Nuit Blanche T.O. amazes & inspires

Had a blast wandering the night and checking out the Nuit Blanche Parade exhibits and others with my good pal Lizzie Violet. I’ve included some highlights of the evening below.

What turned you on at Nuit Blanche this year?

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The Queen of the Parade, by Lisa Anita Wegner & Vanessa Lee Wishart. Multi-media artist/performer Lisa Anita Wegner, as the Queen, waves to the crowd from atop a 20-foot high gown.
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The Queen of the Parade – gown detail.
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Tortoise, by Michel de Broin. One of a series of assemblage sculptures made from picnic tables outside Campbell House. You could smell the cedar on this pleasantly cool fall evening. Warm cider was served there as well.
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Music Box, by John Dickson. A kinetic sculpture of musical instruments, creating eerie, otherworldly sounds all based on parts moving against each other.
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Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles installation at Nathan Phillips Square.
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Forever Bicycles installation with Toronto City Hall in the background.
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Ferris Wheel, by Katharine Harvey.
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Parallax, by Idea Design Collective. A luminous, beehive-like effect – all done with cardboard tubes and light.
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(X)Static Clown Factory, by Ruth Spitzer & Claire Ironside. An interactive performance installation, where folks were invited to come up and do the clowns’ work. I think peeps got paid in balloons.
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Woman in the crowd with neon light hula hoop.
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There is an elephant in the truck, an indie installation by Laurence Vallières. Another impressive piece done with cardboard.
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Hybrid Globe, by Arthur Wrigglesworth, Mohammad Mehdi Ghiyaei & Mojtaba Samimi.
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Ad Astra, one of three indie projects by [R]ed[U]ux Lab at the Bata Shoe Museum.
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RevitaLight – another piece utilizing cardboard – at Bata Shoe Museum.
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Light_Scape, an interactive light installation at Bata Shoe Museum.
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On the way to Artscape Wychwood Barns, we encountered this sculpture artist at work on Bloor Street West. He uses only centre of gravity and balance to build these pieces.
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Yep, that’s a concrete block balancing on top. And set on fire to great effect.
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An assistant moves a piece on Chess Set, by Blandford Gates, an indie installation at Artscape Wychwood Barns.
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Chess players Tomas Krnan (L) and Peter Vavrak (R) play blindfolded, giving verbal instructions to their respective assistants to move pieces on the board. And having to remember where every piece is.
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Multi-media artist Victoria Vitasek gets up close & personal in Anxiety exhibit @ Fran Hill Gallery

Multi-media artist Victoria Vitasek’s exhibition Anxiety opened at Fran Hill Gallery last night to a packed space full of friends, family, fellow artists and likely – given the gallery’s neighbourhood vibe – folks who live in the area. Anxiety is Vitasek’s MFA thesis exhibition – she’s studying at York University after doing her undergrad at OCAD – an extremely personal exploration of moments of anxiousness, recorded through photographs, video and text.

Visitors to the gallery can see the one of the three self-portrait photographs as they approach the entrance. When I arrived, I met Vitasek, who gave me a tour of the exhibit, along with background info on the project. I couldn’t help but think about the irony of opening such a personal, revealing exhibit, which then had to be defended in front of her professors – an anxiety-inducing act in itself – a point that, while unspoken, I don’t think was lost on either of us. After we finished chatting, I took the opportunity to wander and visit each piece myself, going back to revisit, winding through the crowd as the space filled up.

The larger of the two intimate exhibit spaces displays three photos, all taken during moments when Vitasek was feeling anxious. She wears no make-up and her long dark brown hair is tied back, her gaze fixed straight ahead, giving you the impression that she’s looking right at you. What is especially remarkable about these three pieces is the scale. Each is a 40” x 40” inkjet print close-up – larger than life, emotion writ large. In each case, the emotion itself has a still intensity to it that makes these photographs both challenging to view yet impossible to look away from.

On the wall between the two spaces are three framed questionnaire pages, taken from two anxiety questionnaires. Each has been filled out, boxes ticked and statements regarding behaviour rated on a scale, along with written descriptions of anxious moments addressed by cognitive therapy responses, along with the outcome. As I read through them, I couldn’t help but mentally fill out the questionnaires myself. How often do I avoid, and how anxious do I feel about, being alone? Being in a crowded space? Travelling?

In the smallest exhibit space are two monitors, facing each other from opposite sides of the room. Each plays a video on a two-minute loop with no sound – both close-ups of Vitasek’s face. One shows the artist doing a breathing exercise – in through the nose and out through the mouth. On the other, the artist has her hands full of milkweed, her face in the background as she gradually blows the white fluffy, seed covered stuff off her hands – the last tuft becoming airborne with one puff of breath. The videos speak to each other even as each speaks to the viewer – and I found that, after a few moments of standing in front of the breathing exercise, the rhythm of my breathing fell into sync with Vitasek’s. Of the two videos, the breathing exercise is also the most challenging to witness. It has a rawness to it, an intensity that stands in sharp contrast to the more whimsical milkweed blowing video, where the artist’s face is in background focus.

Anxiety is extremely raw, personal and brave project – and also very beautiful and universal. Everyone has had moments of feeling anxious, apprehensive or uneasy, with individual responses driven by an eagerness to please, fear of failure, fear of the unknown. It’s all just a matter of degrees.

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Artist Victoria Vitasek, as seen through the gallery window.
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One of the three large self-portrait photographs.
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The anxiety questionnaires.
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The breathing exercise video.
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Blowing milkweed video.
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Vitasek speaks with some of the opening night visitors.
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Artist Victoria Vitasek and gallery owner Fran Hill.

Anxiety is up until April 20 at Fran Hill Gallery (285 Rushton Road, Toronto – St. Clair/Rushton Rd., west of Bathurst). Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. or by appointment.

Current & upcoming visual arts feasts

Wanted to shout out some current and upcoming visual art exhibits – in Toronto and Ottawa:

Photographer Pamela Williams has an exhibit up at Sunderland Hall GalleryFirst Unitarian (175 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto – west of Avenue Road, south side of St. Clair). Running now until April 21. Hours: Sun. Noon – 3 p.m., Tues. 5 – 9 p.m., Wed. 5 – 9 p.m., Thurs. 7 – 9 p.m.

Multi-media artist Victoria Vitasek’s MFA thesis exhibition Anxiety (a self-portrait series of photography, video and text) will be going up at Fran Hill Gallery (285 Rushton Rd., Toronto – St. Clair and Rushton Rd., west of Bathurst). Runs from April 9 – 20, with the opening on April 11 (6 – 9 p.m.). Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. or by appointment.

Visual artist Blair Sharpe presents new works from his On Some Faraway Beach series at Wallack Galleries (203 Bank St., Ottawa) April 13 – 27, with the opening on April 13 (meet the artist 2 – 4 p.m.) and an artist talk and tour of the exhibit on April 20 at 3 p.m. Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.