Nuit Blanche: Installment the First

It looks like I’m just going to have to get used to the fact that every once in a while my laptop will need a vacation from my apparently toxic presence.

A few weeks ago I was sure it was dead – not just “oh here we go with it’s quarterly crash, better set aside a few hours this weekend to reformat it”, but full on “holy crap, reformat isn’t even an option on the startup menu anymore – and is that the blue screen of death? OH CRAP EVEN THE BLUE SCREEN CANT LOAD!!!NOOOOO!!!STOP MAKING THAT NOISE!!!” sort of dead. So off it went to my geekiest friend for her professional opinion. It seemed a lost cause, a victim of my apparent EMP genetics as well as succumbing to hard usage – too many long,  motherboard-fryingly hot hours of webcamming and multitasking is more than this little thing was built for. The verdict? “It just sort of works when it wants to now.”

Well apparently it wants to now, having taken a few weeks off. But rest assured I will never buy a new laptop again – a year max is apparently all I can squeeze out of these things. So for now I’ll web when I can, avoid leaving it on overnight, and await the next inevitable tantrum. If I disappear again, you’ll know this machine has suffered a swift, Office Space-esque death at the hands of whatever blunt instrument is most handy.

Anyways! Here’s what I’ve been meaning to talk about all this time, but instead may as well have been hanging out in a soggy, webless cardboard box.

Nuit Blanche! Yes, it (was) that time of year again when Toronto busts out with its free, all-night, contemporary art ‘thing’. Birthed in either Paris, St. Petersburg or Berlin (apparently there’s still somewhat of a bitchfest over its origins), it has spread to the worlds cultural centres as a means of artistic expression, both individually and en masse, themed social gathering, and urban identification. In layman’s terms: look how cool we are.

Last year was an unplanned, last minute tagging along to a series of fantastic albeit sometimes inexplicable installments, with poor caffeination/sleep logistics resulting in an early night. Anytime prior to midnight is a poor showing for an event lasting until sunrise, and frankly I was annoyed at myself for lack of planning.

This year was different! I went on my own, plotted ahead and mapped my course, determined to catch everything from the Inuit film festival at the Habourfront Centre to the peep show tent in the Casa Loma stables. Unfortunately the whole shebang is now so popular that many of the exhibits had lineups over an hour long. And so, I was forced to whittle in the moment, having to quickly choose between secret waterfall gardens and giant bouncy wedding cakes, post-apocalyptic tribal installments and giant pools of vodka. In the end some choices were good, some choices were blah, but I’ll let you decide for yourselves with a look at what I saw and a list of what I missed.

Here’s the first dose, just steps away from my door and through the annex, on my way to the subway through the core. Filled with museums, institutions, and galleries, my own back yard made for an interesting start.

First up! ‘Through a Glass Darkly’ at St. Thomas Anglican Church featured an interesting co-display of religious environment and song, set to the background of Galilean artifact, intended to draw visitors into the dynamic between science and soul. Or something like that.

Next we had ‘Where Have You Been In These Shoes?’, a collaboration with Diaspora Dialogues at the Bata Shoe Museum. Basically you got to walk in, have pictures taken of your shoes, tell random passerby a story about where you’ve been in them, and have on the spot poetry created by dialogue artists to share your experiences with the crowd. The display grew as the night progressed and more participants added their shoes and stories to the collection.

‘Music Inside Out’ was a ton of fun. Crowds wandered through the ornate entrance to the Royal Conservatory of Music, down the lush gardens to the newly added Telus Centre for Performing Arts, contrasting the old world look of the original building with the modern glass structure lit up in neon for Nuit Blanche.

There were a number of installations here, but my favourite was the haunted piano. It was nothing highly advertised, no signs pointed the way, just an unobtrusive volunteer who would tug at your sleeve as  you passed an elevator, inviting you to go on up – by yourself of course – to take a look. The elevator doors opened to an empty rotunda, a dark ballroom at the end of the hall with eerie music floating quietly, and you had to walk alone through the room to see the keys operating themselves in a disjointed, arythmic song.

Next up was the Institute for Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum. The ROM recently underwent a somewhat controversial addition of a crawling, crystalline structure to the more traditional architecture of the main building. Many think it an eyesore, but I happen to like it.

The lineup, however, was not so enjoyable. At least the surroundings outside and on the way in were entertaining.

The installment here was a display of photos from the years of Vanity Fair 1913 – 2008, opened to the public with waived admission for the nights event. It was nice, but not worth the hour long lineup – I had more fun outside than inside! I didn’t personally take any pictures of the photos themselves because it seemed discouraged, but here’s a look from others’ points of view.

image from blogto.com

image from styleblog.ca

Since I spent so much time here, I decided to skip the ‘Overture to Parallel Nippon’ at the Japan Foundation across the street. Apparently it was some sort of architecture fest mixed with sound and visual, and it seemed like quite a party from across the street. But as for me, I headed down into the subway at this point, at the renovated Museum station, southbound for the downtown core.

Next up – City Hall, Yonge Street, the Financial District, and the busiest hours of the night!

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Nuit Blanche in Toronto! Yeah, yeah, plenty late, whatever.

In case you haven’t noticed, I LOVE my city. While I am looking forward to moving for a little bit – I hate winter, and I think a slower pace in a small southern suburb could do my hectic brain some good – I must say that Toronto is one of the best damn cities in the world. Josh isn’t too sure if he’s going to like the hustle and bustle when we eventually move back, but I think he’ll find his own favourite places and spaces and come to love it in his own way.

One of the best things around here is the culture and access to all sorts of global ideas. Our film festival is well known, as well as our film industry (May once got startled by a zombie walking around downtown – “Sure, there were movie trailors around, but it’s not like that means anything in Toronto in the summer.”) In fact, they’re filming on my block this weekend. We’ve got a fantastic theatre culture – Chicago was actually filmed here in favour of our strong local theatery goodness. And of course some fantastic museums, widely discussed architecture, and arts galore. Our culture is so important to us that a proposed end to tax benefits for the arts was met with enough public outcry to have the whole idea removed from Stephen Harper’s election campaign (America…we have elections too.)

Anyways, we love our arts!

A recent installment cropped up three years ago from its origins in Paris, a fantastic repertoire of local, expressive, provocative, and often interactive artistic installments in the form of what is referred to as “a free, all-night contemporary art thing”: Nuit Blanche (noo-EE blawnsh = ‘White Night’ or ‘All Nighter’.) An all night event, the city is lit up with a sprawl of dozens of installations celebrating all forms of art and thought. It’s fun, it’s interactive, and if nothing else, a great way to see what other people do with their time, and an excuse to grab a friend, her kids, and a hell of a lot of coffee.

I’ll admit, I did not make it through the night. I actually crashed ridiculously early, but if I’m around for next years event, I’ll be pulling a well-planned all nighter. I missed the Horroridor this year, boo!

Here’s what I did see!

A stretch of Church street in The Village (aka The Gaybourhood and it’s fabulous!) was dotted with trees, lighting and fog machines to create an Ethereal Forest. A collection of bizarre medieval dancers pranced around the top end of the street, accompanied by a flutist. Yes, the Gaybourhood, but that probably has less to do with the prancey type theme than you probably think.

Anyway, I met up with May and her kids here, and we were quickly joined by the illustrious Lindsay. They are not as frequent characters as Talea, but Talea was not in an outside mood, especially in prime touristy-crowd territory.

May did the prep work and came prepared with a list of things to check out. Linds brought energy and a general goal to meet up with friends of hers later on at the art gallery. So off we went!

This piece was called Conversation #2. No, I don’t know what it means or why there are mushrooms, other than for what I believe was an ‘organic’ sort of feel. But it was neat! Also, I love books, hardcover books especially. I just love the feel of them. I covet them.

This display was called Time-Piece, and showed the rapidly shifting phases of the moon on a translucent screen. I’m not quite sure why, though.

Zombies! In Condoland! There is a particularly swanky area downtown known as College Park: a rather dashing collection of exclusive, costly, and all around desireable condominiums along a tree lined path through a lantern lit park on the edge of a neat little pond. Posh. We filled it with zombies, because Toronto is that awesome. May’s littlest one spent most of the night leading up to this display calling up from her stroller “Monshers? We go monshers?” Yes, yes, we’re going to the monshers. “Monshers!”

This display even had the option of getting dressed up and made up with a five-minute zombie makeover station. Alas, the lineup was far more frightening than the results. We did not partake.

Instead we wandered farther south towards Yonge Dundas Square.

Josh’s reaction to this photo: That’s a big ass city, yo. And it is, and I love it. It’s a pain in the ass that a big city comes with lots of people, with the crowding and the noise, and the shoving and the lack of hygiene, but it’s the price one pays. Unfortunately, the square itself didn’t have anything more intriguing than a wandering, blinding spotlight out to give random passerby their fifteen seconds of fame, as well as an OBNOXIOUS motherfucker who stopped his SUV right at the corner. Um, hi, the busiest intersection in the city and “Oh hey, don’t mind my gas guzzling suburban ass – I don’t feel like parking this monstrosity, so I’m just going to put my hazards on and sit here holding up about seven city blocks worth of traffic while my poorly highlighted wife comes waddling across the street trying not to touch anything.”

Dickwad.

Beyond that was Ryerson University with their “Sitting Ducks” display.

Yes, they’re fake, but we’ve all seen ducks swimming around a pond. Have we all seen an odd assortment of floating decoys placed around a man-made fountain by overzelous artsy folk, eerily night-lit with smoke and strobes? I have. It was pretty cool.

On the other side of Ryerson was the House of Leaves (not necessarily any relation to the very brilliant novel – if you can call it that – by Mark Z. Danielewski)

Just pages and pages stuck to the walls, crawling over window panes and rustling in the outdoor narrow pathway between two buildings, and for no real purpose other than it looks utterly fantastic and feels definitely surreal to walk through.

I don’t know who Pat is, but I thought this picture was cool enough for everyone to see.

At this point, both the kids and myself and probably everybody else were getting very tired, very quickly. We made it to the Art Gallery of Ontario, still under construction and with no obvious art installation in sight. Rather than searching, we headed back north instead, back towards College . Not up Yonge St. to Zombie filled Condoland, but up University Ave., through the hospitals, schools, institutes and research facilities that make up the Toronto Discovery District.

Along the way, we did manage to make one last stop at the Ontario Power Generation building, with their quite awesome waterfall display – made entirely of plastic bottles. Makes you think twice about where all the water comes from.

At this point, especially after fighting the crowd that you can only get a brief glimpse of here, we were pretty much done. A night well spent, and there is a subway entrance right at this intersection anyways. Linds and her friends bid us adieu and carried along on their merry way, while May and I took the kids down into the station for the short ride home. My transfer was before theirs, and I still nearly fell asleep – it’s amazing how a night of walking around the city will exhaust you, and I was asleep about five minutes after I got in the door.

Speaking of walking, this chick was doing it wrong. I leave you with one last photo, quite possibly the best of the night.

Haha, she’s been walking around so long on those ridiculous little shoes that her toes are on the pavement! Oh, such a blister she will have!

Noob.