Sunday, October 03, 2010

Nuit Blanche 2010: from lackluster to alarming

I have been fortunate enough to attend every previous Toronto edition of Nuit Blanche, with the exception of the 2009 edition, which I participated in. In every year, there was a mix of excellent and mediocre work, though the majority of the projects veered towards excellent, and the excitement of art lovers was palatable.

The 2010 edition of Nuit Blanche was disappointing for a number of reasons. Increasingly, the organizers and artists are strategizing against the lowest common denominator: loud and belligerent drunks with no real interest in art. The result is a lot of projection work that cannot be grabbed or broken, but frequently fails to capture the attention or imagination of attendees.

And who wants to house rowdy drunks? Indoor project venues were lacking, and former event stalwarts like the Reference Library and the Eaton Centre were conspicuously absent. Attendees were left to perch on folding chairs, braving the cold as they attempted to concentrate on videos that required prolonged attention.

Second in obnoxiousness only to the drunks were the corporate sponsors and vendors. Last year, roasted corn and free energy drinks blended in with a project that brought the carnival to Bay St. Organizers decided to make this carnie element a permanent fixture of the event.

The lineups were as long as one would expect, and one work highlighted this phenomenon: Wait Until You See This by Lili Huston-Herterich and Brad Tinmouth. Normally, I am all for playing a joke on the audience, but it is cruel to make a fool of the very people who have invested their time in your work. The shamed attendees of Huston-Herterich and Tinmouth's work, were funneled by proximity to Chris Shepherd's The Task, where they found an outlet for their sour mood. Shepherd's exercise in futility was mocked by viewers who did not hesitate to speak at a volume that was audible to the artist. They also resorted to that most familiar of insulting refrains, "This is art?"

My list of must-sees was admittedly short, but it included Nuit Market Starring the Toronto Weston Flea Market by Mammalian Diving Reflex. I was a big fan of their previous Nuit Blanche pieces, Ballroom Dancing (2006) and Dancing with Teacher (2007), which made great use of the frenetic atmosphere of Nuit Blanche. When I arrived on site at 1am, all that remained of Nuit Market was the sign. I can only guess that the out-of-control crowds from Yonge St. compelled the artists to pack up early, and as disappointed as I was, I could not blame them. It was at that point that I called it a night.

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