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Nuit Blanche: a foreword, and a few misgivings

September 28, 2007

Naturally, I’m attending Toronto’s Nuit Blanche tomorrow night — although attending might not be quite the right word. With a city-wide event like Nuit Blanche, billed on posters around the city as a “free all-night contemporary art thing”, it’s difficult not to be “there” in some sense of the word.

But anyway, I’ll be at Nuit Blanche and I fully intend to enjoy myself. Last year, though, I didn’t enjoy myself, and in order to guard against any repeated moodiness tomorrow night I ought to mention a few misgivings, just to get them out in the open.

Last year I came out of Sneaky Dee’s, where I’d been watching a show by Subtle, at about 2am and started walking around. It was raining and I was in a terrible mood. I’d been hoping that the event would be designed to reward impulsive urban wandering, bringing to life the Situationist practice of derive, if only the sponsorship by Scotiabank and the highly planned nature of the whole affair could be overlooked. But somehow it didn’t happen for me. The people who seemed to be fairing best were following maps and guidebooks. It’s at this point that I realised that the twentieth century’s distinction between the city (vital, living art) and the museum (dead culture) is no longer any good. Museums can be much more peculiarly organised than cities.

Under these conditions, the art at Nuit Blanche became something to simply pass through — so you had a situation where, paradoxically, the pieces that got the most attention were deliberately ambient artworks like Fujiko Nakaya’s fog sculptures. But this was the wrong quality of ambience — the atmospheric aesthetic that I tend to value in art was instantly cancelled out by the sheer number of people expecting to be entertained. This was a perversion of ambience, brought on by the highly forced casualness of the who evening. Take the tagline for this year’s event, which I quoted above — “a free all-night contemporary art thing”. The pose of laziness, non-specificity in that line really irritates me. It’s exactly the type of language that banks use when they’re trying to advertise bank accounts to students.

Apart from the pieces that were ambient by design or default, the other type of piece that was on display at last year’s Nuit Blanche were the participation-friendly, playful, kiddy installations — giant children’s ball pits, that type of thing. Again, a bit of a perversion of Situationist ideas. Wander the city, let your ludic instinct be your guide, enter into vast games: for one night only. And games always have rules.

The danger of Nuit Blanche, really, is that it might be presented as a lifestyle alternative to galleries and performances throughout the rest of the year. It all seems a bit too in line with North America’s convenience culture — get your year’s supply of art encounters in a single evening, then go home and sleep it off.

There. That said, I really do intend to have a lovely time tomorrow.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 29, 2007 2:10 am

    ‘The danger of Nuit Blanche, really, is that it might be presented as a lifestyle alternative to galleries and performances throughout the rest of the year. It all seems a bit too in line with North America’s convenience culture — get your year’s supply of art encounters in a single evening, then go home and sleep it off.’

    Heavens, Ross, that’s a hell of a brilliant pair of sentences. Once my parcels arrive from Canada, one of which contains my beloved pink journal of quotatios, you can rest assured that the above will be joining all the other Best Things Ever Said According To Me. You really do have a way with words; you may be onto something with this postgraduate-degree-in-English business. You’ve already Mastered the language; might as well Doctor it up, or something like that.

    Forgive the thinly veiled puns. It’s late here in Great Britain, which is great and British and full of great British fare, like chip shops. And . . . chip shops. Great British chips here, there are.

    I’ve never been to Nuit Blanche, but I do hope you enjoy yourself and I look forward to the post mortem analysis.

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