Monday, October 10, 2011

Nuit Blanche 2011

Our impression of Nuit Blanche this year was that the exhibits were not as exciting and innovative as previous years, probably due to the recession resulting in less funding.  At the same time, the growing awareness and popularity of Nuit Blanche over the years has made it more and more crowded, with long lineups and lengthy waits to see the more sought-after installations.  With limited time and energy on a very cold night, we chose to passively view more exhibits rather than wait in line to participate in a few choice ones.

In retrospect this might have been a mistake as it made us feel less connected to the whole experience.  However we still had fun wandering around the downtown core that was abuzz with energy.  From what we saw, there were some highlights:

"The Tie-Break" reenacted shot for shot the 18-16 tiebreaker in the 4th set of the 1981 Wimbledon finals between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe which is now considered a sports classic.  It was amazing how much the two actors looked like the real athletes, especially dressed in whites on the court.

This was a very interesting concept and a valiant attempt.  Having since watched the real match on YouTube, I think the Nuit Blanche performance would have been more exciting if they had recreated the spirited commentary from one of the sports channels that reported the tie-breaker  at the time.

 "City Mouse" provided poignant reminders of how the office towers in the Financial district once was home to forests and wildlife.  Stuffed replicas of a racoon, wolf, black bear and hawk each have the body area hollowed out to show an office scene where office workers are dressed in suits and ties, but sport the heads of the animal encasing them.  Sound clips of crickets intermixed with keyboard typing further accentuate the contrast between the former natural environment and the cosmopolitan urban life that has replaced it.

Scotiabank's "Fluxe" exhibit allowed participants to use their fingers to draw images with one of 9 pre-designed patterns chosen from a touch screen.  The results were broadcast on a 100' x 33' LED screen attached to the Scotia Plaza.  The lineups were huge to take part in this, but it was still thrilling to watch the beautiful visuals light up the display.

"Hello Dolly" was another installation which would have been fun to take part in if it hadn't been for the 45 minute wait.  All night long, a camera was pushed around a circular dolly track while participants get a whole 2 minutes of fame (rather than the proverbial 15 seconds).  The filming of whatever actions they choose to take in those 2 minutes are broadcast on nearby wall for all passersby to see.  We watched several people perform modern dance or mime moves while one woman sat on the stool and rummaged through her purse for about a minute before taking out a compact and applying her makeup.

We saw a bunch of cheesy exhibits whose descriptions were far loftier than they turned out to be.  One was "Who's going to Run this Town" which was supposed to "reference existentialist moments of power struggle in speculative popular culture."  What we got were some Mad Max Road Warrior-esque photos hung on the Scotia Plaza.  We actually stared at the photos for a few minutes assuming something would move or change or do something, since that couldn't be it!  Another was "Infra" which advertised "wolves represented as pure energy, which metaphorically refers to the wolves' primal instinctive states".  We walked up to the static looking plastic wolves and were not impressed.

One of the best things we saw at Nuit Blanche was not an exhibit at all but the location that hosted the exhibit.  We went to visit "Je T'aime Alouette" which simulated what it might have felt like to be on the Alouette satellite.

This was hosted in the Design Exchange and for the first time, we got to see its second floor where we found exquisite examples of Art Deco decor including a stunning chandelier, door and bannister.  This turned out to be one of the highlights of our night, and based on the number of people taking photos of these features, we were not the only ones who thought so.

Regretfully we missed some really interesting exhibits which required long lineups to even get close to the action.  One was Intensity, where you line up to get into  a "luxury condo presentation centre".  Once inside, you are asked to stick your head through a hole where you end up as a part of "tent city", highlighting the vast gap between the rich and poor in Toronto.

Another was "Ride the Rocket" which transformed a Streetcar into a surrealistic ride through the use of video animation, sound effects and lively tour descriptions by the "TTC driver".  This had been high on our list of things to see but sadly, the lineup was over an hour by the time we got there.  I watched a video someone posted of what the experience was like and it seemed extremely cool!

I miss the early years where you could just waltz up to a Nuit Blanche project any time through the night and take part in it.  Next year, we're going to change our strategy.  Instead of planning a route to try to maximize what we can see in an evening (equivalent to one of those bus vacations where you visit 11 countries in 9 days), we will make sure we start at the most promising ones, before the huge lineups form.  And maybe we'll take the time to actually wait for a few more exhibits so that we can feel more engaged and at one with the art. 

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