The streets of Canada's largest city were filled this weekend with revelers and art enthusiasts taking in the sights and exhibits showcasing creative talent from across the country. And by this weekend, I mean this weekend two or three years ago.
Scotiabank's Nuit Blanche was once a grand English re-imagining of the epic French all-night art-crawl begun in the mid-80's and imported to Montreal some years ago. Toronto adopted a version of its own and pulled off some epic exhibits in 2008 and 2009 but last year, things started going south.
It may not be Burning Man, but you'll still probably see naked people.
Before, I loved roaming the city when I was still a wee student, enrolled in an undergraduate faculty of arts which gave me the self-entitlement of one who "gets" contemporary art. This was one night that the city caught a glimpse of the work myself and my peers spent daylight hours locked away on, thinking we were so clever and cultured. It was a night we shared our important work with the unenlightened masses who could scarcely comprehend our brilliance. Running 'round in youthful excitation, we would take the time to proudly sigh and pat the uninitiated on the back when they quipped "I don't get." Of course you don't, it's art.
Perhaps it's my advanced age that moves me to wax nostalgic, but I don't think I'm the only one who's notice the decline in the last couple of years.
First off, there's the discernible waning in scale of Toronto's Nuit Blanche. A couple years ago, areas like the Eaton Center, Ryerson Universty's campus, and City Hall were places in the core entirely transformed by the installations inhabiting them for the night. Large whimsical metallic balloon rabbits, immersive 3D virtual reality, whole buildings turned into monumental video game consuls all transformed the city into something you'd never before experienced. Even if you didn't "get it," you still had fun playing and exploring.
Running around this year, I was trapped by crowds swelling the streets in SEARCH of things to see and do, and finding largely, static or small scale exhibits surrounded by security guards and "do not touch" signs. My night began by popping above ground in Yorkville to nothing more than the usual Saturday night crowd clogging the entrance to Hemingway's.
So I headed south on Bay to meet up with some pals at ye Olde Dundas Square, normally the epicenter for ANYTHING happening in this city.
Maybe I just picked a bad route because it wasn't until a slinked (or slunked) down Elm Street to Yonge that I began to see the first real sign that anything was afoot this Saturday night: The Food Trucks.
That, and everyone desperately trying to get a hold of the peeps separated from their party (how many times I heard someone shouting into their phone "WHERE'S TREVOR!") It felt a little at first like a scene from a Zombie apocalypse, an image reinforced when we enjoyed the film installation Cent une tueries de zombies at the Tiff Bell Lightbox.
Best part of the CNE, I mean Nuit Blanche, whatever, just eat it!
Food Trucks, though, they're the second thing wrong with Nuit Blanche this year. I'm not knockin' the chow vans and gourmet dining on hand this year, having snarfed down a meatball slider myself, but I realized the winds of change were a'blowin' last year when smack dab in the middle of the Financial District was a Tiny Toms fuckin Donuts truck. That has only grown this year and even though the fare included higher end offerings like The Food Dudes, one cannot escape the impression that the CNE has begun to obfuscate the art crawl atmosphere with that of a cheap county fair deep-fried-butter festival.
Almost out of desperation, my happy little band and I finally headed along Queen West, surely to Christ there, in the Hipster Design District awash in a sea of somber plaid and vintage eyeglasses twinkling in the moonlight, one would find the mecca of contemporary art (or if not the zenith, at least a pretentious attempt at such). Alas, at the foot of Trinity Bellwoods Park at least some fifty-odd kids had gathered with drums in one of the few group efforts to pull something out of an otherwise bland night, yet there were drowned out by nearby rave except with nobody in attendance and an macBook for a DJ.
I'm no Art Critic, and neither is Christ.
With the ever-growing specter of disappointment looking after us, we pushed on passed the insane asylum, the tiny art galleries THAT WERE CLOSED, and came across some free popcorn being handed out by a nice young lady in a corset. "Free Bondage S&M Exhibit, Inside" the sign read -- finally we were going to get some juicy sights out of the night, if not art than at least slacked-jawed voyeurism. Now I can't say for sure if this was actually a part of Nuit Blanche or just cleverly timed to capture a wider audience but with an open mind we headed in and down the stairs.
"Hey kids! You're mother and I'll be home tomorrow, bring
the cat in and remember there's money for pizza in the cookie jar!"
Have you ever seen the ending to Eyes Wide Shut? In Pulp Fiction, remember the scene in the basement? Either of those would have been a thousand times more fulfilling than the masses of pale chubby flesh wrapped in fishnets that greeted us. I'd never before seen a room with so many unattractive people wearing such smug, self-satisfied looks on there faces. As you made eye contact with each performer, they would shoot a glance that said "I may be pasty, and hanging by my nipples from the ceiling, but YOU'RE a fucking loser."
"Would you fuck me..."
And indeed as we shuffled back out into the cold early morning air, shaking from our heads the image of a ham cottage roll wrapped tightly in string ready to be dropped into a boiling pot, we couldn't help but think that summed up the entire evening. Scotiabank can call their event a Nuit Blanche since they pay for it, but if the trend continues, next year they'll have every food truck and merch booth from across the province crammed into a 10 block radius with souvenirs for sale by the bundle -- They'll have the streets blocked off and permits in place, until someone remarks "looks good, now where are the art exhibits going?"