On a cool, drizzly September evening last year thousands of people were discovered strolling all over downtown Toronto. They were checking out art?!
Nuit Blanche was the surprise hit of the art calendar. No one expected the crowds that turned out, an estimated 425,000, for what was supposed to be a one-time-only event. More than the art itself, it was the crowds and their hunger for this kind of event that was the big revelation. What a surprise to see Torontonians grooving on their city and fellow Torontonians.
But it wasn’t just artists and adventure-seekers who woke up the next day with eye-bags and hangovers. The city’s lawyers must have been the first on the phones and crackberries, gossiping. In the wee hours of the morning, once the crowds subsided, some strange things went down. It wasn’t just the mud wrestling on the fog-bound Philosophers’ Walk or the all-night murder-ball game at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Reports flooded in of naughty aquabics in the various pools that housed certain installations, at Trinity Bellwoods, at the Harrison Baths. Harried lone security guards were ill prepared for the innocent fun that erupted late at night.
The city and other big institutions must have worried about lawsuits: There’s not a single pool among the venues this year.
In some ways last year’s Nuit Blanche can’t be repeated. Organizers now know what to expect. That unrehearsed, impromptu feeling of discovery, of getting away with something, will be hard to replicate. Except that Nuit Blanche is so much bigger this year, can all the venues really be prepared for the ingenuity and creativity of Toronto’s sillier, more salacious citizens? Hopefully no.
As always, the queers of Church St are here to counterbalance the city’s lawyers and worrywarts. Church St’s inaugural Nuit Blanche offering, Nightless City, is hoping to transform the strip on Sat, Sep 29 with sex-positive performances, installations and projected imagery. There’s burlesque from the Shameless Dames to interactive explorations of erotic fantasies by Ruth Gaitskill, Lisa May Loveless and Jonathan Brett. And what’s sex without booze? Many bars have extended hours that night, serving till 4am. Calling the end result of Nightless City a “red-light district” is really waving a red flag in front of a ballsy bull, isn’t it?
(For more on Nuit Blanche, Church St and beyond, see Daryl Vocat’s story on page 25; there’s also a brief mention of Allyson Mitchell’s exhibition on page 23.)
I know it’s getting a little too close to Halloween but if you’ve got an extra outfit kicking around, wear it. Nuit Blanche is screaming out for drag and other costumed capers. Work the strip but plan to hit some other parts of the city, like Queen West and the Gladstone Hotel or the University of Toronto. All those milling crowds and folks stuck in lineups will lap up any kind of flamboyance. It’s so easy to get attention in this town, why not get some?
There was a Nuit Blanche volunteer last year who corralled passersby into Bloor St’s Church of the Redeemer by yelling out sweet enticements. “Nothing but good feelings!” she’d yell. Inside turned out to be none-too exciting — the volunteer was the real show. She seemed happily taken aback when we told her she was the best thing we’d seen all night. There lies the real power of events like Nuit Blanche, nudging Torontonians toward the realization that life is an art, that moments of beauty and insight are there for the making and taking — just open your eyes and your heart to the worlds of wonder beside you.