To call Scotiabank Nuit Blanche an art festival isn’t a misnomer, but it does leave out a lot of what the city actually loves (and/or hates) about the event. More than just a celebration of contemporary art, the all-night, anything-goes fête, now in its eighth year, is an enthusiastic forum for all kinds of public spectacle: impromptu busking, covert (and sometimes not-so-covert) boozing, elaborate costumery, and, of course, gleeful gawking at all the weirdness on display. We set out to soak up some of the revelry ourselves. Here, a play-by-play of how the night unfolded and a slideshow of our favourite installations.
9:20 p.m. It’s hard to know how to prep for twelve hours of bumping up against drunk teenagers and hearing the phrase “I don’t get it” on endless repeat. We decide our best bet is the Art Gallery of Ontario, where, armed with only a tuning fork and a few optimistic mantras, artist-in-residence Diane Borsato is debuting Your Temper, My Weather, a low-key performance featuring 100 suited-up beekeepers joined in collective meditation. Om.
10:15 p.m. At Nathan Phillips Square, Ai Weiwei’s massive sculpture of interlocking bicycles is predictably impressive. What’s less fun: navigating the crush of art-crawlers clamouring to snap it on their smart phones (no rush; it’s up until Oct. 27).
10:40 p.m. We follow the post-Weiwei crowd to Alain Declercq’s Crash Cars, also in Nathan Phillips Square, and watch with bated breath as two driverless Kia sedans zip past each other in the drained fountain. We’re pretty sure the cars are designed not to crash, but a crumpled license plate and dinged-up fender make it seem like anything can happen—and people are certainly willing to wait it out.
11:30 p.m. Behind Osgoode Hall, Toronto artist Kim Adams’s Toaster Work Wagon lets couples pilot double-headed bicycles, kind of like a three-legged race for bikes. The training wheels are a godsend.
12:20 a.m. Nothing says “Art here” like cordoning off a major thoroughfare with official-looking flags. The PARADE zone on University Avenue has everything you’d expect: a parade queen, creepy clowns and even a scrappy looking Ferris wheel strung with LED lights (a real hit with the amateur shutterbugs). John Dickson’s Music Box, a mechanical music-making contraption secured to a giant flatbed trailer, makes a decent stand-in for a marching band.
2:10a.m. A monstrous spider-shaped balloon holds court at the foot of the U of T campus, like a nightmarish imitation of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Festival goers are invited to hold down the guide ropes keeping the floating spider from flying off into the night. (A group of Jägered-up U of T kids tries to yank off its legs instead.)
3:30 a.m. Throughout the night, we’ve heard good things about Tadashi Kawamata’s Garden Tower, so we make the trek east to the Metropolitan United Church. Tower is the fort you dreamed of constructing when you were eight years old: chairs, benches and other miscellaneous chattel stacked heavenwards in a ramshackle tower of home furnishings.
3:55 a.m. The clouds open up and it starts to pour, which helps us decide to call it a night. We scarf down some street meat and follow the trail of discarded plastic mickeys and crushed tall cans all the way home.