Let me preface this by saying that when all is said and done, Nuit Blanche was the worst part of my Toronto art experience this week. I otherwise had a great time visiting dozens upon dozens of galleries and spaces throughout the city, even taking in a theatre show at Buddies in Bad Times, seeing Trigger at the gorgeous new Light Box, and of course the highlight of seeing and hearing live the one and only Lucy Lippard. I certainly don't regret doing Nuit Blanche, but I probably won't do it again.
In its 5th year, Toronto’s version of its outdoor all night art festival has been accumulating this “must-see-art” mentality that completely takes over the city’s downtown streets, public transit, and public landmarks with this fervour and rigor that one would think a war had just been won. Naturally, I wanted to check it out.
While the festival proper officially begins three minutes to seven p.m., most of the satellite and independent projects were open, and so beginning with the galleries on Queen Street West (which weren't all formally part of N.B., but were certainly bracing for it), I began at 4 p.m. with Eliza Griffiths' vernissage at Katharine Mulherin.
As a new series of figurative sketches based on fictional characters for a yet-to-be determined theatrical narrative, Griffiths continues her study of contemporary young women that rebel and confront, this time with an apparent focus on drawing and androgyny. Having a light conversation with the artist in attendance, this would be the most art-centric conversation I would hold for the next 12 hours.
A few hours later and many forgettable stops later, I found myself standing in line to enter Campbell House Museum. Drawn by the glow of the fire (which, of course, was also art), I queued up not knowing what to expect as the front lawn of the historic house was covered in steel pine cone sculptures (including the source of the fire). Wandering through the house, there was absolutely nothing of interest to see. The planted works on the wall upstairs did nothing to engage with the history of the house, which I can only surmise is a relic from the city's early days now preserved for school children and tourists alike. You would think a show held there would be somehow connected to civic history, but instead there were pine cones and I stood in line to see them.
|Miss Chief Eagle Testickle|
There were a few that tried to engage the public, and even fewer who succeeded. I'll applaud the effort of Kent Monkman and Gisèle Gordon's attempt to engage the crowd with a pulsating performance as the ever glamorous Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. In the performance I caught, the sizable crowd did not want to feel the rhythms of Iskootāo, which according to the free programme means "fire" and "woman's heart" in Cree. The mob was far more interested in snapping photographs of a man in thigh high boots, making loud obnoxious comments about it, and wanting, if not needing to be entertained by it.
I'm skipping over a lot of mediocre and pathetic projects as my protestations with unengaging efforts and disrespectful artists/audiences were threads throughout the night. At some point, I had to go see the re-enactment of Marina Abramovic and Ulay's Imponderabilia, but didn't make it onto campus until well after midnight. By then, the drunks downstairs and outside were fully in their element, and the aggression inside to "see" naked people was almost laughable. The aggression was not just from the audience, but also from the security and handlers, who moved people through the live art experience like an airport security check. While the original performance was shut down by the police after 45 minutes, the performance today (and recently at MoMA) required the presence of active security, which not only completely changes the energy between the performers and the audience, but really could be understood as a whole new work about the police state and our seeming need to be policed. Needless to say, it was heavily controlled provocation, and I walked away feeling awful about the whole thing.
An Te Liu’s Ennui Blanc again and no longer minded the irony of people pausing to take photographs of it. Seeing it in the day time, it was just a simple white neon sign sitting atop the storefronts on Queen St W. But by night, the sign read more like a beacon of enlightenment against the black sky, a truism that serves as a warning and, lo and behold, as an actual art intervention.