Whether alone or with friends, Nuit Blanche provides both enjoyment and disappointment.
I’m starting to wonder if it was such a great idea for me to come here alone.
Standing in the basement of Union Station amidst a cluster of people, I’m being screamed at from both sides by various movie stars. It’s dark and discombobulating.
This is Nuit Blanche, Toronto’s “free all-night contemporary art thing” and the exhibit I’m in the middle of involves two screens full of clips from horror movies, all of the characters shrieking in pain and terror. It’s called “Horroridor,” and it’s my first stop on my mission to prove that it is possible to have fun at the event going solo.
A middle-aged man looks at the screen behind me, his face lit by its eerie white glow as he laughs heartily at the images before him. I turn around to point him out to someone and share a laugh of my own, but then remember I’m by myself, surrounded by strangers.
I get bored after about 10 minutes and leave, feeling disappointed. I wonder if “Horroridor,” by artist Kelly Mark, would have been better if I’d come with friends after all.
Samantha Heath, a University of Toronto student, certainly thinks so.
Heath, who’s been going to the Sept. 30 event since it debuted in 2006, says there weren’t any exhibits that came to mind that would be more interesting alone.
“Everything is better just being able to enjoy it with other people,” she says, her voice rising in volume. “[It] is so much more fun to be able to talk with your friends and to talk about why you like the art.”
Mysoon Alam, another University of Toronto student, agrees. She says hanging out with friends and being able to take pictures of each other is what makes the event so much fun.
“It’s not just the art,” she says. “It’s enjoying it with everyone.”
Based on my first Nuit Blanche exhibit, I’m starting to think so too, but there are many more things to see and surely one of them will captivate a lone viewer like me.
Outside Union Station, the sky is dusty blue and darkening fast as I head up Bay Street to another cluster of exhibits. All around me, small groups of people clutch Nuit Blanche maps, laughing and talking.
I’m having a tough time finding more displays. The exhibit locations aren’t marked very well. There are white flags but they’re difficult to see and I feel both panicked and frustrated without a companion to help me out.
But, even with friends, finding the exhibits was still hard, according to Alexandra Matveeva, a George Brown College student.
“We didn’t go in the beginning so by the time we went, there weren’t enough maps in the stands, so it was kind of confusing figuring out where the exhibits are,” Matveeva says.
She adds the events were way too spread out.
“You had to walk for half an hour to get to one exhibit,” she says with a sigh.
Alam and Heath also had issues finding their way around. Heath couldn’t find the “Zombies in Condoland” exhibit and Alam, who also couldn’t get a map, got bad directions from one of the volunteers.
As for me, by the time I finally find Scotia Plaza, I’m not happy. I expect to be blown away by what’s inside, but it’s just a row of paintings. Being alone gives me more time to look at them without being rushed by impatient friends, but there’s nothing interesting enough to keep me around for long.
Matveeva, seeing Nuit Blanche for the first time, also found the event didn’t quite live up to her expectations, despite the added fun of going in a group.
“I thought that it was too hyped up and there was nothing really very exciting about it,” she says.
Alam and Heath say the event wasn’t as good as previous ones, though they didn’t go to as many exhibits this year.
“I’d say, this year, Nuit Blanche was less hectic but it wasn’t as impressive as the previous years,” Heath says. “It didn’t have as much impact.”
Despite the letdown, there were parts the three students liked.
Matveeva loved playing around with her friends at the Eaton Centre’s “Into the Blue” piece by Fujiwara Takahiro.
“You looked up at it and you turned all dizzy,” Matveeva says. “It was hilarious.”
“It reminded me of the circus.”
Alam said the silent actor in front of City Hall “wasn’t too bad” and Heath liked Katharine Harvey’s “Waterfall,” made of plastic junk hanging off the Ontario Power Generation Building on University Avenue.
“It was just beautiful to stare at,” Heath said of the massive artwork. “It created this huge blue glow all around Queen’s Park subway station. It was just mesmerizing.”
Despite their disappointment, all three said they would probably go back next year.
“It’s an opportunity that I wouldn’t pass up again,” Heath says. “Just because one year wasn’t as impressive as the others doesn’t mean that I would not go at all.”
I’m still determined to find my own favourite piece but it’s not going well.
The “Turbulence Sound Matrix” on Adelaide Street, a circle of speakers emitting an original composition, is painful to my ears but I do like Byron Kent Wong’s performance art, “the common and the tense (a sound ecology).” The piece involves blue, swirling images manipulated by sound and a glass panel maze with lights. I’m glad I can look at it without being hassled to move on, but wish I could share it with someone, too.
For Alam, talking to friends doesn’t interfere with viewing the art pieces.
“It actually made it better, cause everyone had their opinion so it made it more enjoyable,” she says.
I’m beginning to feel it’s impossible to enjoy Nuit Blanche on your own.
Depressed, I leave Adelaide and walk north. Eventually I cross the grass encircled by Queen’s Park Crescent and hear a drumbeat. It’s not part of the nearest exhibit, “Sound Forest.” Just some drunken students who have set up a drum circle by a horse statue.
I slip into the trees to escape from the noise and then I hear something wonderful.
A long, haunting note that makes my heart shiver. Just beyond the dark trunks, a black clad choir stands on the steps of a WWI monument, singing out towards the park.
Finally, I have found it. “Sound Forest,” the exhibit that’s best experienced alone. I forget the cold and forget I’m alone and just listen, feeling completely at peace.
On my way home, I see people laughing over their friends’ imitations of the choir. I’m glad I’m alone, knowing I wouldn’t have enjoyed the song with a friend snickering in my ear and nudging me in the ribs.
As I walk away, the calls still send chills up my spine. My heart is full.
It looks like Nuit Blanche can be enjoyed alone after all.