Painting the Town Blanche

By: Hannah Karpinski

I’ve lived in Toronto all my life, so Nuit Blanche has become a tradition for me. For the past three years, on the first Saturday of October, I’d wait until dark, and then hit the town for a sleepless night of art and culture. This year was no different. I set out with my mom, her two friends, their daughter, and my friend Kaia, who was visiting from Muskoka, where the only culture is a Thai restaurant and a Chinese buffet. All things considered, we were excited to see Toronto transformed by artists for the night. Equipped with coffee and Jolt Gum (which is now illegal in Australia due to its ridiculously high caffeine content), we got ready to paint the town Blanche.

Unfortunately, we were slightly disappointed, and were left wanting more. ‘More’ was definitely delivered in previous years. In 2008, we witnessed all of College Park flooded with zombies. And who could forget the 4 Letter Word Machine, a series of lamps, sixty five metres off the ground, that projected different four-letter words above the towers of City Hall just last year? It’s not to say that this year there weren’t any perks, but I had been expecting something more extravagant as a whole. There were a few installations and highlights to my night, however.

I started the evening in Zone A, at a project called Kortune Fookie, which was, as you might have guessed, a giant, open, wooden fortune cookie. At first, I didn’t see what it was, just a bunch of people crowded around a little platform. I pushed my way through and finally got a glimpse of the gaping wooden cookie, full of little machines and buttons. Now, Nuit Blanche is notorious for its artsy, bohemian feel, so when I heard people saying that it was broken, I expected it to be a distorted metaphor for today’s society (or something of the sort). I began to walk away, but a big button on the top of the cookie caught my eye. Expecting it to make some kind of funny noise, I pressed it, and, all of a sudden, gears began to shift inside. Soon, a little thing that looked like a receipt machine began spewing out tiny paper fortunes. The man standing beside it (the artist, I’m guessing), shouted out “It’s fixed!” and hastily started handing out the slips of paper. I grabbed a few, and as I slunk away, I passed a line of about a hundred or so people. Upon asking what it was for, one of them replied “The fortune cookie thing!”… Oops. Well, at least I know that if I had seen the line and had been courteous enough to stand at the end, I would’ve been waiting quite a while.

So, my group moved on to the huge boulder on Cumberland street, where Kent Monkman, a Cree drag artist, was holding a performance called Iskootäo, meaning ‘The Fire Devil’. There were ten-minute performances happening every half hour, and although we came when one had just finished, it was worth the wait for the next one. Monkman, dressed as his alter ego Miss Chief, delivered a shaking performance. His drum, along with the flashing red lights and the sound of a loud heartbeat projected through the speakers, transforming the Canadian Shield rock into a giant, pulsating heart. The ongoing beat could be felt through the ground. This fit right in to the eclectic style I liked at Nuit Blanche. Rather than just another boring light installation, here was a real artist. Unfortunately, the show was shut down at 11 to please the owners of nearby luxury condos.

The next place we visited that really caught my attention was the Hart House at the University of Toronto. They had a few really great installations, like Imponderabilia where one waits in line just to walk in between two naked bodies in a doorway, an ice-fishing shack, and a project titled 1, 000, 000 Canadian Pennies, selling for ten thousand dollars. Other than that, there wasn’t much more we wanted to see. Even if we did, the lines stretched out for hours.

After my mom’s friends left us, Kaia, my mom and I finished our route in the basement of 401 Richmond Street, where we were taught how to drink tea. OK, I’ll admit, that sounds super lame, but it was probably one of my favourite parts of the night. The tea ceremony was held every hour for three people only, and we were the lucky ones this time. It was forty-five minutes of eating rice dumplings, and drinking ancient Japanese culture.

At 3:30am, we called it a night. We went home, slightly disappointed, but were generally happy to have been there to take in the scene. Sure, we were all buzzed off coffee and gum, and even though we didn’t have much to spend it on, we had some fun. And I still love Nuit Blanche, so there’s no doubt I’ll be back next year. After all, it only comes around once every October. Who would want to sleep when you can be out in the city, even if only for one nuit?