Canadian Art

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Nuit Blanche: The Great White Trope

Various Venues, Toronto Oct 4 2008
John Oswald  <i>STILLNESSENCE</i>  2004–8  Projection still  Courtesy of the artist John Oswald STILLNESSENCE 2004–8 Projection still Courtesy of the artist

John Oswald <i>STILLNESSENCE</i> 2004–8 Projection still Courtesy of the artist

For some, this weekend is the Superbowl of contemporary art in Toronto. Not only is the Toronto International Art Fair bringing collectors, dealers and artists from around the world to the city, but Nuit Blanche, the wildly successful “all-night contemporary art thing,” is taking over the streets this Saturday with sculptures, installations and performances. It is sometimes hard to resist the urge to see everything and be everywhere at once at Nuit Blanche, but with installations and affiliated programming scattered across the city and last year’s festival drawing 800,000 viewers into the streets, it pays to be strategic. Here are some of our picks for promising pieces to see in each zone this Saturday.

Kitchener-based curator Gordon Hatt has coordinated a series of large-scale interventions by artists that explore the way the night transforms our otherwise familiar surroundings in his exhibition “The New World.” Located in Zone A, which lies north of Queen Street and is bordered by McCaul and Church, the works in Hatt’s show infiltrate popular public areas to create a surreal new world. The Quebec City–based collective BGL, for instance, will create an insomniac’s office environment by installing a fluorescent-lit drop ceiling in an alley next to Massey Hall (178 Victoria St), while New York–based artist Jillian McDonald invites Torontonians to join her zombie movie film shoot in College Park by arriving in costume—or being transformed into a monster on site—in her Zombies in Condoland (444 Yonge St). Montreal artist Daniel Olson will offer passersby their 15 minutes of fame in Yonge-Dundas Square, a space already inundated with images of celebrities, by spotlighting people from a small guard tower as they walk through the square. Meanwhile, subtler sculptural projects, like artist Tom Bendtsen’s Babel-inspired tower of books at 900 Bay and Katherine L. Lannin’s corridor covered in thousands of torn book pages at 55 Gould, promise to provide quieter meditations on the built landscape in the area.

In Zone B, an area south of Queen between Simcoe and Jarvis, curator Wayne Baerwaldt presents a series of projects inspired by the theme “Honest.” Emphasizing performative events and installations that blur the line between the artist and audience, the zone’s projects bring transgressive encounters to the “concrete jungle of Toronto’s business district.” Two projects by Toronto-based artists use film and video to lend a spectral quality to the nighttime neighbourhood: John Oswald’s ghostly video projection compiles hundreds of full-length portraits of Torontonians staring blankly into the camera (80 Front St E), while Kelly Mark’s Horridor is a 20-foot-high corridor of projected video and audio recordings of movie characters screaming (65 Front St W). A little less creepy, but equally absurd, is Barr Gilmore’s appropriation of the iconic Honest Ed’s sign which will be relocated to Court Square Park (10 Court St). Shuvinai Ashoona and John Noestheden’s Earth and Sky, recently exhibited in Basel, also lends an environmentally conscious spin to the theme (York St at Front St).

Finally, for this year’s festival, Zone C has been shifted south to include Liberty Village, the area south of King Street bordered by Dufferin and Shaw, and is being spilt into two exhibitions organized by two different curators. Haema Sivanesan, director of the South Asian Visual Arts Collective, has commissioned a series of sculptural installations that animate the constantly in-progress built environment of Liberty Village for her exhibition “Multiple Selves – Strange Destinations.” Featuring a video installation by Bani Abidi depicting crowds of people awaiting an official motorcade that never arrives (9 Hanna Ave) and Brendan Fernandes’s towering installation of shipping containers flashing out S-O-S in morse code in a parking lot (Mowat Ave at Fraser Ave), the exhibition draws attention to feelings of anxiety and anticipation that accompany gentrification and shifting societies. Meanwhile, artist and curator Dave Dyment brings performative and participatory events to the neighbourhood that explore feelings of anticipation and hope and examine their inherent fragility. In Jacob Dahlgren’s installation I, the world, things, life, for example, hundreds of dartboards mounted side by side invite viewers to participate in a growing and ultimately exhausting game of darts (1 Pardee Ave), while Jon Sasaki’s performance installation I Promise it Will Always be This Way brings a troop of team mascots to Lamport Stadium to test their endurance and enthusiasm over the 12 hours of festival (1155 King St W).

This article was first published online on October 2, 2008.

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