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Nuit Blanche and The End of the World

Since 2006, the Nuit Blanche (white night) art festival has transformed Toronto into an urban playground and sensory feast for one full night, from dusk to dawn. Originally started in 1984 in France, Nuit Blanche is now held in cities around the world. Art and interactive installations are set all around the city and there’s always something spectacular.

At Toronto’s Nuit Blanche 2011, the Flightpath installation allowed participants to soar, head first, across city hall’s Nathan Phillips Square on crisscrossed ziplines attached to giant wings. The project goal was to explore ideas about mobility in the city and how transport can be emission-less and even fun!

It’s a bird’s life at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square at 2011 Nuit Blanche.

Also that year, the Heart Machine, a piece that debuted at Burning Man, staged a 70-foot diameter  model of a heart with four “arteries” each connected to sensors that, when touched, shot flames 25 feet into the air from 16 foot tall columns. Leaving aside the issue of waste and extreme danger, I viewed this installation as symbolizing the importance of community and cooperation in maintaining the life-force of the city as participant’s interaction with the machine was essential to keeping it going, demonstrating a “symbiotic relationship.”

This year, one of the installation ‘zones’ curational vision’s is  ‘Museum for the End of the World.’ Set in and around City Hall, the various exhibits in this zone feature many environmentally themed pieces. The Vault is inspired by the global seed bank in Norway where a wide variety of plant seeds are stored in case of global crisis. The artist describes, “The vaults are icons of mankind’s impact on the natural world, both negative and positive. Built in preparation for an environmental disaster of doomsday proportions, they hold the promise of life and immortality.”

In a similar light, the piece Ou Topos presents a survivalist bunker built by a man “driven by the fear of catastrophe – war, environmental degradation, unnamed crisis” which blurs the lines between delusion and logical reality.

Douglas Coupland’s “Museum of the Rapture” installation at 2012 Nuit Blanche

Museum of the Rapture by famous Canadian artist Douglas Coupland aims to express “the notion of the individual being part of a system that’s larger than themselves, and that has been in motion for decades” with a special concentration on creating the realization “that there’s no going back and that the future is all we have.”

Keeping things quintessentially Canadian, Dirty Loonie (Canadians embarrassingly call our one and two dollar coins ‘loonies’ and ‘toonies’) is a kinetic sculpture built to resemble an oil derrick. The derrick is topped by a Canada Loon bird which repeatedly bobs its beak in and out of a barrel, sloshing oil over the edge. The piece is meant to question the relationship between nature and capital production as viewers witness the destruction of the Loon through the creation of commodity.

Rest assured that not all the exhibits are likely to be so grim as there are more than 150 different pieces set up around the city. And while it’s easy to get wrapped up in the spectacle of the event, try to pause at each to view exhibits with the artist’s vision and statement in mind – it’s handy to keep the guidebook close by (available at Scotiabank locations) or try out the mobile app. Artistic reimaginings of social and environmental issues such as those presented at Nuit Blanche are important to help present alternate perspectives and inspire visionary change. So if you’re in Toronto on Saturday, September 29, 2012, or have your own local Nuit Blanche, take advantage of this massive undertaking and explore the vision of  various local and international artists.

Update: Check out some photos from this year’s event here.

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