White Night (2)

“But I haven’t seen any art!”

A snatch of conversation overheard more than once during Toronto’s Nuit Blanche.

I think one of the best things about this annual all-nighter is that it reminds one of how artificial boundaries are.

What captivated us was the sense of a city street party for over a million people, the reconnection with childlike joy and wonder, and, in the better installations, a sense of seeing the world through fresh eyes. Maybe not high art, but fulfilling at least something of artistic purpose as I define it.

I think joy, in this context, is rooted in the excitement of the unexpected, in wonder and, perhaps most of all, in conectedness.


  • Small installations by the Artists Cooperative of Canada at Spadina Museum, a garden walk reminiscent of magical prep-school ghost walks (with the bonus of Casa Loma and the view across the night city)
  • The hypnotic calm of a forest of lights and white, feather-fronds in the Atrium of the Royal Conservatory, itself a glorious blend of old and new (Philip Beesley’s Aurora) – video coming soon!  I already know and love the Conservatory’s fabulous Koerner Hall, where a solitary ghostly pianist took to the stage . . .
  • Monument to Smile – unexpectedly heart-warming, smiling Torontonian faces projected across the facade of Holt Renfrew, accompanied by Charlie Chaplin’s song of the same name
  • Spotlights (of unknown origin) picking up night clouds as if in some giant night-club as we stood in one of many line-ups (queues)
  • Flaming Pine Cone sculptures outside Campbell house – simple, mesmerizing, beautiful (I want one!)
  • The surprising delicacy of Auto Lamp, a white van punctured by brilliant light, shimmering light-flakes across the buildings at Yonge and Queen
  • CRUZE Remix, a definition defying combination of car show room, multiple projections screens, driving track through moving patterns of intelligent light inspiring live mixing of music  and video, a hand-painted car – this more than anything else made me question my need for definitions and boundaries as commercial promotion and spectacle intertwined!

It is easy to be cynical and dismissive – there are always critics. But, as well as enjoying the spectacle, we relished the unwaveringly amiable crowd (even when crushed tighter than sardines on the subway at 3 a.m.) Our evening was  not darkened by drunkenness or anti-social behaviour; I have read that, with bars unusually open until 4am, eventually a point is reached, but, in the seven hours or so we were on the streets, we saw almost none.

If culture is the glue that holds a society together, then without doubt Nuit Blanche is a significant cultural event – I felt truly part of an amazing city in a way I have not experienced anywhere else. It may or may not be ‘art’; but its weird and wonderful happenings do possess a positive power to bring people together, to inspire and illuminate. Toronto would be the poorer without its White Night.

White Night . . .

Our first Nuit Blanche in Toronto is almost here! With a joyous synchronicity, one of the many installations this year is a piece by Philip Beesley, Aurora, described as a ‘responsive forest of light’.

Hopefully Saturday night will be short on sleep but rich in weird, wonder and joy! Can’t wait!

At its core, Nuit Blanche is a 12-hour event with a mandate to make contemporary art accessible to large audiences, while inspiring dialogue and engaging the public to examine its significance and impact on public space. Nuit Blanche is both a “high art” event and a free populous event that encourages celebration and community engagement. From sunset to sunrise city spaces and neighbourhoods are transformed into temporary exhibitions. Unusual or forbidden spaces become sites of contemporary art open for all-night discovery and rediscovery. Cultural institutions, from museums to galleries to artist run centres, open their doors and offer free access to contemporary art. The everyday is suspended as the city’s landscape is changed to welcome a variety of artistic experiences.

Architectural Joy (ideaCity 2)

I was awed by the magic of Rachel Armstrong’s vision of a living architecture, creating a state of transformation, a language of metabolism, materials able to colonise a technological framework in symbiosis.

She showed us film of substances  that we normally perceive as inanimate (water, with olive oil and alkali) behaving like self-organizing systems.

The development of materials that possess a metabolism for use in architectural practice would confer some of the properties of living systems on our cities. These metabolic materials would enable architecture to change over time using local sources of energy and raw materials and respond to variations in the urban environment.

From Rachel Armstrong’s web site

I do not begin to understand either the science or the possibilities implied by this vision and for now it is just that; metabolic materials do not yet exist in practice. But joy was there in her fierce passion. And joy is truly present in her work with Philip Beesly on Hylozoic Ground for the Venice Biennale 2010 – utterly amazing!

Hylozoic Ground is an immersive, interactive environment that moves and breathes around its viewers. This environment can ‘feel’ and ‘care’. Next-generation artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and interactive technology create an environment that is nearly alive.

From the Hyzoloic Ground Website