By Andy O’Shea
This year’s Nuit Blanche marked the first time that I didn’t start right downtown. Moving from the outside in made all the difference — Parkdale really had interactive and unusual experiences all the way through, and it seemed to be an organized community effort. Our first stop was near Queen and Roncesvalles, The Nightwatch: Shadow Play by Ed Pein, a giant tent with people and objects inside displaying different scenarios. A good start.
At Speed Art Criticism by the Toronto Alliance of Art Critics, local art experts Dan Adler and David Balzer waited inside a guitar store to critique artwork by passersby. We debated whether to go inside; we didn’t have any of our art with us. When we did go inside, Adler and Balzer graciously looked at a work of mine online and we had a nice ten minute discussion about art. They were quite receptive, and it was a very relaxed talk. Balzer was right on the money suggesting I look for Jim Flora’s work.
Parkdale featured other sites and sounds, including a band giving out coffee and cookies. For a short while, it seemed like a fun, wholesome trek through the new burgeoning art strip in Toronto’s west end.
Things turned weird as we moved east. “Lord Morpheous” had a show on Dufferin Street, and he demonstrated a lot of restraint. I don’t think this was an officially sanctioned Nuit Blanche show, but definitely exhibited the calibre of some of the best. The room was pretty intense right from the entrance, a huge drag queen wearing a creepy white mask and a giant Alice in Wonderland costume was tied up just inside the door. People walked right up to take photo after photo, like they would a statue.
There was a surprisingly friendly feeling in the room. Everyone involved seemed to be having fun, and it was packed with people looking around. I had seen posters for events like this around town, but never expected to walk in to one. Friendly and festive, but a dark place off the beaten path. The bondage posters, the equipment, discussing ropes: comfort versus durability, natural or synthetic. It was a little like visiting a separate universe. That experience is what the best of the street festival can offer (for better or for worse, I guess, depending on your take).
From there we headed to the Gladstone, always a trusted source of mind-bending experiences. The hotel had a well-attended burlesque show in its theatre, and it was packed with art lovers. Judging by their shouts and cheers, they really were appreciating the hell out of the art work they were witnessing. I have yet to see a group of people standing in front of a painting and cheering their heads off. It was fun, and that’s more than can be said for most flagship Nuit Blanche pieces year in and year out.
Upstairs at the Gladstone, Joanna Wnukovska was in a screened in booth offering passes for massages to anyone willing to participate in the installation Pump Room/Mosquito Room. Garth Johnston gave the massages. While I was there, one particularly enthused elderly admirer kept remarking on his shirtless body. She was eagerly awaiting her experience when I left.
The other pieces at the Gladstone were more typical, all a part of their Fly by Night exhibit. Highlights included the mirrored lipstick bathroom, for the excess of the idea and its execution. Other parts included the (seemingly obligatory in contemporary art) pile of objects in the middle of the floor and the TV with no signal. I don’t remember what they were called.
401 Richmond didn’t disappoint either. Inside, Martin Helmut Rels as Man With Yellow Typewriter typed silently on leaves from the floor. One that he gave to my friend, sitting with him on his bench, said, ‘LEAF ME NOW.’ So we did.
Absolutely nothing was going on through the traditional “Queen West,” and the arrival in Trinity-Bellwoods and downtown was kind of anti-climactic. The work there was sterile and/or boring, and it had considerably less edge than Parkdale’s offerings. The big campfire and picnic table in the park was so small that we walked past it even while looking for it. At Nathan Phillips Square, Daniel Lanois’ musical experience felt like an album promotion. The multitude of screens were showing the same thing — a Lanois concert with the music blasting out. At entry, we were even handed postcards promoting his new band’s debut album. On Yonge Street a van cut up to look like lace. That was it, and we went home.