I went to Nuit Blanche, an annual arts festival in downtown Toronto, for the first time this year. I’ve previously heard a lot about the all-night event (“Nuit Blanche” is literally “white night” in French, but actually means “all-nighter”), which happens one day in October from dusk till dawn, where various forms of art displays (sculptures, live performances, light installations, etc.) are scattered all around downtown Toronto and open for audiences to see. Yet, I’ve never had a chance to experience it (well, it would have been hard to go to the one in Toronto since I was in Europe for the past three Octobers).
This year, the event began in the evening on October 4 and continued until sunrise on October 5, and I went for the first time. Actually, it was completely unplanned, but somehow on the afternoon of October 4, my sister talked me into going downtown for food and walking around for Nuit Blanche for a few hours afterwards. Why not, I thought, take advantage of the chance when I’m still in Toronto?
I really ought to have planned better for the event, as it was pretty cold that night and both my sister and I did not dress warmly enough. If we were aware of how cold it would have been and prepared for it, we definitely would have stayed longer. As a result we ended up only attending the actual event for three hours, which wasn’t all that bad. I had been skeptical about Nuit Blanche because I’ve never known how to properly appreciate art, so I treated this first time as an experiment, just to know what to expect for the next time. With a map and a pamphlet in our hands, we set off from City Hall and made our way through Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue, ending the night down by the lakeshore at Fort York. There were quite a few works that I had wanted to see but missed because of the bad planning, but the ones that I did get to see were rather interesting, to say the least.
The sky was still bright when we finished dinner at 7pm, and people were just starting to rush into the downtown core for the beginning of the event (the official start time was 6:53pm). From City Hall, my sister and I walked along Queen Street West towards the west, encountering this installation named “Gap Ecology”. Featuring several cherry pickers filled with palm trees, this installation explored the urban and environmental issues present in our society.
Next we have the “Screaming Booth”, set up at three different locations. The idea of this yellow booth is for the visitors to enter into a dark space and scream their hearts out – if they want. No one else is inside the booth so you’re free to do whatever you want. Sound insulation was done quite well though we were still able to hear the actual screams of the people who went inside. Huh…slightly creepy. Neither my sister nor I went for a try simply because the line was too longer, but I am quite curious about the concept of “screaming in the dark”. Claustrophobia warning!
Further along Queen Street we have…“AMAZE”, which was literally well…a maze. “The idea of the labyrinth is predicated in the notion of finding oneself through the notion of getting lost. Its complex branching passages force visitors to choose among options, some of which may be dead ends while others double back on themselves, as they complete their spiritual journey across the dynamically lit structure.”
Turn around, Sherry. Somehow the light projected onto her face in a funny way as if bringing a youthful flash of colour to her visage. Still waiting in line to enter the maze, but the queue moved rather quickly, and we were in within two minutes.
The fabric-woven maze, intertwined with the projected lights of different colours, felt like a night club at times. My sister and I went in different directions and each of us explored opposite sides of the maze, seeing only shadows of each other through the soft walls that separated us. There were dead ends and forks where a choice needed to be made. Left or right?
After looking at the exhibitions on Queen Street West, we turned onto Spadina Avenue and continued along Chinatown for another cluster of activities. In one sketchy-looking alleyway stood this tall, colourful sculpture that looked like a robot. This sculpture was put in place to celebrate graffiti art or wall art in Toronto, of which there are many scattered around the downtown core. Made of boring boxes, this robot must have looked very dull and plain at the beginning, but the splash of colour brought about by the graffit gave it life, wouldn’t you agree?
And here we come to one of the most talked about and most anticipated piece of the night – “Walk Among Worlds”. In a patch of empty space, 7000 beach balls, each with the map of the world printed on it to symbolize the globe, were installed in various patterns and fashions. Each ball also represented one million inhabitants of the Earth, totalling to the current seven billions (and some more). The balls came in three sizes – large, medium, small – supposedly illustrating the concept of “first world” and “third world”. Talk about symbolism, huh!
So many balls being present in one confined space may not appear to be very pleasant for some people who have a fear of bubbles or holes or balls clustered together (I know a few of these people). Thankfully, neither my sister nor I was prone to this fear, so we entered the “Worlds”. There was a queue of approximately 7 or 8 minutes when we were there, quite short if you asked me. The line gradually grew longer though, as the night continued, and by the time we exited, I estimated that the queue to enter would have been close to 15 minutes.
Walking “through” and “among” these “Worlds” was really something else. It kind of reminded me of the ball pools that I used to play in as a child, except these balls are now bound to trees or virtually floating in air, as it seemed. The colour of the lighting changed every few minutes, adding an extra dimension to this mini-world that we were immersed in.
I also felt like these beach balls resembled the balloons that were in the movie “Up” (though if these were balloons, I would have stayed as far away as possible with my irrational fear of the sound of balloons popping), and I wondered whether they would be able to lift us up into the air if we were tied to a huge cluster of them.
Moving on, we arrived at what was definitely the most ubiquitous display of artistic installation of the night, “Global Rainbow”, which was a set of laser light projections spanning from the CN Tower all the way across the sky towards the Spadina Chinatown. As a result, you could see it in a lot of places (including where we stood in line for Walk Among Worlds, which was where I spotted it first), and this photo was taken right on Spadina, close to one end of the rainbow. I believe this was the second time I’ve seen a rainbow during the night, the first time being in Brussels, Belgium at Mont des Arts. Spectacular.
After we finished the Spadina section, we decided to head down south where a large cluster of work was being exhibited. Despite not having a TTC day pass with me that night, we took the Spadina streetcar down to Fort York. The first installation we saw there was “Open Mind”, a maze built in the shape of a human brain where visitors could roam through the spaces in between and act like neurons connected to and communicating with each other. Neat idea, but I wish I could have seen the brain-shaped maze from the air!
Another interesting and interactive installation was “Kaleidoscopic”, located in the Canoe Landing park (gigantic red canoe, woot!) The concept was for one person to show his face on one side of the apparatus, the supposed giant kaleidoscope, and for someone else to view the face from the other side with a clear kaleidoscopic effect. The resulting fractals looked really cool, but slightly creepy as well! I kind of wish Sherry and I had tried it, but the line was sufficiently long and the night was getting more than just a little bit COLD, so we decided to let go of the line and just watch other people have their go 😛
Yeah, it was cold, alright. That was why both Sherry and I were glad to finally find something that was happening INDOORS – “Everything and Nothing”. I had been looking forward to this one, and it turned out to be one of my favourites. Essentially the performance consisted of a man and a woman who took turns reciting sentences, one starting with “everything”, the other starting with “nothing”. The pairs of sentences complemented each other either in a witty, humourous way, or provided some philosophical insight. Here are some of the pairs that I managed to remember:
“Everything is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Nothing is worth that much.”
“Everything is possible if you put your mind to it. Nothing is impossible, just highly improbable.”
“Everything to lose, nothing to gain. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
“Everything should be legal. Nothing is illegal until you get caught.”
“People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.”
A lot of them were well presented and worth thinking about, and I did get a good laugh out of several lines. I’ve gotta find the entire list somewhere!
Finally, we came to “Between Doors”, an installation that explored the implications of “choice”. You get to encounter sets of doors, each set prompting you to make a choice (for example, past vs. present vs. future, truth vs. fiction) and to take the entrance/exit to the next set. Is choice a luxury, or is it a fundamental right of a human being? Do we take advantage the choice that we’re given, or do we tend to abuse these choices?
Before we left, I took a night shot of downtown Toronto from the Canoe Landing park. I’ve been going downtown rather frequently lately, but not during the night, so of course I wouldn’t miss the perfect opportunity for a shot. Overall I would say that my first Nuit Blanche experience had been quite pleasant, even though I only stayed for around three hours because of the cold. I’m not and will probably never will be an “art person”, but it is still great to be introduced to the art scene in the city of Toronto. I will definitely be looking forward to future Nuit Blanche events, and I will be more prepared next time 😛