Number 598, Sep 27, 2007

A Night to Remember
Nuit Blanche & Church St’s Nightless City

No, the buzz you’ve been hearing around Toronto is not a plague of locusts. It’s all about Nuit Blanche. Everyone who’s anyone will be there, don’t you know? Nuit Blanche, “a free all-night contemporary art thing,” returns for its second year on Sat, Sep 29 starting at 7pm and running until 7am on Sunday morning. Since Nuit Blanche in Paris 2002, the event has become an international phenomenon with festivities taking place from Latvia to Spain.

Toronto’s Nuit Blanche is much expanded this year. One of the more notable additions is the creation of Nightless City on Church St. Appropriately enough, Nightless City promises to bathe the strip in red light, transforming every little corner into a street-wide theatre spectacle. Event organizers are calling it “a grand erotic fantasy.” Which, depending on what you are into, could also describe any given afternoon on Church St.

The start of Nightless City will be announced by a singular horn and drifting mist. “The intent of this project,” says project curator Kristyn Wong-Tam, “is to create an experience for the observer that embodies the restrained yet carefree and celebrated environments that the ‘floating world’ afforded the tradition-bound shoguns during Edo [now Tokyo] in the 16th and 17th century.” Calling herself “a bit of an East Asian history junkie,” Wong-Tam first got involved in Nuit Blanche as co-owner of XEXE Gallery, keeping the gallery doors open all night at last year’s event. “I distinctly remember getting goose bumps when I realized that, in the wee hours of that morning, I felt that Toronto had finally achieved some of that worldly status that we have been claiming to have for decades.”

Unlike other Church St events such as Pride or the Fetish Fair where performances are on stage, Nightless City performances will happen in storefronts and right on the street. Viewers are encouraged to dress in their own interpretation of what a red light night could mean, blurring the lines between spectators and participants. “There are no steadfast rules for Nightless City,” says Wong-Tam, “aside from try, taste and touch everything.”

The Nightless City will feature multimedia installations and modern dance to aerial acrobatics, opera, puppetry, improvisation and even psychic readings. Many businesses will stay open all night and a number of bars have extended serving hours (till 4am). A full listing of Nightless City performers can be found on the Church and Wellesley Village website at Churchwellesleyvillage.ca/nuitblanche.

One Nightless City event to watch out for is a performance piece titled Me Too by Amsterdam-based theatre artist Ulrike Quade, an artist in residence this summer at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts. A condensed version of the original hour-long performance of Me Too will be performed roughly every hour by actor Silke Hundertmark in the Amercian Apparel storefront (500 Church St). Quade found inspiration in the story of real life conjoined twins and sideshow performers Daisy and Violet. Though Hundertmark herself only has one head, through the magic of puppetry, she will perform the role of both twins, recreating elements of a vaudeville revue.

Nightless City is also a chance to see new performance work by Toronto-based Ed Johnson and Paul Couillard. The art and life couple known for their durational work have been performing together as Duorama since 2000. Nightless City will mark their 104th performance. The piece, working with the idea of positive and negative as a reference to HIV status, will see the artists build a bed out of sugar cubes. Given that the work will last 12 hours, don’t expect big drama but rather a slow evolution throughout the evening.

Johnson and Coullard have performed around the globe. Duorama’s work has been staged in France, Poland, Croatia, Ukraine, Belarus, Finland, Germany and the list goes on. But Johnson sees Nightless City on Church St as a unique opportunity. He’s looking forward to performing, “for a much more gender-alt audience than we would normally,” he says. “We’ll have a chance to try some images that might not be understood in the same way in other locations.”

Johnson and Couillard often perform in their pyjamas as a way of distancing themselves from the spaces they are in but also as a way of a kind of intimate, dream state. One of the ongoing themes of Duorama’s work is what Johnson describes as an investigation of “the borders of male intimacy in public.”

Even if you don’t buy the hype, Nuit Blanche and Nightless City, at the very least, will do something no singular gallery can do on its own: Incorporate art into life, bringing art and ideas to an audience not necessarily versed in the language and rhetoric of the art world. For at least one night this year Toronto will stay awake, shake the smog from its clouded head and turn itself into an artist’s playground. So let’s all take our cue from the immortal words of Rocky Horror’s Dr Frank-N-Furter when he says, “Don’t dream it. Be it.” Make Nuit Blanche a night to remember.


Zone In

Nuit Blanche.
Free. 7pm-7am.
Sat, Sep 29.

Nuit Blanche is divided up into three themed zones each with its own individual information hub. Zone A, curated by Rhonda Corvese is titled The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. The information hub is at Queens Park, just south of Bloor. Zone B, with its information hub located in Butterfield Park, right next to the Ontario College of Art and Design, is titled At the Corner of Time and Place (curator, Michelle Jacques). The hub for Zone C, or Supernatural City curated by Camilla Singh, can be found in Trinity Bellwoods Park just north of Queen.

Most galleries and Scotiabank outlets have guidebooks on hand. They’re pretty straightforward with descriptions short enough and sweet enough to be tempting. For a fairly monstrous event, flipping through the guide is relatively painless. Only the very masochistic will attempt to see everything. Pick one or two target events and explore from there. Here are a few starter suggestions.

According to Toronto City Hall last year’s Toronto premiere of Nuit Blanche was attended by somewhere around 425,000 people. With this year’s expansion Nuit Blanche is sure to be huge. Just gigantic. This will no doubt translate into plenty of lineups and a severe lack of parking, so try not to be too rigid about where you want to be throughout the night. Plan to take advantage of the TTC’s extended hours or travel by bike. If you are in for the long haul you’ll want to arm yourself with sturdy footwear and information on where to find food at 4:30am. Of course, a playful attitude and an open mind will go a long way as well.

In Zone A take a jaunt over to the University of Toronto. If spectacle is your thing try to get in on Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins’ Event Horizon. There’s tons of stuff to explore on campus.

Consider taking some downtime over at the Steam Whistle Brewery (225 Bremner Blvd) in Zone B. The Kino Festival of Russian film and art is setting up a Steam Banya, or Russian sauna, and playing short videos, throughout the night. So bring a swimsuit, sandals and towel. Alternately, if you want to speed things up head over to the Grange Park (behind the AGO) for Iconoclash, Melissa Shiff’s interactive dance party where images of audience members will be superimposed onto video screens playing iconic religious movies. Next door at OCAD is Testbed with new media works by Noam Gonnick, Robert Houle, Judith Doyle and more.

Get your yah-yahs out in Zone C at Mercer Union (37 Lisgar St) where you’ll be able to attend The Misha Glouberman School of Learning and create Terrible Noises for Beautiful People. Terrible Noises is a “participatory noise choir.” It’s all about process and joining in. Exercise those vocal chords, it’s sure to refresh and/or freak you out!

Overall Nuit Blanche doesn’t seem to have a great deal of overtly queer content, especially compared to last year. As an art event, however, it’s queer by default. Aside from the Nightless City events in the village, a fun way to start the evening is by checking out the sexy, loud and queer Kids on TV set at the Works and Emergency Services Building (1116 King St W) from 7pm to 8:30pm. The Kids along with other Toronto bands will play throughout the night.

Once you’ve taken off all your clothes with KOTV you’ll need to figure out what to do with them, so head over to the Textile Museum of Canada (55 Centre Avenue) for Allyson Mitchell’s Hungry Purse: Vagina Dentata in Late Capitalism, and her Swap till You Drop clothing swap (see page 23). It’s opening night of the Toronto artist’s latest installation. At the swap not only will you be able to trade clothes, but style counsellors will also be on hand to address fashion crises and help modify newfound treasures.