Below, CanCulture’s Abria Mattina reviews the must-see exhibits at tonight’s Nuit Blanche overnight celebration in Toronto.

Zone A

Radiophonic Territory: Located in the Victoria College Courtyard, Radiophonic Territory (Nocturne) is a large-scale architectural sound installation comprised of natural fibre ropes, woven into a three-dimensional geometric pattern inspired by Anishinaabe and Iroquois design. Tonal vibrations activate the ropes via signals translated from a live FM broadcast of community confessions. According to the Nuit Blanche website, these confessions seek to bring “the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities of Toronto together, unifying multiple voices into a singularly focused sonification.” The result is a complex meta-narrative that explores the complexities of the contemporary colonial landscape. 

The Police Station: From Victoria College, move west along Charles St. and head south when you reach Yonge St. until you encounter Althea Thauberger’s “Police Station.” Thauberger is transforming a portable office into a make-believe temporary police station, where actors wear period law enforcement costumes and will “arrest” members of the public, chosen based on randomly generated profiles. During their performative detainment, “arrested” citizens will participate in a workshop with Thauberger. Their “processing paperwork” is theirs to keep or redistribute on the street. The results of this installation may be as unpredictable as the people (well, future convicts) that it interacts with.

Coevality: Head south to College St. and start heading toward the southern crux of Queen’s Park. But before you get there, another event awaits. It’s called Coevality and encourages participants to contemplate the subject of modern advancement in our habitat and in our art. This interactive audio-video installation on College St. focuses on co-existence and transformation, and does so by capturing the creative process of a traditional painting as it is transposed onto a contemporary digital projection. Using the wall of a historical Victoria building as their canvas, a trio of artists will break down an artwork into its most fundamental layers as it is painted. The theme of the artwork concerns the evolution of Toronto’s urban cityscape. The title of the installation comes from the word meaning “originating or existing during the same period, lasting through the same era.”

100 Ages: From College St., hang around the southwest crescent of Queen’s Park. Here, throughout the night, artist Jason de Haan will follow a marked route and place a gold ring onto an upper branch of 100 trees in the Queen’s Park Garden. The rings will effect and be effected by the tree’s growth—branches may break free from the ring or incorporate the ring into its own natural growth. Note that the effects of this installation may take years to develop. Several of de Haan’s previous projects have incorporated a naturally unfolding system that determines the life of the artwork.

Taddle Creek: Just south of Queen’s Park, on the corner of College and University, artist Eleanor King will remind us of the silence of the natural world in the urban centre. Her installation highlights Taddle Creek, a brook that once ran freely through Toronto but was rerouted underground by urban development. By using multiple radios throughout a specific site, tuned to the transmission of the sounds of running water, Torontonians will get a visceral peek into the natural world that lies underneath the city.

Zone B

Face Music: A group of robotic sculptures compose music with input from participants, and is a companion piece to Paparazzi Bots. Using micro-cameras mounted on the robots, images of participants’ faces are pixelated and transformed into a generative soundscape. Thus the view is a participant, an actor, and a conductor in this robotic orchestra. 

McLuhan’s Massage Parlour: Marshall McLuhan spent much of his career studying the effects of technology in popular culture and how humans and community affect it. One of the first to sound the alarm on our technology-saturated culture, McLuhan is a cult hero. In McLuhan’s Massage Parlour, Luc Courchesne redeploys McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message in an interactive, virtual world that exposes participants to McLuhan’s visionary insights on media and society. The result is a real-time virtual media garden for viewers to explore.

The Heart Machine: The Heart Machine is a collaborative project that combined sculpture, flame effects, and technology to create an interactive installation. The machine and city coexist in a symbiotic relationship, and citizens must tend to it. Four “arteries” extend from the central heart, and when touched by participants, cause flame to shoot up to 25 feet into the air from 16 foot tall columns. The way each person interacts with the machine is affected by an individual’s perception of technology. Does a person watch passively for the machine to react in his or her presence, or take active control? Who will take the lead and explore, and who will hang back and wait for others to take the initiative? The Heart Machine in an interactive metaphor between citizen and city, citizens and technology. Citizens are the arteries and blood, and have a choice to exist silently or be active participants in a city’s future.

Border Sounds: Border Sounds is a video, performance, and sound installation. Located in a parking garage, it is a “silent disco.” Musical tracks use lyrics referencing the text inside passports to emphasize the boundaries that we navigate daily, thus calling attention to notions of territory, nation-states, and Diaspora. These tracks are individually experienced using headphones, and accompanied by video projections. The garage has been transformed to have the atmosphere of a club or disco, and participants are encouraged to move with the audio, to enact their own performance in relation to these constructed barriers. Artist Sharlene Bamboat hopes that the participants experience an engagement with mobility and nationalism, both individually and collectively.

Shannon’s Fireflies: Light nodes suspended in a cube frame contain sensors that response to human whispers. The audiences’ words are converted into light, sound, and movement. By using whisper stations set up in the labyrinth, two people can have a conversation and see their words create light. The installation uses visual media to demonstrate how meaning gets distorted in the course of communication. Each node of “firefly” on the grid passes on the message to another node, but much like a game of telephone, the nodes do not always pass the message on reliably. They can send it in another direction, to another person, split it into multiple directions, or fail to relay it altogether.

Zone C

Barricades: Set on the corner of Yonge and Queen, Barricades is a thought-provoking installation made up of three works, each constructed with materials that typically form barricades during large assemblies in the downtown core. The materials “are given new forms and contexts that undermine their original purposes,” according to the Nuit Blanche website. Jansen calls attention to the way law enforcement’s overly cautious approach to public assemblies betrays the peaceful aspirations of Toronto. By giving the barricade materials new context as sculptures, Jansen forces them to “act instead as sources of curiosity, absurdity and faith.”

Bone Dump: If you move south from Jansen’s exhibit to Yonge and King, you will encounter the Bone Dump, a large pile of unglazed porcelain bones handmade by Maura Doyle and dumped in a quiet back alley in the Financial District. The pile of bones, each one sculpted like the bones of humans and creatures (extinct and still around) represents “the residue of something that was,” which can indicate both the end of life and the end of the bones’ own construction. The bones were made with clay and assembled by the hands of artist Maura Doyle. Viewers of the exhibit are invited to consider not only life after death, but life before death: “Do bones hold the secrets of a life lived?”

Hall: Inspired by Oktoberfest’s colourful open-air beer tents, Hall transforms a sheltered pedestrian walkway near King and Church into a public dining pavilion. Patrons have the opportunity to sit, rest, and eat at a 150-foot-long communal table. Overhead is a textile canopy, “emblazoned with designs reminiscent of the painted ceilings of Versailles or the Sistine Chapel.” Printed with thousands of photos of street food, Hall’s ceiling inverts the relationship between architecture and its inhabitants.

Memorias: Head down Yonge to just south of Wellington to a large-scale vigil dedicated to the lost lives of Ontario-based migrant workers. Memorias invites the audience to, using posters and candles, reach out to the individual passersby as well as community organizations that represent the interests of labour workers. With a focus on the human migration patterns influenced by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), this participatory installation illuminates dimension of human labour and its life cycle within the economic system.

INFRA: Finally, in three separate locations—King Street, Toronto Street, the Cloud Gardens between Yonge and Bay—stands a pack of wolves, fabricated with resin and painted bright fluorescent colours. The wolves glow, and are rendered according to their thermal imagery, with infrared displays showing patterns of hot and cool colours. These contrasting colours refer to the wolves’ primal, instinctive state while bringing them closer to the human condition. Instead of the fear and awe that people often feel when wildlife enters human territory, Hart seeks to elicit recognition, as the wolves’ thermal vitality is shared by all warm-blooded animals.

— Photo courtesy of naromeel