For eleven months beginning in November 2012, I had the great privilege to curate OCAD University‘s 2013 exhibition for Scotiabank Nuit Blanche. OCAD University is one of Nuit Blanche’s most prominent independent projects; while not a part of the official curated zones, it remains a popular Nuit Blanche site. My primary goal in curating this show was to have a strong conceptual current that would bind the individual projects together, while remaining fun, interactive and spectacular. I wanted the show to be enjoyable on multiple levels. For those just looking to have an entertainment experience, and for those looking to have a meaningful art experience–Gather would deliver.
I mulled over two conceptual possibilities. I thought I would be most comfortable working with projects in the spirit of my undergraduate thesis, tinygrants. I imagined a marketplace of interventions, endurance performances and installations, layered with affiliated events like an all-night radio show with artist and visitor interviews.
At the same time, I had become increasingly interested in how people conceive of culture and nature as wildly separate things. To me, it began to seem absurd that an ant hill be so easily considered natural, yet our own built environments are so easily defined as cultural (while in direct opposition to nature; as something that erases nature). As natural subjects, our creations should also be considered natural. The culture>nature hierarchy was annoying to me, and there were lots of great artists whose work could be thought of as resisting these boundaries.
I decided it would be less risky to go with my first idea. But once I started my research, everything fit into the second.
I ran with it.
Here’s a promo video that OCAD U put together while we were installing the show:
Now, onto the exhibition. Since the audience was moved through the space processionally, I’ll present the work in the same order.
Beginning outside under the canopy of Will Alsop’s Sharp Centre for Design was Shannon Gerard’s Carl Wagan Bookmobile in Butterfield Park.
The Carl Wagan Bookmobile is a nomadic print studio, library, community centre and gallery that brings people together in the name of publishing. For Scotiabank Nuit Blanche at OCAD U, Shannon created an urban campsite, complete with the camper van, a bonfire where visitors could roast marshmallows, and a tent under which spontaneous drum circles erupted throughout the night. Shannon enlisted the help of several scouts, who, in costume, guided visitors through various activities and oaths so that they could earn specially printed badges that Shannon handmade with her students at OCAD U.
Visitors entered OCAD U’s main building at 100 McCaul Street through the bookmobile installation in Butterfield Park. Inside the Lambert Lounge was Annyen Lam’s Great Good Place, a large cube structure, situated in the middle of the darkened room. The structure housed a number of paper cut landscapes, all of which were visible through various openings.
Annyen uses expert layering techniques to create depth, drama and an intense sense of realism in her papercuts. She has designed unique bamboo grids, from which sheets of paper hang, and uses lighting, mirrors and plexiglass to enhance her compositions. Even though the pieces are small and delicate, they are absolutely spectacular in their detail and fragility.
Visitors would make their way around this large box, peeking into the detailed vignettes as they became visible. The piece required a more intimate mode of looking, and I loved the contrast of stepping into this quiet, darkened space from the urban campsite just outside the door.
Christine Swintak’s Anxious Auditorium occupied the main auditorium at OCAD U. Swintak created a chaotic lecture scene, where an 8-foot tall spitball lectured in front of the podium, while its adjacent PowerPoint presentation rapidly flipped through slides upon slides of blob-like things. Three oversized sheets of ruled paper (hand drawn by Swintak – they are also double sided!) sat in sofas as if on a panel at a conference. Over the sound system, a cacophony of ringtones, jeers and whispers flooded the room while the spitball droned on, “Blah, blah, blah blah blah… blah blah… blah” (which of course also sounds like, “Blob, blob, blob blob blob….”). Giant receipts littered the floors. Pools of coffee spilled from the bleachers. Garments and other junk, presumably left behind by disinterested students, lay strew about the seats.
Upstairs in the Great Hall was Relay Studio Inc.’s Stoke. Using custom software, multiple projectors, and over 50 handmade projection surfaces, Relay Studio‘s Andrew Lovett-Barron, Eliot Callahan, Nick Crampton and Adam Carlucci recreated a bonfire by building a large platform concealing a powerful subwoofer, surrounded by a forest of suspended screens. As visitors stepped onto the platform, their movements would “stoke” the fire – the projections would activate, the subwoofer would tremble beneath the platform, and the music would increase in volume and intensity. The sound bled into the lobby below, so as visitors were making their way upstairs from the Auditorium, they would hear the ambient sounds of the environment ahead.
Take a look at this great video that Relay Studio had made to document their wonderful project:
Stoke was extraordinarily effective in embedding what is typically an outdoor experience, into an interior space. Just as people would gather around a bonfire at a camp site, visitors gathered around the fire in the Great Hall to engage in a social and collective experience. The image, light and sound were mesmerizing.
Finally, in Central hall, was Marc De Pape’s The Chime. The Chime is an extraordinary generative instrument that Marc invented for his graduate work in OCAD U’s Digital Futures program. Just as a traditional wind chime responds to the motion of the wind and emits sound, The Chime responds to several inputs, including temperature, light, motion, proximity and sound, and outputs custom musical compositions whose various elements are modified by the environment. The temperature of the space, for example, changes the key in which the composition is played.
For Gather, Marc placed the instrument in the centre of the room, surrounding it with eight speakers in a circular formation, along with spotlights to illuminate the chime. Marc also projected the visualization he created, which helped to explain how the instrument was interpreting the multitude of stimuli in the room.
Above all else, The Chime creates beautiful, ambient music. You must check out the composition on Marc’s website to hear different iterations of the music from previous installations. It was a great piece with which to end the show, as visitors were overcome with a sense of relaxation and calm before stepping back out into the wild night of Nuit Blanche.
The excitement of the exhibition kept me awake for way longer than is considered normal, and the heartbreaking process of tearing it all down began promptly at sunrise.
All photos by Angie Griffiths. Used with permission.