Best-of: Nuit Blanche Toronto

Last night I pulled an all-nighter. As a student working on my fourth university degree, I am no stranger to this, having spent more than my fair share of sleepless nights finishing essays fueled by endless pots of coffee and sheer adrenaline. But last night’s adventure was purely voluntary and a lot more fun. I took a break from school to attend Toronto’s sixth annual Nuit Blanche, an all-night outdoor art party.

Photo: Tracey Eckersley

Nuit Blanche started in Paris ten years ago and now countries all over the world celebrate the “White Night” on the first weekend of October. I headed out into the cold at dusk and soon found myself in a crowd of thousands, filling the streets which had been transformed into temporary galleries.

Photo: Tracey Eckersley

Some people carefully planned their routes through the three curated zones but I decided just to wander and see what I came across. And it wasn’t hard to find amazing things; at almost every turn there was something new at which to marvel.

The Tie-break, Photo: Tracey Eckersley

The Tie-break, a performance piece by Tibi Tibi Neuspiel and Geoffrey Pugen, recreated the legendary fourth set tie-break between Björn Borg and John McEnroe at Wimbledon in 1980. It was fascinating enough to watch them replay the exhilarating 22-minute game but to know that they would repeat it every hour throughout the night, as faithfully to the original set as possible, was even more impressive. The setting of the performance in the city’s financial district added an extra layer of meaning, providing an allegorical exploration of “the relationship between conservatism and risk.”

Video: Karen Zalamea

Karen Zalamea’s video installation Stereo Efficiency Cheer attracted an enthusiastic crowd at two of downtown’s busiest intersections, though when they joined in with her chant they added an eerie element to the artist’s commentary on our society’s obsession with productivity.

Soon, Photo: Tracey Eckersley

The eeriness continued with Iain Forsyth’s and Jane Pollard’s Soon. Walking down an alleyway, I came across a courtyard surrounded by skyscrapers. People were wandering around in a daze, as spotlights searched though the crowd and the cacophonous sound of helicopters and gunshots were interwoven with ominous noises straight out of a sci-fi movie. Some people reveled in this atmosphere and danced in the spotlights while others looked fearful and took great pains to stay in the shadows. As one woman walked through the smoke-filled walkway she exclaimed that it was like being in a war zone.

I just know that something good is going to happen, Photo: Tracey Eckersley

The mood was lighter up the street at Curtis Grahauer’s I just know that something good is going to happen, though the work incorporated the same media and a similar concept of “anticipation of events” that was used in Soon. An empty passageway was transformed into a streetscape along which the audience walked with borrowed umbrellas. Whispered conversations gave way to squeals of delight as an innocuous rain shower turned into a downpour, soaking the participants and driving the viewers back from the edge.

Paparazzi Bots, Photo: Tracey Eckersley

Ken Rinaldo used robots to interact with the crowd in two different works: Paparazzi Bots and Face Music. The former required people to vie for the attention of camera-equipped robots which snapped photos of the lucky few with the perfect pose, while the latter took pictures of participants, pixilated the images, and translated the results into an ever-changing soundscape that was broadcast throughout the square.

Face Music, Photo: Tracey Eckersley

What I loved more than any single artwork was the sight of so many people engaging with contemporary art, especially those for whom it was obviously a novel experience. Their excitement was palatable, even after many hours in the cold. Everywhere I went, I heard people discussing what they saw, what they heard, and how they interpreted it. And while many said they didn’t necessarily understand what they were looking at, at least they were provided with an opportunity to see works of emerging and established artists from around the world.

Video: Jon Simonassi

I’m not as young as I used to be, so I headed home slightly before dawn but you can be sure that next year’s Nuit Blanche is one all-nighter that I am looking forward to!

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