This year marked my second ever Nuit Blanche experience. The event showcases installations by hundreds of incredibly talented international artists over the course of twelve hours from dusk ‘til dawn. The city gets crowded with drunkards and tourists and by the end of the night you’re so exhausted you feel like you could sleep for a thousand years, but there’s nothing quite like being in the middle of Toronto at 3 A.M. with your best friends surrounded by art. And who doesn’t love a visit to Denny’s and a walk back home just as the sun rises?
Saturday was a bit of a marathon. I spent a couple hours last week looking through every single exhibit, picking out which ones seemed most interesting, and grouping them by location. I came up with a master plan. What didn’t seem like a lot at first turned into nine hours of walking and subway rides and sore feet, but it was worth it. We saw seventeen or eighteen exhibits from all over the city, and I loved almost all of them. From short films to photography exhibits to outdoor installations, it’s hard to narrow them all down to my top five. But here we are:
- There Is No Away, 2015 – Sean Martindale in collaboration with J.P. King
Obviously global warming is a huge issue. It’s one that’s been on my radar for a long time – I feel physical pain when buying plastic water bottles and being in places with no recycling system is quite awful. This art installation combined physical waste, from plastic bags to cans to cardboard, with typography and film in order to create an extremely impactful exhibit. The artist plays with the idea that although we say we’re throwing things away, there isn’t really an “away.” Things go to dumps and stay there for thousands of years or get dumped into oceans and ecosystems just to continue polluting our Earth. Giant words above blocks of trash read: “EVERYTHING MUST GO SOMEWHERE.” The piece was thought-provoking and relevant to one of the biggest problems of our time, making it incredibly striking and allowing it to resonate completely with (most of) the audience.
- Beaufort 12: Black Cloud, 2007 – Carlos Amorales
There is something both beautiful and terrifying about swarms of moths. Their wings, their flight, is captivating and enthralling, but when the insects are grouped together, their sheer force can seem overwhelming. This installation showcased thirty thousand paper moths clinging to the walls of a gallery. They concentrated in corners and were drawn to the lights, much like the real life insects. The sharp contrast of fluttery black wings on flat, white walls just added to the power of the exhibit. Light and dark, life and death, night and day, are just a few of the parallels that can be drawn from the piece. The idea is simple, but when translated into a tangible thing, it is incredibly thought-provoking and all-consuming.
- refugees run the seas…, 2014 – Francisco Fernandos Granados
This was the very last exhibit we saw. Exhausted and longing for food, I don’t think any of us felt like we could muster up the energy to see any more art. And then, walking out of the park, there was a billboard lit up across the street that stated simply: “refugees run the seas cause we own our own votes.” I had been dying to see this installation, but had completely forgotten about it until it was right in front of me. And with what little spark was left in me, my excitement returned and I rushed across the street to take a photo. I found the piece undeniably powerful. An altered line from Wyclef Jean’s part in “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira, the statement resonated with me in ways that I can’t explain. In light of what is currently occurring with Syrian refugees, I couldn’t help but be affected by a plain blue billboard littered with dull white text. The sentence feels like a dream that’s been said aloud, a longing for a world where refugees are treated like citizens. Right now, that seems pretty far off, but this piece gave me a little bit of hope.
- Shoes That Line The Lane, 2015 – Cyril Williams
Shoes tied together by their laces and thrown haphazardly over telephone lines have always fascinated me. Every time I see one, all I really want to do is strip my feet of my Converse and toss them above me in hopes that they’ll wind around the wires and stay there for as long as they can. This exhibit took those dreams to an entirely new level – a dozen wires hung tightly in the air with hundreds of pairs of shoes strung onto them. Soccer cleats from the day one scored their first goal, ballet slippers, shoes that worked on a farm, sneakers that have walked many places and a pair scribbled with a Ferris Bueller quote. There was even a pair that a woman had apparently worn when meeting John Lennon just weeks before his assassination. Every pair told a story. Every pair had been donated to the artists and would be donated to someone else when the exhibit came to an end. Clothing has always inspired me, and this escalated every emotion I’ve ever attached to a garment. I loved it. A lot.
- Les Bosquets, 2015 – JR
I love film. Short films are especially wonderful because all its importance is packed into a few minutes – every emotion is heightened; every action is more deliberate, every second is worth more. This piece was all of that and more. Inspired by one of the artist’s close friends, the film tells a tale of the 2005 Paris bombings through ballet and photography and cinematography. The story is heartbreaking and tear-worthy and so beautiful that I don’t think any of these words could do it the slightest bit of justice. It’s carefully choreographed and filmed, every frame is striking and intense and perfect. It was one of our first exhibits of the night, and I walked away from it feeling pretty well torn apart. The film also had two projections and a larger installation to go along with it, and the connection of every single puzzle piece just escalated the experience. It was absolutely incredible.
Nuit Blanche combines so many of my favourite things. Give me a bunch of art and the middle of the night and the city and breakfast and the sunrise and I couldn’t be happier. I loved almost every moment of the night, minus the agonizing walk to get food and the peak points of exhaustion. We made the most out of everything, from getting separated on the subway to walking all the way to an exhibit just to find out it had been cancelled. It was a wonderful experience. I’ll be doing it every year until I get to a point I absolutely hate it – although I’m not sure that that’s likely to happen.