It takes a certain kind of man to pull an all-nighter that involves scurrying across Toronto’s downtown core for 12 hours, tweaking and critiquing art. And Christof Migone, soft-spoken but intense, is certainly the man to do it. He did do it, in fact, on Saturday night.
Migone, curator of the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Blackwood Gallery, is one of four curators selected to oversee this year’s Nuit Blanche, a free contemporary art exhibit in Toronto. Taking a quick break from teaching and attending rehearsals last week, Migone spoke to The Varsity about his exhibit, Should I Stay or Should I Go.
“It can be taken many ways, but the initial inspiration was very much Nuit Blanche-specific,” said Migone, a lecturer in UTM’s Department of Visual Studies. “When you’re at Nuit Blanche, you’re in the midst of throngs of people. Do you decide to stay or do you go? Do you line up? How long do you line up? But obviously you can extend that to musings about your career, your degree if you’re studying, your relationship. At any level, at any moment in time, as soon as you’re conscious and you’re an entity unto yourself, you’re always deciding whether you should stay or you should go.”
Between big crowds, long line-ups, lots of walking, scheduled performances, chilly winds, and all the pondering, the question to stay or go is a natural part of the Nuit Blanche experience. There has been some criticism in past years about the event being too crowded, too long, too big, and Migone decided to tap into those feelings and express them through his exhibit, making a negative into a positive.
Should I Stay or Should I Go took place in the Financial District (along Yonge St. from Queen to Front Sts.), starting at sunset on October 2 and ending at sunrise the next day. It explored “concepts of movement, gridlock, and mobility; responding to daily urban life and to Nuit Blanche as a mass event,” Migone explained on the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche Toronto website. The exhibit consisted of 10 contemporary art projects commissioned by Migone.
The exhibit’s highlights included an installation at Commerce Court by French artist Davide Balula involving a choreographed clock with 60 performance artists representing each second; Wait Until You See This, an installation where people lined up to see what was behind a curtain to discover it was just an alley; and The Task, which required Toronto photographer Chris Shepherd to repeatedly stack and unstack 15 tonnes of concrete blocks.
Migone, who claims he tends to gravitate towards a mix of different art forms, has curated a variety of events over the past decade including stuttermouthface (2002), Disquiet (2005), START (2007), and STOP (2008). His installations have been exhibited at the Banff Centre, Rotterdam Film Festival, Gallery 101, Art Lab, eyelevel gallery, Forest City Gallery, Studio 5 Beekman, Mercer Union, and CCS Bard. He credits his past curating experience and current work at the Blackwood Gallery for his preparedness throughout Nuit Blanche.
“The Blackwood Gallery is a much smaller team and I have to be involved in a lot more aspects of what it takes to put out an exhibition,” he explained, peering through his silver-rimmed glasses. “So not only do I curate, but I figure out the financing and the technical stuff sometimes. But in this case, I could just really concentrate on curating and didn’t really have to deal with stuff like where the objector was going to come from and how much it would cost. Also, the city has a great team and this is the fifth year so they know what they’re up against.”
In his role as director and curator, Migone manages the gallery’s staff, balances the books, and works to ensure the gallery’s mandate to offer a contemporary art presence at UTM is fulfilled.
Recognizing Migone’s multidisciplinary talents, the City of Toronto invited him to submit a proposal for Nuit Blanche 2010, which was quickly accepted.
“I’m the first curator from the University of Toronto to do Nuit Blanche,” Migone mentioned modestly. “It is a very strange event because you’re planning for over a year, you only get to set up the night before in most places since most of them are in the business district and you can’t really do it Monday to Friday 9 to 5, and you only have 12 hours to make it happen. There’s not really any room for mistakes. If a projector fails, you have to have a backup so it requires provisions for worst-case scenarios.”
Although he attended rehearsals throughout the week leading up to the exhibit, Migone was aware of the possibility for things to not go smoothly.
“A worst case scenario would be torrential rain, of course,” he laughed, optimistically adding that provisions were taken in preparation for any and all possible interruptions. There were some chilly winds but all installations were able to operate as planned.
In order to perform his job as curator at the event, Migone needed to stay alert overnight. While sitting in his office with a tea kettle steaming in the corner, he told The Varsity he planned to stay up all night by “trying to get a couple of naps in here and there” and consuming plenty of caffeine.
His all-nighter not only helped to ensure the installations were carried out as envisioned, it inspired an assignment for students in his Introduction to Curatorial Practice course, requiring them to do a critical portrait of Nuit Blanche by recording their observations of the exhibit.
Not only an artist, professor, and curator, Migone is an academic writer who has extensively researched language, voice, bodies, performance, intimacy, complicity, and endurance. He is the co-editor of CD Writing Aloud: The Sonics of Language and has been published in several journals including Aural Cultures, S:ON, Experimental Sound & Radio, Musicworks, Radio Rethink, Semiotext(e), Angelaki, Esse, and Inter. He graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1996 and earned a PhD from the Department of Performance Studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2007.
Nuit Blanche, aptly meaning “sleepless night” in French, was first held in 2002 in Paris. The exhibit’s mandate, no matter what city it is held in, is to make contemporary art accessible to large audiences, encouraging dialogue, engagement, and celebration within the community. Toronto was the first North American city to replicate the exhibit five years ago, and now Nuit Blanche is hosted in many cities across the globe including Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Halifax, Madrid, Montreal, New York City, and Tokyo.