This Saturday night was the first of October, and in Toronto and more than 100 cities around the world, that meant one thing: Nuit Blanche 2016. For those who aren’t familiar with White Night, it’s an annual festival that brings people out into the streets from dusk till dawn, to see strange, imaginative and sometimes beautiful art installations.
I take part in Nuit Blanche every year, usually with my friend Linda. She was busy this year, so I ventured out alone, on a mild night that brought out big crowds to wander downtown Toronto in search of new experiences. And there were a lot on offer, though this year they seemed a little more loosely scattered around the downtown core than usual.
My first stop was close to home — Brookfield Place, a huge office tower with a beautiful atrium that draws a constant stream of tourists. Tonight it was host to Kevin Cooley’s Fallen Water: Niagara Escarpment, which showed water appearing to flow down through a stack of video screens, with an accompanying sound track.
It was pretty spectacular — but so was the sight of a young Asian guy dressed in a French maid’s costume, posing on the atrium’s illuminated floor. This was going to be a common sight for Nuit Blanche 2016 — young partiers dressed in animal or animé costumes, here, there and everywhere, looking for a fairy tale to fit into.
Next, a walk through the financial district. There were big lineups outside Everyone Thinks the Same Thought, another video-based exhibit: that would be another theme for the evening. But no matter. I was busy watching the scene outside, where an enthusiastic percussion band held forth in the middle of Bay St., the main Street of Toronto’s business district. You can see the tower of the old city hall in the background.
And off I went toward city hall — the new one, that is — for some spectacular sights. City hall usually has some of the most imaginative installations, and once again, it didn’t disappoint. The headline attraction was Death of the Sun, by Director X (seen at top), a huge replica of the sun that passed through its entire life cycle, glowing and shimmering in a dozen different colours until it finally faded to a ghostly white.
It was an amazing sight, framed by the arches of the city hall ornamental pool and set against the twin towers of city hall itself. And in case you didn’t know where you were, there was the big “TORONTO” sign left over from last year’s Pan Am Games. I could have spent the whole night photographing it — here’s a view of another of its life stages.
In the pool itself, there was a little fountain glowing red –just a pretty decoration, if you didn’t know better. But this was one of the most dazzling exhibits of Nuit Blanche 2016 — a sound-and-light show projected onto a moving curtain of water. I stood amazed as ghostly images appeared, changed and grew on a screen that looked like flowing silk.
Called Pneuma, or “breath of life”, by Floria Sigismondi, it was billed as “a meditative consideration of the transformations that define human existence”. The images were compelling, from an owl flying right out at the audience to a mysterious woman in a cape, to silhouetted figures in cosmic-looking frames. One of the best pieces I’ve seen in several years of Nuit Blanche.
I headed west along Queen Street, past a gauntlet of impromptu street performances and pop-up events, like these people playing mini-table tennis in front of Osgoode Hall law school. Nearby, people swarmed around a booth that was shooting out multi-coloured laser beams, like an open-air disco.
Heading south, I came across another strange but intriguing work: The Museum of Broken Watches, by Trevor Mahovsky and Rhonda Weppler. The museum is a collection of 720 timepieces, all stopped at different times to display all possible hour and minute combinations of a 12-hour clock. It also worked as a digital public clock, with an app you could use to time your journey through the night. Again, the lineup was long, so I moved on.
That brought me to Union Station, Toronto’s venerable train station, where another eye-catching work was on display: Asalto Toronto, by Daniel Canogar. A giant projection showed people crawling up the pillars at the station’s entrance , “symbolically releasing fantasies of overcoming imposed obstacles”. Part of the display used real people, filmed earlier against a green screen.
Heading back north, I wandered through David Pecaut Square, next to Roy Thomson Hall, and found Meet Me in the Glass House, by Tim White-Sobieski. The installation was an enclosed tent in which you were surrounded by moving images that were supposed to explore the idea of genetic memory. A nice experience, but did I learn anything about our inbred memories? Mmmmm, no.
Back up into the business district, and one last stop — but another memorable one. Inside First Canadian Place, headquarters of the Bank of Montreal, I found Lisa Park’s Eunoia II. This was an array of 48 black aluminum dishes arranged on the floor, filled with water and mounted on speakers. The whole array was designed to act as a loudspeaker for your brain.
Spectators were fitted with special “Emotiv” headsets that detected their brain waves, emotions, facial expressions and cognitive activity. These were then translated into sound waves, creating vibrations in the dishes of water, along with strange sounds that changed along with the person’s thoughts.
Nuit Blanche still had hours to go — it was only approaching 3 — and there were scores of other exhibits to see. But my night was over. It was time for bed, and besides, the battery on my camera was just about dead. So I headed home, past groups of people dressed in pink bunny costumes, couples dressed up for clubbing, and food trucks pouring out smells of hot dogs and fried food. Nuit Blanche 2016 had come and gone — another night to remember.