exploring Nuit Blanche 2011

This year’s was only my second Nuit Blanche. Even though I’ve lived in Toronto my whole life, I spent four years at Queen’s in Kingston, meaning I missed out on the annual event. This year’s adventures were infinitely better than last year, likely due to the slightly warmer temps and because we abided by the cardinal rule for a good time at Nuit Blanche: don’t try to do it with a huge group. [At the end, I’ll share my top 5 ways to have a great time]

Although Mike and I had planned to go it alone after last year’s huge group debacle, we had a last minute change in plans. In a great turn of events, we met up with my old roommate Bridget and her boyfriend Jeff.

Our first stop was the Bata Shoe Museum for the CFC’s Media Lab. I’d really been looking forward to this group of installations, since they were designed to show the relationship between human emotion and digital. Along with cool installations featuring the BlackBerry PlayBook and Microsoft Kinect, there was the room full of origami cranes. This really drew me in, since the online world was asked to tweet a secret about the future which would be folded into a crane. The range of “secrets” was pretty interesting. Here’s a hint: mine involved Choos.

While the boys spent a bit of extra time with the tech, Bridget and I took a peek at the JUNO exhibit. I know this isn’t really Nuit Blanche-related, but I couldn’t resist. Little cousins, this one’s for you. These are Justin Bieber’s shoes.

On our way to our next must-see exhibit, we walked right into a roving rave. Along with the contact high (just kidding!) we were gifted with condoms and offered beer from an industrious entrepreneur on a bike.

The beauty of Nuit Blanche is in stumbling across installations you weren’t planning on visiting. On our way to the Heart Machine, we came across this video installation in Queen’s Park and video room juxtaposing the Western rat race with third world countries on UofT campus.

When we arrived at The Heart Machine, it was a welcome blast of heat. The machine encouraged visitors to create synchronized bursts of fire. People seemed to be drawn to this exhibit like, excuse the cliche, moths to a flame. You could feel the installation from blocks away, with the fire reflecting off the buildings in the vicinity.

Finally, it was time to head to the Distillery District. We boarded the shuttle at Yonge/Dundas Square which was buzzing with hundreds of participants. The streets were rammed with people north and south of the square.

Once at the Distillery, we made a beeline for the cafe – The Sweet Escape – where we picked up hot drinks and decadent sweets last year. [Thanks to Robin for reminding me what the cafe was called!] Mike & Bridget each grabbed a smores bar, my favourite from last year, while I had a red velvet cupcake and a very necessary espresso. The goodies here never disappoint – make sure to visit if you’re ever in the district!

At the vaudeville circus, we told two white lies or a scandal to gain admission and took in the energetic atmosphere. I’m more than a little terrified of clowns, but I’m happy to report none crossed my path. Instead, we were caressed by puppets and unspeaking girls alike, with a fluffy white puppet getting more than a little friendly with Jeff’s leg.

After a few tries at carnival games, our pager went off and it was time for well-deserved bevvies at Mill St.

En route to our final installations of the night, we got to take in the sight of Old City Hall, bathed in light. It’s sights like these that really make me love my city. We took in the Intensity installation, paparazzi robots and a commentary on modern relationships on our way home.

All in all, we had a fantastic night. I’m a huge fan of interactive installations, so I really enjoyed the CFC media lab and the circus. We unfortunately missed out on Food Truck Eats in the Distillery since we had the catch the bus, but hopefully there will be another chance to check them out. What were your favourite installations?

Top 5 ways to have a great time at Nuit Blanche

  1. Pick your group wisely.
    As I mentioned before, my experience last year wasn’t as great as this one. That was mostly due to the fact that we were super ambitious and tried to experience the night with 10+ people. Pare down and make sure you have a buddy.
  2. Dress for the weather (and the walk!)
    Layer up and don’t forget your scarf, mittens and even earmuffs if you get cold easily. It’s easy to be miserable when you’re freezing, your feet hurt or your purse is falling off your shoulder. Be practical – it isn’t a fashion show!
  3. Take time to rest & fuel up
    Walking around all night is overrated. Taking the time to grab a warm drink or a drink in a warm bar is one of the best things you can do. It’s hard to keep going for hours on end without a bit of rest. There are rest stops in each zone and food vendors all around – take advantage!
  4. Plan your route
    Although spontaneity is a great part of any successful Nuit Blanche evening, it’s good to have a bit of a plan. I used the Plan My Night app on the official website and it was incredibly helpful. We didn’t see everything nor did we stick to the plan, but it was great to have an idea of where our must-sees were and a potential route we could take.
  5. Have an open mind (and make sure to bring your camera!)
    You’re not going to understand everything you see, but with an open mind and a good sense of humour anything can be fun.  Make sure you have your camera (and smartphone) all charged up so you can remember the evening – all the installations can turn into a bit of a blur after a couple hours!