From sunset on Saturday 5th October to sunrise on Sunday, the city centre in Toronto was transformed into an artistic treasure hunt, courtesy of the Scotiabank event Nuit Blanche. This was something I had never even heard of until a few weeks ago, and even then I thought it would probably be something small and arty that I wouldn’t really be interested in. Turns out I was wrong on both counts – it wasn’t small and I was really interested.
In case you want to learn a bit more about it in an official capacity, here is a link to the official website – scotiabanknuitblanche.ca – what you will get from me, however, is my honest opinion on the parts I saw and some photos, nothing arty enough to be part of the event, I’m afraid, but you will get the idea.
Earlier in the day, we witnessed the build up to the event with road closures, information booths and first aid stations being set up, art installations being carefully tweaked and a weird buzz around the city. We collected a brochure and map from one of the information booths and the sheer scale of the event began to dawn on me. There were 112 different projects spread out across the city, many of which were in close proximity to our apartment.
Reading through the brochure, I learnt that Nuit Blanche is now in it’s 8th year, and the official brochure states that it is “Toronto’s nocturnal celebration of contemporary visual art.” Now, I’m not very hot on my contemporary art, the word “contemporary” can, to me at least, sometimes be synonymous with “random” and I don’t always have the required amount of artistic understanding to acknowledge what the artist was thinking when they chucked a load of paint from a great height onto a canvas. In fact, my friend Emma and I did that once in her back garden with some Dulux tester pots and the result, albeit colourful and good enough to hang in her lounge, probably wouldn’t be drawing in any crowds. But if it has been going for 8 years and they are able to close off huge parts of the city for this, then it had to be worth a look.
We wrapped up warm and headed out at about 10.30pm and the city was definitely buzzing. We walked along King Street West and saw a sculpture where the artist had hand cut patterns into recycled steel oil tanks. The brochure says things I don’t really understand like “juxtapose industrial materials with domestic elements” and “notions of function and ornament” but I just liked looking at it for what it was; something intricate and kind of cool which must’ve taken ages to do. I think it was my favourite art piece of the night.
We also saw a guy (legally) spray painting a Subaru. Have a look at the pictures from when we first wandered past, and the ones which show how far he had got in about an hour and a half.
Next we came across a Martian landscape which had drawn a huge crowd. It turns out it was done by an artist from Whitley Bay and was originally commissioned by Tyneside Cinema. I don’t think that’s what drew the crowd, just something worth mentioning.
The hub of the event was around city hall in Nathan Phillips Square, which was absolutely packed. There were lots of different installations, such as ‘Forever Bicycles’ which is 3,144 bikes connected into a sculpture, a 300 foot light sculpture of a 17th century poem and performance art called “Crash Cars” which comprised of two driverless cars, moving in loops to make a huge Venn diagram and narrowly avoiding crashing into each other.
However, by far the most entertaining thing I saw was a brass band on University Avenue playing Gangnam Style to a huge crowd who were singing the chorus and dancing around. It didn’t even matter that it was starting to rain by that point.
As we wandered around, I wondered how many people were there specifically for the art and how many, like me, were just intrigued by it all, piggy-backing on the party atmosphere and the chance to do something different with their Saturday night? Probably more for the latter reasons I would’ve thought, taking into account the unofficial attractions which had sprung up around and about. One of which was an impromptu rave on the steps of a statue in the middle of University Avenue, another was three guys sitting on the floor playing some weird electro music wearing masks (think of Jez’s band in Peep Show crossed with Brett Domino and you’re pretty much with me.) But I don’t suppose that the organisers and the artists really mind what brings you out onto the streets, so long as the event is successful, which it definitely was. And, luckily for me, there were no canvases splattered randomly with paint to be seen anywhere. Sign me up for next year.