This year we decided to try and keep to a very select assortment and not make it a really late night. RJH spent yesterday completing the roof on the garage (yay!) and had to work today to cover a shift for a friend. I selected my top three choices and that's how we began our night.
We began at 'Constellations' at University College. I was interested in the 'Jansen Walker', because it was described as "elegant, multi-legged mechanical beings" - kinetic, interactive sculptures, inspired by the work of Theo Jansen. I envisioned something like the marvellous and quixotic Standbeest perambulating around the quad. So, I was a bit underwhelmed by an automaton made with PVC tubes and a hand crank which made interesting noises. Sure, I got to interact with the artwork, but I was expecting something with some life of its own. I was pleasantly surprised to find the lawn scattered with sleeping (and quietly snoring) sod people, the earthen golems of XXXX Collective.
I was even more pleasantly surprised by Robert Wilson's Gould Variations, a series of videos portraits in celebration of Glenn Gould. I saw the sign and thought, haven't we seen this before? How many films can we make in honour of Glenn Gould (who, incidentally, seems to be the secret theme of my weekend, what with CBC radio's show this morning)? I was tempted to skip it. Little did I suspect I would see Robert Wilson’s South American Horned Frog Video Portrait series. What says Glenn Gould like South American Horned frogs? In fact, it was engrossing. The work was designed for the site and it showed. It involved a large collection of variations on a theme, of course - technicolour videos of South American horned frogs, in various unnatural colours and at various angles with a soundtrack combining river field recordings and frog vocalizations mixed with Canadian pianist Glenn Gould performing his own arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (the recordings for which he is most famed). This unexpected combination and well-conceived hanging created an otherworldly, immersive environment. The subtle movement of the frogs and their vocalizations really triggered the viewer to watch and listen carefully. The long hall-like shape of the gallery, with smaller rooms branching off, each lined with huge flat-screens of fluorescent frogs, made the entire experience dreamlike.
We continued to the Crave Crawl Cave, created by Claro Cosco, Grey Muldoon, and Piffin Duvekot, a series of geodesic-dome style knit and other textile tents, each with its own sensory environment. I love the idea of inviting the viewer to crawl through sculptures. They were a bit on the small side, however, which meant that few people could enter at once, and most of the people who chose to do so were children (at least when we were there), who were the only ones with the sense to understand that they could play with the art.
I crawled into the largest of the three, which was an eerie, blacklit, fluorescent cave with doily cobwebs.
We left UC and headed downtown to the CBC building (past the Glenn Gould studio and well-known sculptural portrait of him on his bench), to see Andrew Kearney's SKYLUM, an interactive, light and sound inflatable blimp inside the atrium. SKYLUM responds to the audience, changing its soundtrack and light show depending on the proximity and movement of the audience. It was sort of magical, looming in the atrium, but the interaction with the audience was less than obvious; I wish it had been more pronounced. Though some people danced vigorously, trying to get it to change its tempo.
We drove by The Other Side, a four-way video feed, with screens on each corner of York and Adelaide, showing the opposite corner. It seemed to me like a dud, not the least because two of the screens were inoperable. We then attempted to see Light Seeds, at overhead walkway at Church and Gould, the installation by Science on Art a collective of Ryerson’s physics and engineering students. We despaired of driving or parking nearby and RJH suggested that I get out of the car and walk, while he tried to park. On my way, I passed Thought Balloon, which allowed viewers to project their "thoughts" (tweets) onto the surface of large glowing balloons. I overheard one woman ask the man she was with whether his tweet had been projected, and he told her she would never know. This was the point of the art - to play with the idea of public versus private.
I made it to "Light Seeds" and waited briefly in line for my turn at the controls. The students had suspended lights in the windows of the overpass. The lights responded to their environment: some were like the level lights on a stereo, responding to the music, the others were like a giant Etch-A-Sketch. There were two sets of controls at the front with three dials apiece. The dials controlled the vertical position of the light, the horizontal position and the colour. So, the two viewers at the front of the line were able to "draw" with light pixels (confused by the second controller, of course). At the front they also had two smaller displays: a Geiger-counter controlled three-colour LED strip, responding to beta and gamma radiation (which, in case you were unaware, is everywhere on the planet, to some degree, because of the ubiquitous nature of radioisotopes in the environment), and a little LED-encrusted sculpture which was controlled by a hand-written pencil sign which read "Touch Me". Graphite, of course, is electrically conductive, so it can act as a capacitative sensor (so that by touching the text, one is changing the capacitance being sensed by a simple circuit, which in turn changes the lights).
We continued through the Ryerson campus and happened upon something which I think was unofficial. It was certainly low-tech, but rather entertaining. In the drained fountain, next to some official exhibits like 'Aura', there were several people bicycling around with their bikes in fish and shark costumes.
At this point, I had seen my top three selections, but we continued on foot towards the Eaton Centre, passing "Dean" the neon man. I'm not sure if he was a mobile exhibit, or an unofficial one, but he was lit with actual neon lights, as well as EL wire (electroluminescent wire, or 'cold neon') and lightbulbs.
We passed REFLEXION, a large crystal of interactive video in Yonge-Dundas Square, but it seemed underwhelming, while the crowds were overwhelming. We passed many buskers between Dundas and Queen, along Yonge. Eventually I managed to get into the Eaton Centre, to see Max Streicher's Vertical Constructions: Dancer #1 and Dancer #2, while RJH shot more photos outside in the crowds. These were large amorphous inflatable sculptures made from recycled vinyl billboards, suspended from the ceiling. They were well suited to the space, both is size and in media (what with the hints of advertising).
RJH wanted to see what was going on at City Hall. We saw a video projected on the back of the curved towers of Nathan Phillips and in the middle of the square, we found World Without Sun by Christine Davis. Clearly I'm not the only one who thinks these are two great things which go great together. I don't know how a video installation combining space and jellyfish had escaped my attention, so I'm glad RJH suggested we check it out. I think it might have been the somewhat pompous description; with hundreds of events to choose from, I rule out anything which has a description which bores me. I think that curators and artists should take heed. I am an engaged participant who actively thinks about and creates art; if your descriptions are scaring me you are not going to capture the less engaged public. The installation itself was engaging! Six videos projected on large raised disks showing footage of things like jellyfish, interstellar nebulae and neurons, inviting the audience to connect the imagery. Two viewers where lying on the ground watching upside-down, mesmerized.
We continued south to attempt to see All Night Convenience. We passed the whimsical The Way Things Are, with its floppy street lamps, like melted Dalí watches. The luminous, transparent convenient store, filled with free lanterns made of typical consumables, was of course, too popular to enter (with a line up across the entire square), but I appreciate its existence.
We continued to St. James Park for one final stop. I wanted to see Lenticularis, another kinetic sculpture. It looked little like the artist's rendering. It was described thus: "The work billows and sways as a luminous assembly of lanterns, fans, and undulating surfaces. It is an interactive matrix composed of numerous translucent structures linked together to form a lightweight canopy. Individual parts of the canopy are constructed to rise and fall with changing air currents, affecting the sculpture's overall shape." A bunch of white sheer curtains, a fan, some lights, and a web of plastic, would be more like it. Though, it was pretty, if small, and less than advertised. Perhaps it had to be scaled down due to a last-minute change in location.
Overall we did quite well. I saw more than expected, and never had to wait in line more than about 5 minutes. Some of the best exhibits were those we happened upon. Crowds were thick, particularly on Yonge, which is always a magnet for out-of-towners, but the mood was good, and we encountered fewer inebriated or uncivil people than last year. I particularly appreciate seeing not only the listed independent projects, but evidence that people are making this their own - in small ways, like dressing with glow sticks or lit fibre optics in one's hair, or the large number of people parading with the All Night Convenience lanterns, to the larger, full-blown costumes like Wonder Woman, DeadMau5, and the Dean the neon man. Nothing encourages me more than seeing thousands of people spending their night seeking art and inspiration. That's why you can't keep me from Nuit Blanche.