Once a year, the streets of downtown Toronto are transformed by an event called Nuit Blanche (translated “White Night”), an open air celebration of contemporary art. Many streets closed and open spaces filled as people of all ages from all walks of life came out to participate. This years event ran from 6:51pm, sunset, on Saturday October 7th until sunrise on Sunday October 8th. This event featured “112 art projects created by close to 500 Canadian and international artists…including a centerpiece installation by world-renowned artist Ai Weiwei“. (from event guide). Public transit extended their service for the night, offering a special fare for the event. Artistic expressions popped up throughout the city and created a, seemingly, never-ending display of colors, shapes, textures, sounds, and ideas. This is merely a sampling of all that could be seen and experienced on that one “white night”.
One notable work, Monster Child, 2013, a giant balloon installation of a spider-like monster opposite a child like figure, invited the audience to participate in the animation of the object by pulling large ropes that moved the spider-monster’s legs.This work, while playful, questioned the darker side of imaginations. The tension of the child and the monster in the composition was intended to represent tensions between innocence and wickedness.
Another work, titled My Virtual Dream , looked like a giant bubble in the middle of a public square. It had imagery projected onto its skin from within, accompanied by haunting, dream-like, instrumental music. This piece was an interactive work where participants were invited to “wear a wireless headset to see how [their] brain waves shape a stunning audiovisual experience.” Someone involved with the event described that this piece was part of a larger experiment about communication techniques. This work invited such a high degree of intrigue that the wait time to participate was at least 45 minutes and the line wrapped around the block.
The centerpiece of the night was the exhibition at the Nathan Philips Square where thousands gathered to see Forever Bicycles created by Ai Weiwei constructed of 3144 bicycles commenting on consumerism. This piece was placed opposite neon lights that read “The rose does not ask why, blooms because it blooms, cares not for itself, “ a fragment of a short poem written by Johannes Scheffler, a theologian and German mystic poet of the 17th century better known under the name of Angelus Silesius, reinterpreted by artist Boris Anchour.
The works presented the public with an opportunity to explore and interact with visual art through a variety of media. While many of the works were thought provoking, others were whimsical and playful. Often art is meant simply to view but these works invited a greater level of accessibility and participation. Although each work was impressive, the true impact of the night was seeing sites of business and transportation transformed into sites of play and discovery. The presence of large, mysterious, playful objects activated spaces that may have been overlooked during the banal activities of a normal day. These objects invited participation and challenged values. They acted as a catalyst to seeing the city differently. These spaces can be seen as able to serve two purposes that are at once opposing and complementary. For one night, Nuit Blanche gave art the opportunity to activate public spaces, invite play, and challenge peoples ideas in both big and small ways.