Culture & Conversation

Early to Bed, Early to Rise

The welcome mat is out, should you decide to hit the 401 for Toronto’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, beginning at 7:03 p.m. sharp next Saturday, September 29. Expect a different kind of event from Montreal’s annual all-night art party, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary next February. The TO version promises to be a little more cerebral, but in the spirit of the international Nuit Blanche movement, equally close to overwhelming.

Launched in 2006 and run by the City of Toronto’s Special Events office, Scotiabank Nuit Blanche has grown quickly, attracting more than a million people last year. How do Hogtonians manage to stay up so late?

Event manager Julian Sleath says he’s noticed an unexpected trend shaping up. It seems more and more people are going to bed early, then getting up around 3 a.m. to catch the plethora of free museums, art exhibits and commissioned works spread throughout the city. That way, they avoid the midnight rush and are able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast  before dashing off to work.

TO’s welcome mat consists not only of hundreds of free events, but a discount on air travel (20% off with Porter Airlines), and hotel accommodation packages ranging from $249 for a room at the Royal York (“official host hotel for the British monarchy”), or $900 at the Ritz-Carleton, including a spa package and meal credit. Or, if you’re really planning to stay up all night, it might be wise to leave your suitcase at the modestly priced Madison Manor, $90.

A Scotsman with scads of experience in pulling off all manner of large-scale art events (including opera), Mr. Sleath says he has attended Nuit Blanche in Montreal a few times, and can verify that the spirit of Toronto’s event is noticeably different. It’s decidedly about the visual arts – conceptual, installation, dominating over performance.

The  founding mission is taken seriously: to break down the cathedral wall barriers between art and the public, to de-sanctify the act of experiencing art. There is no “quartier des spectacle” phenomenon; events are spread out, like Toronto itself, over three zones with more than 150 projects to explore. The menu was devised by five curators, who selected participants from hundreds of submissions and curated other events.

Toronto’s City Hall is one of the main venues, with Museum At the End of the World, a series of events built around the theme of end times, humanity’s penchant for imagining apocalypse, and how crisis inspires creativity. Vancouver visual artist and novelist Douglas Coupland has created the Museum of Rapture, a maze of signage and living tableaux exploring the mind-body dichotomy. From the programme note: “Coupland believes that technology has changed us so thoroughly that most of what we do in our daily lives would be impossible to even explain to people 50 years ago.”

Discussion and debate is very much a part of the Museum at the End of the World, which occupies all corners of the City Hall building and spills out into Nathan Phillips Square. Some of the most heated discussions will no doubt arise around the appearance of Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, whose lectures (sometimes rants) on everything from the future of humanity to the potent imagery of garbage has made him a household name, at least in intellectual households.

Fans consider Žižek one of the few truly original thinkers around today; detractors dismiss him as “the Borat of philosophy.” Either way, he’s sure to draw a crowd to the City Hall chambers for Symposium, Until the End of the World, from 7:30 pm to 1 am. Žižek is speaking on the theme of capital. Parental guidance is advised.

For a full line-up of events, check out the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche site. And watch Rover for an on-site report.


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