By Danielle Klein
“I would love for visitors to be able to engage with contemporary art in a way that they’re not used to,” Carmen Victor tells me, walking me through the University of Toronto Art Centre installation the day before Nuit Blanche. “It’s a different sort of art gallery experience, because we are actually asking people to interact with these works.”
Victor is the curator of the exhibit, entitled “Constellations.”
“The title refers to the fact that each of these projects can be read and interpreted on their own, and together they can also be interpreted.”
Victor conceptualized the installation, which consists of four parts, each an interactive experience requiring active participation from visitors. All of the artists commissioned by Victor are U of T students or graduates.
The installation begins indoors with “Crave Crawl Cave” by Claro Cosco, Grey Muldoon, and Piffin Duvekot. “Visitors are asked to remove their shoes and then they can go into these three pods, and in each pod they are going to have a different sensory experience,” Victor explains.
The pods consist of three tactile rooms with narrow entryways and paths for visitors to crawl from one to the next. Inside these rooms, people are encouraged to use their different senses to interact with the spaces. One pod contains hundreds of glow-in-the-dark balls which visitors can throw around. Another pod, described by Victor as “a giant furry palace”, is covered in fur for visitors to touch.
On the night of Nuit Blanche, viewers are generally confused by the pods, unsure whether they are supposed to climb in. People awkwardly enter the tents as staff run over to remind them to take their shoes off, and are uncertain what to do once inside, mostly laughing uncomfortably. One visitor relays to me how a young girl viciously threw fur balls at him as he passed through.
The next indoor piece is Matthew Jarvis Wall’s “SIGNET,” wherein viewers can explore a virtual environment built by the artist using Playstation controllers.
This room is met with more confused responses, as only two people are able to use the controllers at once. The rest watch, unsure how to react. “Isn’t this just a video game?” One viewer comments when I ask their impression.
His friend counters sarcastically: “Isn’t life just a video game?” Their exchange reflects the room’s overall failure to fully engage those who aren’t actually holding the controllers.
Moving outside into the University College quad, the next piece is called “Jansen Walkers.” Victor explains that the original Jansen walkers are “kinetic, interactive sculptures developed by [Dutch artist] Theo Jansen.” These were recreated by fourth year engineering student Anmour Kaul and the Spark Design Collective. Visitors are asked to turn a crank to bring the walkers to life.
This piece is very well-received the night of Nuit Blanche for its obvious fun value. Viewers line up to eagerly crank the walker, which makes a high-pitched squeak as all its parts turn.
The final work in the Constellations installation is “Ground Cover,” created by the XXXX Collective. It consists of various bodies made of grass emerging from the ground in the UC quad, with quiet audio devices inside of them.
This is the least flashy of the pieces in the exhibit, but has a beautiful, sublime quality lent to it by its subtlety. Victor comments, “We’re inviting people to see what their interactions are going to be… it’s a bit of a mysterious, golem, earth-mother kind of piece.”
Indeed “Ground Cover” evokes a wide range of reactions from viewers. While some eagerly lay down with the bodies, others are unnerved by the eeriness of the piece and stay back. People linger by this work and really engage with it, proving it to be the most successful moment in “Constellations.”
Although visitors often seemed confused, this immersive exhibit succeeded in making the interaction of viewers with installations an exciting aspect of the work. Victor aptly describes “Constellations” as “a site for investigation, exploration, and discovery through contemporary art.”
Minute by Minute
By Alex Ross, Leila Kent and James Maiangowi
Watching The X Factor with roomies. I get antsy after the fifty-seventh bombed audition and decide to head out early. Plans are made to meet at Yonge and Dundas in an hour.
First stop of the night: the East Gallery, opposite the AGO on Dundas. The East Gallery usually shows contemporary art from East and Southeast Asia, and tonight features paintings from five Vietnamese and three Burmese artists. There are strong, vivid red tones throughout the entire gallery, and a very mesmerizing painting of a fish in one corner. There’s also a coffee shop at the back. Cute!
A little down the street at Lausberg Contemporary, looking at Simon Raab’s metallic, rippling works. Raab paints on sheet metal then crumples the metal to create an effect reminiscent of water breaking over rocks. Incongruously, there is also a solitary giant green grenade perched on a table. I ask the assistant about the grenade; she shrugs.
Debating whether I should wait in the (very) long line at OCAD. Then, the voice of one calling in the night, “Alan, put your — shirt back on!” Decide Queen St. might be more appealing.
I see a photographer dressed like Michael Jackson as I make my way down to King Street. Will this Nuit Blanche be a thriller?
At Nathan Philips Square. I have no adjectives for the scene. There are six circular screens showing images of either cellular mitosis or the end of the world. The noises (explosions, shrieks, Dan Rather) point to the latter. I find out the next morning this was an installation called ‘Museum for the End of the World’. Seems fitting somehow that it was held at City Hall.
Meandering around Queen East. There isn’t much art around here, and really there isn’t much to see…
… A woman walks past wearing a head-to-toe, frighteningly realistic tiger suit. Mea culpa, Queen East, and keep up the kooky.
I see quite a few people gathered outside Scotiabank Plaza. I’m disappointed when I see everyone is staring at a bronze statute made with obsolete technology called “The Tower of Progress.” The whole thing is very steampunk. All that’s missing is a dirigible and someone wearing goggles.
At Thought Balloon, on Church south of Queen. Passerby can write a message on a typewriter, which is then projected onto one of the half dozen or so large, glowing balloons. Some messages are poignant, some are elegaic, and some are drunk. A selection: “Melinda I miss you”; “smoke trees” (I see two people with suspiciously red eyes giggling to themselves about that one); “Something Equally Inaccessible!!” (deep?).
Walking north on Yonge. I see an elderly couple looking through the front door of a closed gallery. They’re talking about the paintings inside: he likes the landscape with the bear, she thinks it’s tacky but some of the portraits are nice. They meander off together into the night.
Looks like Virgin Radio decided to throw a dance party outside BMO place. Everyone is jumping up and down to Gangnam Style.
After a few disappointing projections and illuminated sculptures, I see my first cool exhibit of the evening. Green Invaders is a very playful rendition of the 80s arcade game Space Invaders, using a simple green LED light display to simulate their movement. I reach into my pocket for some quarters.
Two men sitting in a wooden booth — with one typing away what people send in over phone or through slips of paper — is meant to simulate the last news agency during the end of the world. The two performers in “The Evening News” have great radio voices and trade hilarious banter about how the sky is falling.
Clearly believing we’re much cleverer than we really are, my friend Sarah and I joke about the real purpose of Nuit Blanche. “The whole point is that we’re the art!” I tell her. “No, the whole world is art!” she replies. We then throw around complicated words and feel very good about ourselves.
I start my night at King and Yonge. Trying to avoid the prime time crush, my only strategy is: start late. Echoes of drums and voices make it feel like the whole city is parading through the canyons of the financial district.
Bearded nerd dads share a flask. Can I be you when I grow up?
Body Xerox — I nominate it for the project with the most honest artist statement: a strobe-lit tent filled with photocopiers. People mill around holding faint self-portraits while DJs pump beats. I photocopy my face and I don’t know if it says anything to me beyond “here are machines, use them,” but I like it.
At TIFF Lightbox, “Cent tiries un zombies” is a very interesting mash-up of movie clips from dozens of zombie movies. The gory deaths give me a visceral thrill and I’m embarrassed to admit I know most of the movies the clips are from.
Meet boyfriend in St. James Park at “the structure of everyday life, full-circle,” meant to mark the birth and death of John Cage. Yin-yang circle chart feels too new-agey for me but the half-hour-long drone tone emanating from a circle of mics in the gazebo is mesmerizing. Moving through the circle I pick up different pitches. Some stand in the centre with closed eyes and hum harmonies.
“Lenticularis”: It’s nothing like the rendering in the program, that’s for sure. We’re inside an interior design magazine for jelly-fish. We debate this one for a while (is it dumb or is it great?), but reach no verdict.
“Top Down” is a topographical interpretation of Toronto that appears to be done with sturdy toilet paper rolls and upside-down icicles. One guy calls it “emerald city.”
A spotlit electric guitar suspended high in front of a dark altar sends out amplified feedback that reverberates through Metropolitan United Church. Wow. The pews under us vibrate. It eventually soothes me into a nap, only to be jarred awake by the crash of the guitar dropping. The frequencies build, multiply, and mutate. I could stay here forever.
“The Museum for the End of the World,”contained inside City Hall’s underground parking lot is an interesting mix of slogan, sculpture, well-crafted displays, and creepy performance art.
Real live steampunk on a unicycle outside the information booth!
It’s the end of my night. This has been the best Nuit Blanche I’ve ever attended. The curators really put forth the effort to transform Toronto this year and I haven’t felt disconnected from the experience. However, it’s time for bed.
“Eva Kevalam” — we sit on rugs in a lobby at Queen and Yonge and watch seated Hare Krishna chanters, with a harmonium, hand cymbals, and a two-headed drum. I learn This is “kirtan,” an ancient practice requiring audience participation, though the spectator heat sensor projection they’ve used is seriously secondary to the performance itself. I like that some middle-aged mom types have stuck it out until this time to participate from the sidelines.
I hum Hare Krishna all the way home. Everyone on the subway is asleep. Good night.
By Bernarda Gospic, Wyatt Clough, Dan Seljak,
Adele Telehus and Remi Carreiro