This Saturday, September 29, hordes of art lovers, all-purpose revellers and the generally curious will take to downtown for the seventh iteration of Nuit Blanche. The fun kicks off just as the sun goes down (7:03 p.m. this year), and continues until the sun rises the next morning (and if past years are anything to go by, the crowds will stay strong into the wee, wee hours). Essential provisions for the night: warm clothing (or better, layers), a little sustenance (liquid or otherwise) and this guide of the top 20 things to see, in which we translate the oft-baffling art-speak used to describe the various projects into plain old English. This year, the fest is divided into four areas: City Hall, Zone A (downtown south and west), Zone B (central downtown) and Zone C (east of downtown).
The dramatic-sounding Museum for the End of the World, curated by York University’s Janine Marchessault and OCAD University’s Michael Prokopow, will take over Nathan Phillips Square and parts of city hall—including council chambers and the underground parking garage. As the name implies, the projects in this section take on different aspects of the apocalypse. Apart from the end-times art on display, there are some practical reasons for heading over: the indoor exhibits should be toasty warm, and there are lots of pieces close together, which will allow visitors to see a lot of art in quick succession.
1. Museum of the Rapture, by Douglas Coupland
Location: city hall underground parking garage, 100 Queen St. W.
Douglas Coupland will set up a maze of signs and tableaux vivants (i.e., hired models standing very still) that reference the Rapture. Coupland’s name is a draw, but even more intriguing is what he said about the work: “I want visitors to be weirded out. Then I want them to be a bit angry.”
2. Ou Topos, by Iris Häussler
Location: city hall underground parking garage, 100 Queen St. W.
Häussler is known for creating realistic environments for visitors to explore (some may remember her faux historical site at the AGO in 2007). This time, it’s the fallout shelter of a man obsessed by nuclear disaster and the end of the world. Sifting through his possessions should be equal parts creepy and fun.
3. I Dream a World, by the Nathaniel Dett Chorale
Location: Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen St. W.
Thirty-minute performances beginning at 8 p.m., 9:30 p.m., 11 p.m., 12:30 a.m. 2 a.m. and 3:30 a.m.
The sound is a mix of Afrocentric choral music, spirituals and jazz, and the idealistic themes are borrowed from the likes of Langston Hughes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Omar Khayyam. We’re suckers for free live performances, and these ones from the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, a civic treasure, sound surprisingly upbeat considering this zone is all about the end of the world.
4. Symposium—Until the End of the World, with talks by Slavoj Žižek, Arthur Kroker and Brenda Longfellow
Location: Toronto city hall, council chambers, 100 Queen St. W.
Arthur Kroker 7:30 to 9:00 p.m.; Brenda Longfellow 9:15 to 10:45 p.m.; Slavoj Žižek 11:00 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
The three philosophers will each in turn sound off on issues that affect not just people and politics, but the planet as a whole. Žižek, the so-called “superstar of the Occupy movement” (and hero to many a cultural studies prof) will be the biggest draw, but stick around after he speaks to see a film by Wim Wenders, which inspired the symposium, at 1 a.m.
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Zone A this year is titled Drift, and it aims to “highlight the consistency of urban space as fluid and poetic.” Curated by Textile Museum of Canada executive director Shauna McCabe, it features artists who bend the notions that underlie Toronto’s familiar spaces and surfaces, implanting nature, foreign landscapes, memories and histories into the concrete jungle. The Financial District will be lit up with projects along King Street between John and Jarvis, and further west, there’s a concentration of independent pieces along Queen Street between Ossington and Roncesvalles.
1. Green Invaders, by Yves Caizergues
Location: Sun Life Financial Tower, 150 King St. W.
It’s a blast from the past—a past where video games only had a joystick to move players (and maybe a space bar to shoot things if you were into the fancy stuff). This sea of Green Invaders takes one of the first forms of video technology and makes it over with present-day lighting tech.
2. Lifecycles, by Matthew Moore
Location: David Pecaut Square, 221 King St. W.
Watch a plant grow from seed to mature foliage in this six-screen circular video set-up, accompanied by original music and sounds of microscopic plant growth (a twist on the proverbial tree in the woods). The idea is to narrow the gap between the natural cycle of life and the fast pace of a city, making it a good choice for a Blancher looking for a moment of peace before heading back on their way.
3. Water Will Be Here, by Eric Corriel
Location: Commerce Court West, 25 King St. W.
This one is for the apocalyptically minded. A site-specific video installation will provide a glimpse into a future where sea levels rise to the point of sinking cities. See and feel what climate change could have in store for the world (hint: it’s not good).
4. Cent une tueries de zombies, by Michael Lane and Colin Geddes
Location: TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W.
If you watch zombie movies specifically to see the living fight back against the walking dead, then this orgy of slayings will be right up your alley. One hundred and one zombie slaying scenes from cinema, TV and pop culture have been compiled into a looped and occasionally split-screen visual installation for one giant, awesome montage of gore. 18+
5. Throw-Up, by Shelley Miller
Metro Hall, 55 John St. (accessible from King St. W., east of John St.)
It’s not as gross as it sounds. “Throw-up” is just slang for hastily done graffiti—still, this installation does involves food. Miller decorates Toronto’s walls like a cake, piping icing instead of spraying paint, creating a whimsical look at waste, excess and the shifting use of urban space–unless Mayor Ford takes it all down with a pressure washer first.
6. Leitmotif, by multiple artists
All along Queen St. W. between Ossington Ave. and Roncesvalles Ave.
The Parkdale Village Business Improvement Area is sponsoring a series of pieces in cube rental vans along Queen West. Want to make $500? John Sasaki’s fee for his Hands on the Van sits on display in a moving truck, and whoever stands next to it the longest gets to take it home. The winner (and losers) can drop by Brett Gabels’ nearby 100 Pounds of Glitter to celebrate in a swirling, shimmering vortex that will likely leave you shedding the plasticky stuff for days. Border guards keep the cultural peace in another installation, while a fourth keeps track of vehicles’ emotional mileage.
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The theme of Zone B is Bodies and Buildings, which seems just about right for Nuit Blanche. Pulled together by independent curator Christina Ritchie, the projects here examine the relationships between people and the public spaces around them, whether they be big city intersections or the everyday corner store. Zone B is mostly confined to the area west of Yonge and east of University, between Dundas and King.
The Other Side, by Michael Klein
Location: York St. and Adelaide St. W.
This is sure to be one of those projects that’s mobbed throughout the night. Four cameras are perched at each of the corners of this downtown intersection, with the feed projected live on the opposite side, so that no viewer can ever see themselves, in an effort to evoke the surveillance that’s become pervasive in day-to-day life.
All Night Convenience, by Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky
Location: Bay Adelaide Centre, 333 Bay St.
Get here early: throughout the night, this “sculptural homage to the common corner store,” made of 2,000 lanterns, will diminish in size, as the lanterns are handed off to visitors. Each of the handmade lights represents common convenience store fare: a toothpaste tube, say, or, um, canned pork goulash (okay, maybe they’re not all that common).
Flat Space, by Peter Bowyer
Location: Bay St. and Queen St. W.
We’ll admit it: we’re not quite sure how this “visual and conceptual interference zone within ordinary perceptual space” is going to turn out. Right in the middle of this busy intersection, Bowyer will be installing some kind of massive optical illusion made out of 300 pieces of galvanized steel (which, most excellently, will all be transported by cargo bike).
9 Beet Stretch, by Leif Inge and New Adventures in Sound Art
Location: Old City Hall, 60 Queen St. W.
Back in 2004, Norwegian sound artist (don’t stop reading yet!) Leif Inge had an unlikely cult hit on his hands when he took Beethoven’s ubiquitous Ninth Symphony (the one with the triumphant “Ode to Joy”) and stretched it out, with fancy computer technology, to 24 hours, with no change in pitch. The result is unexpectedly beautiful and totally unfamiliar.
Vertical Constructions: Dancer #1 and #2, by Max Streicher
Location: Toronto Eaton Centre, 220 Yonge St.
Dancer #1 and #2 is this year’s entrant in the “big inflatable thing in public space” category. It’s a category Streicher kind of owns: he’s the guy who floated the four horsemen of the apocalypse in Union Station for the first Luminato. This graffiti-inspired piece is more whimsical and less ominous.
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Helena Reckitt, formerly of the Power Plant gallery, wraps up her curator’s statement on Once More With Feeling (a.k.a. Zone C) with a casual reference to the Mayan apocalypse (Dec. 21—mark your calendars!). Ominous but appropriate, Zone C’s installations probe repetition and the recycling of culture through cycles of destruction and regeneration. Like the apocalypse, Once More will be bright, noisy, and communal; unlike it, it’ll be a lot of fun. Revellers can find an appropriate late-night Xerox dance party and then reconnect with the disaffected youth inside them by waxing nostalgic over Nirvana’s glory days and tragic end. You can find most of it tucked in between Queen and King streets east and Jarvis and Yonge.
Planes, by Trisha Brown Dance Company
Location: Dundee Place, 1 Adelaide St. E.
Dancers take to a huge 13-by-21-foot wall, moving and “free falling” against the backdrop of a dizzying 16-mm film to the soundtrack of a vacuum cleaner in this restaging of Brown’s bizarre and beautiful 1968 experiment with perspective and movement. And in true Nuit Blanche style, it’s a chance to one-up a few art snobs—many of Brown’s biggest fans have never seen it.
Moth Maze, by Oliver Husain
Green P Parking Lot, 87 Richmond St. E.
Many Nuit Blanche projects feel like they’re all queue. This installation is actually all queue, but Husain’s twisting labyrinth is probably a lot more fun than most. Lamps scattered throughout the maze correspond to lights that appear on a screen and travel through the image of a bright, dense forest, (hopefully) drawing Nuit-Blanchers-cum-moths from light to light. That’s the idea at least. Let’s just hope the lineup to get in isn’t too long.
Body Xerox, by Simon Denny and Yngve Holen
King St. E. and Toronto St.
The incredibly named DJs Craxxxmurf and Baglady maintain a loud, heady dancefloor vibe as Xerox machines pump out copy after copy, grabbing muted stills of the action. The “night-club-meets-office atmosphere” confronts revellers with dingy captures of themselves using a nearly dead technology; there has to be something to that, right?
Young Prayer, by William Robinson
Metropolitan United Church, 56 Queen St. E.
Robinson crosses his fingers behind his back as he salutes classic rock’s (and grunge’s, punk’s, etc.) guitar smash, suspending a plugged-in axe on an electric pulley and repeatedly dropping it in a blitz of glorious noise. Think of it as the lazy man’s version of Pete Townsend’s iconic and oft-repeated guitar smash.
Smells Like Spirit, by Hadley+Maxwell
Elgin Theatre Loading Dock, 160 Victoria St.
Roadies, Kurt Cobain, a séance (of sorts); Berlin-based duo Hadley+Maxwell conjure up the spirit of the grunge legend, articulating light, sound and equipment to “load in” Nirvana for a ghostly final non-gig. The installation probes celebration and tragedy, evoking Cobain’s transcendental highs and tragic end.
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