The Localist

Nuit Blanche: Transforming Toronto


My partner Jeff and I are hard-core Nuit Blanchers.  To prepare we usually take a nap after work on Friday, then stay up all night (and sleep all day Saturday) to condition ourselves for the following sleepless night.  Last year, we watched season 1 of Treme.  This year we continued the ritual by finishing up watching a season of the prison drama, Oz.  Before heading out, we planned the best route to take to avoid the masses at the peak times between 9pm-12 am.  Then we packed our supplies for the night.  Mitts and a toque in case it got cold, a raincoat (there was a chance of showers this year), a change of clothes in case the weather gods were unkind, our camera and an energy drink for that second wind we would need in the waning hours of the night.

At this point you might be wondering, “what in the bloody hell is Nuit Blanche?!”  It’s a contemporary arts festival that takes place throughout downtown Toronto on a cool autumn Saturday night. The event runs from dusk to dawn and features over 100 art installations, many original works, from local, national and international artists.  There is no better time to see the entire city transformed than this one spectacular night.

We decided to start our night at Nathan Philips Square, where the biggest and most impressive installation of the festival was displayed. The centrepiece of this year’s instalment of Nuit Blanche was Ai Wei Wei’s Forever Bicycles, an impressive structure constructed of 3144 bicycles. Continuing with the bicycle theme, our next sighting, The Big Crunch, paid homage to Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel with a wall of bicycle wheels displayed in a gear-like array.  Clothesline Canopy, our next destination, featured thousands of pairs of socks strung up on a sea of endless clotheslines; the poster board accompanying the installation notified us that the socks would be donated to local shelters.

As the crowd gathered around the central hub of Nathan Philips Square began to grow, we made our way to the carnival-inspired PARADE zone which spanned University Avenue/Queens Park.  Whereas in a traditional parade the spectators watched the procession from the sidelines, in the PARADE zone the floats were stationary and it was the people that moved forward, becoming part of the procession.  There were a number of impressive installations, one being the over-the-top (X)Static Clown Factory float, featuring, as you may have guessed, “working” clowns equipped with balloons, face paint and various props to entertain passer-bys.  My favourite from that zone was the cuckoo-clock inspired Music Box.  This mechanical contraption on wheels comprised of various instruments that made loud, frenetic music as it popped in-and-out of a large box, completely befitting the carnival-like atmosphere.

Moving away from the parade zone to other parts of the city, we came across a few other impressive installations.  Set in a non-descript alleyway was Howl, one of the highlights of the night.  Here was a scene of a rabbit being chased continuously by a cayote, both on the rails of a miniature roller coaster while mechanical birds and deer acted as decoy.  Just a few streets away was Shrine, a  towering gothic cathedral made of large plastic garbage bins whose interior was lit by pop cans converted into chandeliers hanging on the ceiling.  Waste management had never looked so sexy.  Next was the Garden Tower in Toronto, a soaring fortress-like structure constructed from hundreds of old chairs piled chaotically on top of each other.  Looking up at the structure from within was equally impressive and surprisingly comforting.  It’s how I imagine it must feel to be enveloped in a cocoon, warm and safe from the elements.  We finished our night at the TIFF Bell Lightbox where VHS Fever Dreams, a video installation, tickled us silly with a montage of cheesy 80s era video clips, including one featuring none other than a middle-aged moustachioed Leonard Nimoy introducing the next new wave in home cinema, Laserdisc!

After 10 hours of wandering around enjoying great art, our sleepless night ended at 5 am.  Though exhausted and slightly wet from the early morning rain, we were contented with having had the opportunity to experience Toronto in a whole new way.

For one night the entire city turns into an open-air gallery. It’s no wonder so many of us choose to take part year after year.





Images. Photos by Kristine Bernabe.

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