Photo Credit: City of Toronto Nuit Blanche Festival Poster
Nuit Blanche was everything yet nothing like you would have expected for a quarantine art event
Rosemarie Rotundo, Arts Editor
Over the past fourteen years, October has been welcomed with an illuminating display of artwork, stretched across the streets and spaces of downtown Toronto. Night owls and art enthusiasts populate the all-night contemporary art festival to celebrate local and international talent; enjoying the art installations and performative pieces puzzled across the city. Toronto welcomes the art festivities through the extension of restaurant hours, lasting through the early morning, with bars even extending last call to 4:00 a.m.
Nuit Blanche celebrated its 15th anniversary in a ~slightly~ different manner compared to previous years.
To limit the spread of COVID-19, Nuit Blanche was reimagined into an online affair, with an extended display of interactive media. Digital installations incorporated elements of virtual and augmented reality alongside exclusive online events. The attendees of the virtual festival were granted access to Nuit Blanche’s submission archive. Over the past 14 years, the all-night art affair has accumulated an archive exceeding 1,600 projects.
Considering the current global pandemic, the duration of Nuit Blanche shifted from a 12-hour overnight affair to a week-long celebration. Set to follow the two-year curatorial theme, The Space Between Us, Artistic Director Julie Nagam celebrates the theme of the festival through uncovering that relationships across dispersed landscapes – urban, polar, and pacific – concentrate on the circulation of knowledge.
The online festival curated submissions into different online streaming portals.
Nuit in Your Neighbourhood
This theme celebrates a new perspective of Toronto, where public art remains the focal point. The following exhibit features the artwork of over 20 local artists dispersed across the city through augmented and virtual reality technology. The augmented images of artwork can be visualized in either a large or miniature scale to fit into any location of your choosing – your living spaces or a public location. The interactive technology allows festival goers to manipulate each artwork into the surroundings of their choosing or include each piece as a backdrop for personal photographs. The streaming portal carries 21 projects. Among the 21 projects, two that are worth viewing include:
Primaveral was created by Whyishnave Suthagar to visualize the themes of the introduction of spring. This work incorporates Augmented Reality (AR) technology to highlight the regeneration and renewal of life, drawing from Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The installation artist illustrates the themes of springtime through the use of butterflies; by aiming one’s phone towards the sky, crystallized butterflies appear against a rainbow reflection.
Jordan Stranger’s Healing Bears reflects on relationships humans have with animals in their environment. The installation incorporates virtual reality (VR) technology to communicate the traditions of the Stranger’s Indigenous culture. He explores the notion of healing communities through reflecting on the importance of life, acceptance and culture.
For those of you that missed the digital exhibit, all content has been made available October 3rd through October 12th on the event’s webpage.
Nuit Live was showcased exclusively at the Nuit Blanche digital launch. The 12-hour livestream took the form of an all-night exclusive TV station featuring an array of mixed media ranging from DJ sets to video art and archival image compilations. The livestream was created with visualizers provided by the Data Visualization Studio with supplementing soundscapes. The 12-hour event showcases 20 commission and existing pieces produced by national and international artists.
Nuit Talks aims to educate attendees of the state of the creative and cultural economy, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The streaming platform discusses the existence of art in public spaces, and the communities formed through the presence of the arts sector. The platform also discusses the interpretation of the art as well as the artists featured in Nuit Blanche’s 15th anniversary. Some of the live presentations featured the following topics: Public Engagement with Outdoor Festivals; Exhibitions, Galleries and Social Distancing; Digital Pivoting Overuse of the Screen.
For those of you who missed the livestream, recorded talks are available on-demand through the Nuit Blanche website.
Nuit Podcasts – Belonging to Place
Nuit Blanche premiered the first three episodes of their Nuit Podcasts – Belonging to Place at the virtual launch. The podcast features interactions among artists, elders, arts leaders, and scholars dispersed around the globe. Conversations covered the transformation and future of public art in various areas – between cultures, communities, and the environment. The discussions had been spread out among a series of ten 40-minute stimulating podcasts. Future episodes will be made available in 2021.
Despite the emergency support funding provided by the federal government, the future of creative and cultural industries remains ambiguous. As of recent years, the largest percentage of workers in Canada work within the creative economy. Canada’s cultural and creative sectors are heavily intertwined with the country’s economic footprint. The exact weight of the pandemic’s impact to Canada’s cultural industries have yet to be determined; however, based on previous demand forecasting, the ramifications are not likely to be slim. According to Statistics Canada, in 2017, Canada’s creative and cultural industries contributed $59 billion to the country’s gross domestic product.
In past years, Nuit Blanche has generated over $443 million economic value to the city of Toronto. However, pandemic protocol places restrictions on the expansion of the creative economy. As a major contributor to the country’s overall GDP, the abandonment of the creative and cultural economy has greatly contributed to the decline of the country’s economy.
Hopefully, in the coming years, Nuit Blanche will return to streets and virtual spaces more extravagant than ever. The absence of the illuminating nightlong festival hit Toronto hard; serving as a reminder of the overlooked luxury it has been in past years to celebrate art in public spaces, surrounded by family and friends. The COVID-19 crisis has demanded a global state of loneliness, dramatically minimizing the celebration of culture as well as the well-being and quality of life of people everywhere. Responding to the pandemic restrictions in place, an online exclusive Nuit Blanche left Toronto to be swallowed by the night – making streets feeling eerily emptier.