"Sometimes I think people just do weird things, call it art, and then expect us to think it's art. When really it's just some stupid thing they did in their spare time. It doesn't actually mean anything."
We hear this conversation behind us. A French Canadian accent and the sound of footsteps. We are at Nuit Blanche, which has been marketed as "a free, all-night contemporary art thing."
The website describes the event like this:
The literal English translation of Nuit Blanche is "White Night," a term used to describe a natural phenomenon that occurs at high latitudes where the dusk meets the dawn. It refers to a night without darkness; a night for new discoveries; a sleepless night.
From sunset at 7:01 pm on September 30 to sunrise at 7:15 am on October 1, 2006, Toronto will be buzzing with activity as we break down the barriers between art and public space. For one sleepless night the familiar will be discarded and Toronto will become an artistic playground for a series of exhilarating contemporary art experiences.
In theory, it's a fabulous idea, and on our first drive-by, we are exhilarated, immediately tuned into the pulse of energy on the street. Queen West is literally packed with people. White neon structures illuminate the crisp darkness of the night sky and The Drake is a buzzing mass of brainy techno and flashing lights.
There is a brick wall with pairs of white sneakers nailed two by two in neat rows along it. A car wash has been co-opted and turned into a mini movie theatre, pictures are projected onto the back wall, and folding chairs are set inside. In Trinity Bellwoods park, usually filled with the homeless, albino squirrels, and old men playing chess, a large tent has been erected. We walk though the sounds of water, under a canopy of white lights and into a makeshift outdoor lounge.
"Forget the canopy," Marv urges, on the other end of my cellphone, "it's a waste of time, come to the pool."
The pool is steamy, muggy and dark, filled with swimmers bobbing eerily under dull coloured lights. A DJ adds spacey, ambient textures to the room, and spectators sit in the bleachers of the humid room watching them. It's all just a little weird and a little pointless. It is, after all, "a free all-night contemporary art thing."
It's 4AM, so we hike back to the car and head for home. But I feel strangely flat. I feel the same as the French-Canadian pedestrian behind me. To me, this is not art. This is just a bunch of stuff...an intellectual exercise about deconstruction and public spaces. The problem is that I don't feel anything. Not irritation, not disgust, not sadness. This is all in my head. My heart and gut are untouched. And isn't the best art visceral, emotional and human?