I went out for Toronto’s Nuit Blanche again this year. Might be the last time. For those living in cities without a Nuit Blanche, it’s a sundown-to-sunrise event with a hundred art stations scattered throughout the city. The art varies from regular sculptures to performance pieces to outdoor and indoor movies projected onto irregular screens, with many of the works having light-related themes.
Mostly, though, Nuit Blanche seems to be a chance for teenagers to flood the city, smoke pot, and engage in low-level mischief. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But in terms of showing off gloriously well-executed, thought provoking, or transcendent artwork, Nuit Blanche falls way flat.
The problem wasn’t that the works were bad. Among the well done exhibits was an oversized array of blinking space invaders, a collage of movie clips accompanied by dramatic music, and Laurent Gagnon’s wonderfully appealing rusty techno-obelisk. The French do love their phallic symbols, don’t they? Almost as much as the Americans or their tomb-robbing English forefathers.
To some extent the event is a victim of its own success. The huge crowds, which barely diminish even as the night wears on, make for long lines to see many of the exhibits, especially the more participatory ones. Combined with a highly disperse layout, plus a program guide and signage which encourage checklist touring, and the night can very easily become about consuming as much interesting art as possible. It’s Disneyland, with the animatronic actors from Mr. Toads Wild Ride replaced by live performance artists.
We consume art, of course, but art isn’t consumption. Art is experience. Consumption is the pedestrian cousin of art, bearing the same relationship to its experiential cousin as a carefully packaged vacation tour does to travel. Nuit Blanche is, above all else, a carefully packaged experience. All of the artwork was official, and clearly signed, the only rogue elements to slip through the cracks were a couple buskers trying to be heard over the din, and a living batman statue. Crowd members were tourists, not participants in the mode of festivals like Burning Man. At most they dressed up in oversized hats or a funky dresses as they traveled from one station to the next, documenting everything with cell phone photos and tweets.
Even the more thoughtful exhibits seemed to have their scope reduced and their environments setup to encourage quick-hit consumption. The fantastic movie collage, which was projected up and all the way around a giant funnel, looped through its content in just a couple minutes, hardly enticing the audience to spend much time lingering on the bare concrete floors to watch it.
The best exhibit I saw seemed to play with this very dynamic of art as bite-sized consumable. It featured a large translucent tent stocked with thousands of different “products,” each one really an empty shell of packaging stuffed with glowing LED lights. Customers could wander into the store and grab an ethereal-looking single-serve box of Rice Krispies, then have it attached to a bamboo rod to hold in front of them like a lantern. From both outside and in, the exhibit shone like a multicolor oasis of (literally) hallow consumerism, a thousand points of light waiting for their diaspora into the crowds, serving double-duty as souvenir trinkets which proved your entrance into the gift shop, and beacons to light your way to the next officially sanctioned, carefully produced event.
I will be stronger. Maybe.
Over the past few weeks I’ve dropped a couple pounds. Not much, but it feels good, like getting back into fighting shape. My one and only official amateur bout, 15-plus years back, I got creamed. Went up against a golden-boy with his own embroidered uniform and cheering squad. I had on a borrowed sweaty tank top from another fighter: my own shirt wasn’t regulation cut. I never went down, but at the end of three rounds the winner was clear, and it wasn’t me.
Nowadays boxing has no mojo; all the excitement in fighting has moved over to MMA. Can you name any boxer who’s held a title in the last 10 years? Strangely, even as the sport is waning, movies about boxers just keep coming out.
The most interesting fights, of course, aren’t boxing or MMA, but ideological battles, relationship dramas, and our own internal struggles. In the ring there’s always one official (if not always undisputed) winner. Outside the ring winners are harder to peg, especially so when we fight with ourselves. If we win, then who lost?
Excess weight has never been that big of an issue for me. I struggle with other kinds of flab and decay and battle a sweet tooth for mind treats. No matter. The fight goes on, long after our prime is over, and our big fat bellies (real or symbolic) hang out, with blood stains on our frayed shirts set in for good.
Digital artwork above from Chong Roden.
In cartoon land, with very few exceptions, the young are eternally young and the old never die. Celluloid images fade in color, but never in form; the zeros and ones of a JPEG keep their youthful appearance for as long as the files stay uncorrupted.
We tend to like the iconic images of our youth untarnished, unaffected by the natural cycle of decay. I suspect that aging cartoons would ruin the nostalgia felt by some, and that the added layer of realism gives others the queasy feeling of staring into the uncanny valley.
For my own part, I would love to see an explosion in artwork depicting aged versions of cartoon characters, to compliment the untooning phenomenon.
Supposing that Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble were 25 years old when The Flintstones made their TV debut in 1960, and if time and gravity took its normal course, they would turn 76 this year and no doubt look just like illustrator Matthias Seifarth portrays them.
In the lonely images of John Brosio, indifferent everymen pose before backdrops of impending doom and supernatural horror. Tornadoes ravage suburbs and giant shellfish wreak havoc. My favorite is the image above, titled Fatigue. Lit like a Magritte and every bit as surreal, I imagine the octopus represents the worker’s inner projection on arriving home to his domestic life. Does he really want to go inside, does he have a choice?
Obviously I haven’t been posting much recently. I’ve got a problem. Others have written before about the perils of spending all your time connected to the internet. The NADD, the ADD, the email twitch. I have a related problem. Perhaps specific to the particular way I work online, but I suspect others might be having similar issues as well….
David Jablow has a fantastic series of Do It Yourself Doodles at flickr. They all feature the same incomplete woman completed and woven into dozens of imaginative scenes. Shown above is my favorite detail from the set.