My Nuit Blanche Adventure: Aftermath

My Nuit Blanche Adventure: Part 4: Aftermath

It is October 3rd. For the first time in weeks, I wake up feeling well-rested. It is 4:00 Sunday afternoon. Normally I would feel awful for sleeping in this late, but after last night, 4:00pm is a good time to be up. I’ve got absolutely nothing planned for the day. At last, I’ve got some free time; but what should I do with it? Well, I guess it’s time for some much-needed website maintenance, and I should probably catch up on my email, which has been sorely neglected these past few months. A lazy catch-up day sounds about right.

Of course, within 5 minutes of turning on my laptop, I forget all about the website and email, and I find myself surfing the web, looking for reviews of this year’s Nuit Blanche, hoping that someone has said something nice about Take a Picture. I find some discussions about Nuit Blanche, but every time I hit ‘refresh’ more comments have come in. Maybe I should wait on this for a bit.

I make a cup of tea and go over the memories from last night. I ask myself, “What did I experience last night that is truly blog-worthy?”

The praise and complements we had received felt wonderful. The expressions on people’s faces as they figured out what to do made all the long hours feel worthwhile. But for me, the very best part of the whole night were the reactions of several cocky, arrogant, and initially dismissive people. They were the kind of people who liked to talk a whole lot, but didn’t like to read instructions, and never though to pull out a camera while attending an event titled, “Take a Picture”.

Groups of people would walk in together, and one of these group members would be one of these cocky, arrogant fellows. He would sarcastically dismiss the blank canvases in front of him. He would tell us, “Wow, you certainly must have worked hard on this. Yea, I can just see how much work goes into doing nothing. My mind is blown…I can’t believe they let you get away with something like this”.
While he was busy ranting about our apparent laziness, (and it was always a ‘he’, so my use of gendered pronouns here is accurate) the rest of the group had already pulled out their cameras, and they had figured out what to do with them. They would interrupt the angry rant to show their cocky friend the hidden images. The cocky guy would stop dead, and instantly become the most vocal fan of the work. The look on their faces during that moment of realization was priceless. Watching people try to pull their foot out of their mouth is very amusing; those moments turned out to be my highlights for the evening.

The comments on Nuit Blanche were still pouring in, so I used this time to type up parts one and two of this My Nuit Blanche Adventure series. I grabbed my scraps of paper with scrawled on notes, and tried to make sense of them. I’ve gotten so used to typing everything and reading printed material that reading hand written text, even my own, has become a challenge. I write up the rough drafts for my next two blog entries.

OK, time to hit the blogosphere. Let’s see what people thought of this year’s show. As I read the reviews and comments, I get a strange conflicted feeling. It doesn’t look good for Nuit Blanche 2010. The general mood I see people expressing seems to be, “a lot of hype, but very little delivery”. People’s expectations were set rather high, and the main events failed to live up to them. On social networking sites, discussions among artists focused on the unsanctioned, unofficial exhibitions that were set up by people who are completely unrecognized in the contemporary art scene. Some of these displays drew larger, more excited crowds than the official events. Comments highly critical of these people were made. My comment that, “this just means we have to work harder and make better stuff for next year” was ignored by the other artists. Apparently, name recognition, not making good art is all that matters to these artists.

This disappointed tone to the reviews is a bit of a surprise to me. Everyone at our venue seemed to really love what they were seeing, and they all had nothing but nice things to say. I don’t recall seeing a single disappointed guest. So even though people enjoyed Take a Picture, our display was attached to something that overall, the public didn’t seem to like very much. I found this news upsetting, because I want people to love, value, and appreciate art.

Some artists I’ve talked to seem to have a condescending attitude towards the ‘unwashed masses’, while I see the disconnection between fine art and regular people’s lives as a bad thing. It’s a tricky balance; on one hand, just like any professional field these days, fine art is highly specialized. Would you expect the general public to understand the significance of iridium deposits at the K/T barrier? Why should the public be expected to understand what is meant when an artist talks about “a dialogue between some poorly-executed artwork, and some idea no one cares about”? Demanding that artists produce work that is accessible to the lowest common denominator of the general public is asking them to produce far less than they are capable of, and the result would be some very, very uninteresting art. On the other hand, if contemporary art were put on trial, there is a good chance that much of it would be found guilty of deliberate obscurantism. Some art is difficult because it deals with difficult ideas, and some art is difficult because it has to hide its lack of ideas.

Translating art speak into plain speak is a lot of fun. It’s amazing what happens when a seemingly complex idea is reduced to it’s simplest form. I was explaining this to my Mom on the phone the day after the event:

Nuit Blanche was cool, a lot of the art was neat, but I don’t get what the guide book is saying. The guide says that ‘this piece deconstructs our notions of x, and manages to find commonality between diametrically opposed concepts y and z. The artist invites the audience to reconsider y, within the context of z through the framework of x.’ What does that mean, Kyle?

Mom, that just means that the artist has thrown together something that isn’t very good, and the idea is vague and empty. But rather than admitting that the art isn’t very good, the artist chooses to describe it in a very complicated, so people will not understand it. When people see the art, rather than risk appearing stupid by admitting that they don’t get it, everyone just plays along and pretends that it’s good.

I don’t know if I have the right idea of what Nuit Blanche is supposed to be, but in my mind, I see Nuit Blanche as an event that showcases spectacular, remarkable art to the public.
By spectacular and remarkable, I don’t mean ‘synonymous with good’ I mean work that is a spectacle, work that is worthy of being remarked upon. If the artwork gets people to stop, point, say “wow”, then pull out their camera, then the art meets my spectacle criteria, and if they talk to someone else about it, then the art meets the remarkable criteria.

Regular old paintings and sculptures aren’t going to cut it at Nuit Blanche. Video projection is barely passable. Unless they are doing something else to take the projection to another level, video art is just YouTube content played outside. Nuit Blanche art should be a giant interactive Lite Brite, playing pong on city hall, having the CN Tower lights react to a DJ spinning records, giant plastic bottle waterfalls, a 30-foot flame thrower controlled by motion sensors, invisible paintings that only a camera can see, thick fog and coloured flood lights; these are all spectacles worthy of a remark. This is what I think Nuit Blanche should be.

If a work is conceptually impenetrable, or the visuals are cringe-inducingly poor, then it is not spectacular or remarkable, it is pretentious garbage. And calling it garbage isn’t that far off from the public’s perception of art. As I’m reading the reviews, I come across this image of a pile of garbage at a coffee shop. The person titled the image, “Tim Horton’s art installation”. When calling a pile of garbage an art installation passes for humour, when people equate ‘fine art’ to a literal pile of garbage, I take it as a sign that artists have been doing something horribly wrong for a very long time. This perception needs to change. I think one way we can change the public’s perception of art would be to stop showing over-hyped inaccessible pretentious garbage at a festival intended for the general public.

I’m reading more and more bad reviews, and my spirits aren’t all that high, but I keep on reading. BlogTO has a “best of and worst of” list for each zone. Lets see what made the list. I start with Zone C (my zone), and notice that Take a Picture made the list! Not only did we make the best-of list, but the writer actually got the point of the work. I’m used to critics using art as a jumping-off point for their own pet interest, so to see an art writer actually talking about the art is a refreshing change.

Thanks to that glowing review, my friends in Whoville say my small ego grew three sizes that day.

The long days and sleepless nights were totally worth it.

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Kyle Clements

Kyle Clements is a Toronto-based artist and nerd. During his thesis at the Ontario College of Art and Design, Kyle began working on his Urban Landscapes series, a body of work that aims to capture the energy and excitement of life in the fast-paced urban environment. After graduating from OCAD in 2006, Kyle spent a year living in Asia to gather source material and experience in a different kind or urban environment. His work is vibrant and colourful. Whether painting the harsh Northern landscape, or capturing the overwhelming buzz of life in the city, his acrylic paintings hover between representation and abstraction.

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