Toronto’s State of Continuum:
Nuit Blanche 2019

As Toronto's Nuit Blanche enters its 14th year, the festival invites artists to respond to the theme of "continuum."

The atmosphere is giddy as I walk through the districts of Toronto during the Nuit Blanche. As an uninitiated attendee, I had no real inclination of what to expect from the festival. The excitement, however, walking under the shadows and bright city lights alongside the crowds was infectious. The premise of the Nuit Blanche felt a little rebellious. Perhaps that was why there was such an excitable—if a little mischievous—buzz. The Nuit Blanche is Toronto’s all-night art festival. From 7 p.m. until 7 a.m., you are free to roam the streets of Toronto and take advantage of bars or eateries with extended closing hours while soaking up an array of works from contemporary artists.

Although pulling a beer and pretzel-fuelled art bender was certainly appealing, time did not permit me to stay for the Nuit Blanche’s entirety. With this in mind, I chose a window of time and stayed more or less in the same district. I began my adventure in Down Town and decided afterward to make my way over the district of Fort York.

The piece that seemed to be attracting large amounts of attention in downtown was Daniel Arsham’s “Lunar Garden.” It became clear why that was the case. Following the current of the crowds, I found myself enclosed in Nathan Phillips Square and facing an immense lunar sculpture. Arsham crafted several individual Japanese-inspired rock gardens. At the head of the gardens stood a 30-foot orb, illuminating the entire square. Responding to this year’s theme of “continuum,” Arsham’s sand within the gardens was in a state of being arranged in ‘hōkime’ style by a team of groundskeepers. The isolated space created by Arsham’s installation felt surreal in both its scale and effect.

Moving onto Fort York, I entered the main exhibition within the district. Pieces exhibited as part of “Creation: Destruction” were mainly located across the Bentway, a stretch of land underneath the Gardiner Expressway. Travelling forward, several performances and installations are featured in the Bentway before crowds are directed up a bank onto a plain hosting further pieces.

The first and among most arresting pieces was Gareth Lichty’s “Hoarding” located in the Skate Trail region of the Bentway.

A vast installation spread across several of the support columns of the Gardiner Expressway, Lichty’s installation was comprised of vibrant reams of hazard tape. A material that is typically used to ward people away from spaces, Lichty repurposes the tape to create an enclosure that seems to invite the observer into the environment it surrounds. Even with this sense of invitation, there is a peculiar impression of contradiction between the harsh lighting and material choice and the sensation an observer feels inside the installation. It felt to me to create a cocoon-like effect, sheltering individuals from the outside and creating a threshold between the surroundings of the Bentway.

Moving on from “Hoarding,” I reached the end of the Bentway and arrived at “Halcyon” by dance artist Francesca Chudnoff. The performance is supported by a sound and video installation. Under a dark, brooding blue light, dancers within the piece explored the “relationship between desire and distance.” Clad in reflective jumpsuits, the dancers moved in slow, measured, and seemingly spontaneous motions—gravitating toward each other before splitting apart again. Compared to the bustling crowds darting and meandering the stretch of the Bentway, the pace and ambience of the performance provided a stark and intimate contrast. Labouring and performing for all 12 hours of the Nuit Blanche, the dancers pushed the physical limitations of their bodies and conformed to an idea of “continuum” cast against an infinitely looping and glitching video.

Leaving Fort York’s “Creation: Destruction,” I investigated an independent project that seemed to respond to the theme of “continuum” in a less abstract way compared to other offerings. Crossing over a set of railway tracks from the Bentway, I ambled up Bathurst Street and arrived at Niagara Street. Here, “Lake Effects Project” hosted a “Eulogy for the Coffin Factory.” The eulogy commemorates the “passing” of 89-101 Niagara Street, a site originally purposed for casket production. Originally owned by the National Casket Co. until 1973, the site became an essential space for Toronto’s creatives from the ’70s up until present day. Rooms were used as studios and creative workspaces, providing a crucial environment to incubate and develop Toronto’s art scenes over the decades. However, like much of Toronto’s landscape, this building has been procured for the purpose of redevelopment. Although unclear at this stage what this will entail, it is considered—and understandably so—a severe loss for Toronto’s art scene. To commemorate the space, 24 coffins had been created by various artists who have at some point resided within the Coffin Factory. Displayed outside the building itself, the coffins demonstrated a wide diversity of responses and artistic styles.

As a tragic loss to the Toronto art scene, the eulogy demonstrates the constant, whether positive or negative, shifting and repurposing of spaces in the city. This concern, or rather anxiety, seems to be a sensation that is felt across the city, even outside of the realm of art.

With the rising condos surrounding the city and the gentrification of districts pushing out residents, the idea of “continuum” felt real, relevant and appropriate as the theme for this year’s Nuit Blanche. It helped demonstrate that, for better or for worse, what we deem permanent or essential fixtures shift and are in a state of flux. Like the skyline of Toronto, London, Paris, or New York, our spaces are victim to the constant inertia of continuum.

Words by George Ellerby

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