I was all set to write my next post about all the art I'd seen at Nuit Blanche, but I woke up feeling conflicted about the event. It has become so popular and the crowds have become so overwhelming that it's almost impossible to get close enough to a lot of the exhibits to experience them the way they were intended. The fiercely dedicated have long waits before they can even get close enough to read that artist's description on the sign next to the exhibit. In Nathan Philips Square, the people so overwhelmed the site that it was hard to tell in which direction we would find anything to see. Along Spadina and Queen West, lines were so long around midnight that we just enjoyed the glimpses we could get from afar.
Perhaps I'm not committed enough or am too used to stately traditional galleries to be patient enough to wait more than 5 minutes in the cold to see an exhibit, but pressing through the crowds starts to feel more like work than anything else. Nuit Blanche has always been crazy and crowded, but I don't remember ever having such a hard time getting close to the exhibits, or finding it impossible to get a table at my local bar to warm up and rest. Next year, I'll seriously consider not leaving my house until 2am at the earliest to try and avoid the worst of the crowds. All that being said, here are a couple things I did manage to see:
Rising up above the Much Music building were palm-tree sculptures made of cranes. They made me feel like we were all just primordial ants wandering through prehistoric Toronto, but the cranes are a constant reminder of the way we now construct the scenery of our city so that even nature requires urban planning.
This wall of mass-manufactured clothing mounted in the heart of Chinatown was obviously a commentary on consumerism and the outsourcing of manufacturing to East Asian countries. It took the usual overflowing sidewalk displays of bargain clothing that we pass by on our way down Spadina and made them impossible to ignore.
A main stage in Nathan Phillips Square was lit up with a geometric light sculpture. We guessed that this may have been where festival-goers picked up the big glowing headpieces we'd seen on them in the streets, but couldn't tell for sure. With Nuit Blanche, I'm always asking myself where the circus carnival meets contemporary art. Were those hats an extension of this sculpture? Or were they just another fun festival gimmick like glow-sticks and noisemakers? A search of the Nuit Blanche website couldn't provide any answers, since I was unable to figure out exactly which exhibit that sculpture belonged too.
Similarly, a couple of spots along Queen West made me wonder if I was looking at well-timed marketing campaigns or if some of the blockbuster stores had teamed up with artists to participate in the event. After reading up on the Nuit Blanche website the next morning, I discovered that a mural on the H&M storefront was in fact a piece called "Coalesce" by Lizz Aston. It was intended to be a commentary on "sustainability, interconnectivity, and and the global exchange that is embedded in the textiles we consume." Unfortunately, when I was looking at it last night, I was pretty sure that it was part of H&M's fall window display and didn't bother looking it up in my guidebook. More along those lines, it turned out that a clear mediation chamber in front of Lululemon had nothing to do with Nuit Blanche. It was just good advertising for the store at a time when thousands of prospective shoppers would be passing by.
Whether or not you can always tell exactly what you're looking at, and even if you're not sure if it's really art, Nuit Blanche really makes Toronto come alive. It brings thousands of viewers out to see contemporary art and reaches demographics who aren't usually patrons of the arts. But with all its popularity, the city has become so difficult to navigate that the full artistic experience requires more than just a casual approach.