05 October 2008

Nuit Blanche Hangover

I'm sort of brain-dead today, nursing my post-Nuit Blanche hangover. Just not used to getting in at 6 a.m. anymore. At a meta-level, the performance art qua happening aspect of the annual event that brings nearly a million Torontonians out into the city in pursuit of art, culture and engagement is a magnificent success. (Politically, it sends a strong message to Stephen Harper - not that he's interested in strong messages from, you know, ordinary Canadians - that far-out, non-traditional interpretations of art are actually appreciated by ordinary people.)

Actually, I preferred my experience at last year's event more than this year's. There seemed to be more interesting things in Zone A, more closely clustered together than there were this year. And a couple of the installations and performance pieces didn't quite come off as advertised: The choral voices among the trees in Queen's Park turned out to be a drum circle around the central statue. Drum circles are nice and all, but not the same. And the artist building the book structure at McDonald Block was given only two days to complete a five-day installation project, so it was not as built as the artist had planned. Interestingly, an early visitor had collapsed part of the structure, so there was a pile of books beneath the "damaged" art - itself, a strong political statement according to my eye. And Blinkenlights, which transformed the office windows at City Hall into screen pixels (a marvel of techno-art logistics) was more or less wasted on a Pong game for the half-hour or so I was within viewing range of the venue. On the other hand, the plastic bottle waterfall at the OPG building was beautiful. Apparently, some of the best stuff was located in the least accessible part of the city, at Liberty Village.

So here are my suggestions for next year: First, the curators should try to increase the density of installations and performances in Zone A, like they had last year. Second, it would be nice if more advance publicity for "unofficial" participation could be encouraged, so that more individual performers of non-sanctioned artistic participation are motivated to get into the act. Third - and this is a big one - Mayor Miller should use the weight of his office to get the TTC more on board with this event. That the Bloor subway only ran between Christie and Broadview is awful, making it very difficult for people who live in the east and west ends to participate, and then get home reasonably afterwards. That the subway didn't go at least to Dufferin, with increased service southbound to the Liberty Village venues is remarkable for its short-sightedness. Additionally, there could have been express shuttles from, say, Union out to Liberty Village to help link up Zones B and C. Using the influence of the Mayor's Office to encourage a little more proactive participation from "The Better Way" would sure help a lot.

And to those who might ask the this is art? question, and want the $0.02 of their tax bill refunded because Nuit Blanche isn't your pretty-picture-on-the-wall, commercially-viable, sort of experience, here's what Marshall McLuhan would have to say about it. From a 1965 essay, “The Future of Man in the Electric Age”:
If we have used the arts at their very best as a means of heightening our awareness of the otherwise unconscious environment, then turning a whole skill to the making of the environment itself into a work of art, namely, of transcendent awareness, would seem to be the logic of this form. … The possibility of using the total environment as a work of art, as an artifact, is a quite startling and perhaps exhilarating image but it seems to be forced upon us. The need to become completely autonomous and aware of all the consequence of everything we’re doing before the consequences occur is where we’re heading.

I'm already looking forward to next year's incarnation!

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1 comment:

Nui said...

Mark, forgive me for popping up all over the place just for now. You know, I just reconnected with you... Interesting observation about Nuit Blanche you've posted here.

I saw some pictures of Nuite Blanche from my Facebook friends and thought "the power of cultural projection". T.O. is actually a small place (well, compared to 20 million in Mexico D.F.), but it's so effective in projecting a stronger cultural message of a city. Maybe, that's my bias for having lived there plus the Facebook illusion of still being close to Toronto.

Last Sunday, I was taking picture of these Alebrijes (check out my pics on FB), that's just one example of the many "art/culture" public installations the city of Mexico has been pretty successful in using to bring a sense of togetherness for their city dwellers. Most recent successes, the citizens of D.F. (Districto Federal) can thank the present governor who understands really well how to use these public activities as a political tool. Last Christmas, he had built a open ice rink at Zocalo, the central square, followed by Gregory Colbert's nomadic exhibition "Ashes and Snow".

I'm excited about all these city/public things, looking forward to see what more can be created, especially after the spectacle of the Beijing Olympic games.