuit Blanche for me, it’s one from 2007, when I created a 12-hour performance installation with Ina unt Ina and WIll Munro.
The Inas and I handled the performing duties (me doing disco and them doing their space pop, with a few group songs thrown in), while Will designed an incredible space for us to do it in at the AGO. Towards the end of the night, we autographed pop tarts, and the only thing that topped the sight of the usually staid AGO security staff dancing while we sang “Last Dance” was something that happened during setup.
Will was doing a great job of creating a ’70s rec room: shag rugs, animal heads, orange lamps, album covers, blanket fort and a makeshift silver Mylar lounge with bean bag chairs and benches to chill out on. With everyone just a bit nervous (not knowing what to expect from the audience or if we would be able to make it for 12 hours with collapsing) we started the sound check. As I’m running through “One Night Only” from Dreamgirls, a huge swath of silver Mylar falls off the wall onto Will, and for a few fun seconds there are multiple Wills reflected everywhere, all laughing and trying to dance while getting untangled.
Three years on Will is gone, but Nuit Blanche remains something I look forward to. I hope you experience your own silver Mylar moment.
Nuit Blanche takes place from sunset on Oct 2 till sunrise the next morning.