Nuit Blanche 2013

Toronto was buzzing last night!

It was the night of the annual Scotiabank Nuit Blanche (“sleepless night”) festival – a city-wide, night-time arts & cultural exhibition developed by the French over a decade ago which has since spread across the world. Ontatio’s largest city was the first North American location to take on the Nuit Blanche concept in 2006; 8 years later, 2013’s event saw 110 official art locations scattered around the CBD with easily a couple of hundred thousand sightseers taking to the streets between sunset & sunrise to revel in the festivities.

I had no idea the festival was even happening until the last minute – a friend pointed it out to me the day before so I decided I might as well check it out. Not knowing what to expect, I left my hotel in time to make the 6:51pm starting time, and as it turned out, the vibe was so electric that I didn’t get home until the very wee hours of the morning.

As with most cultural festivals of this stature, the artworks and performances varied greatly in dynamic, coherence & relevance, with a lot of room for interaction & participation from the public. From the traditional to the downright absurd, some of the exhibitions included:

– An impromptu streetside performance of Romeo & Juliet
– A panoramic screening of a future Martian landscape
– Artificially intelligent fishing rods playing tug-of-war with a canoe in the middle of a pond
– A raised platform where the crowd were encouraged to strap on a blindfold, walk around and see in the dark
– A wolf, hawk, frog, penguin and dodo (I think that’s what they were anyway) all having a tea party in a magical medieval garden

Here were some of my favourites!


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The magical medieval garden from A Quack Cure, which helped raise awareness in animal extinction due to human neglect


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There is an elephant in the truck: an elephant made out of cardboard mâché, its intention to point out the ignorance we lend to political and social issues going on around us


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Parallax: thousands of cardboard tubes stacked together with a light source behind them


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Part of the patchwork dress worn by the very pompous Queen of the Parade


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A few eerie, shadowy frames from the Tanks installation, where patterns from lace fabric were cut into steel to create the perfect juxtaposition between materials


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A tree embraced in LED rope in Pink Punch v.2


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A performance artwork called Night Shift. Paper was shredded to produce gold confetti; dancers then contorted their bodies relocating the confetti from one end of the stage to the pile at the other end.


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The Familia as seen through the contorted floor mirrors in the Church of the Holy Trinity. The pipe organist belting out contemporary rock tunes added tremendously to the atmosphere.


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5,000 pairs of socks in Clothesline Canopy, reflecting the number of people in Toronto without adequate housing


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The pièce de résistance, Forever Bicycles, by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. 3,144 bicycles were used in the construction of this exhibit.


The final piece I saw on the night made the cut as one of the most magnificent artworks I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing. By this stage it was well past midnight and I was on the walk home to my hotel in the city’s north-west, when I chanced upon the Trinity College Chapel, discovering an off-program exhibit called The Composition Engine.

Positioned within the gorgeous chapel were a number of musicians, vocalists and script-readers, who each had a light assigned to them. Members of the visiting public were able to walk the halls of the chapel and turn the lights on or off: if the light was switched on, the performer would play; if the light was switched off, the performer would stop. It was an incredible concept – words can’t describe how peaceful it was to be part of this ever-changing soundscape and lightscape. I was there nearly an hour before completing the journey home in newfound harmony.


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The Composition Engine


Toronto – all I can say is that you’re doing a fantastic job at welcoming this newcomer to your beautiful city. I can’t wait to see what else you have in store… and bring on Nuit Blanche 2014 🙂

If you went to Toronto’s Nuit Blanche 2013, I’d love to hear in the comments below what your favourite installation was!


  1. Hi Dan – I came across your blog while searching for reviews of The Composition Engine and, lo and behold! Not only did you have kind things to say about it, but there’s a picture of me on your blog. 😀 So glad that you enjoyed it. I *loved* being in it. Welcome to Toronto! Welcome to Canada! How long are you staying? I’ve done the immigrant experience myself (lived in the UK for 5 years) and I know it is both exciting and challenging. I sure hope we’re living up to your expectations here in Canuckistan.

    Thanks again for your lovely review.


    1. Hey Rachel, thanks so much for your comment, I’m stoked that you stumbled across the post! I still can’t get over how great the Composition Engine was. I can imagine how incredible it would have been to be part of, were you one of the three harmonists at the back?

      I’ve been in Toronto for just over a week now and I love it, it’s such a pleasant, friendly city. A few years ago I lived in the UK as well and I loved the international experience so much that I really wanted to try it again, except I chose Canada this time 🙂 My working visa is for 2 years, hopefully I’ll stick it out for the whole lot but it all depends how things turn out…



  2. Yep, that was me in the trio at the back of the chapel…the one on the left in the photo.

    What an introduction to Toronto, to experience Nuit Blanche in your first week! Glad you’re finding it friendly place to be. Though I grew up near TO and have spent a lot of time here, I’ve just moved to live in the city myself. I hope your plans to stay here work out in whatever ways you want and need them to.

    Have you figured out some good places to experience live music yet?

    1. I haven’t tackled the live music scene just yet but it’s on my to-do list. I am going to see Great Big Sea in Oshawa next month though which I can’t wait for! But I’m quite curious to discover the best places in town for a blues band or jazz quartet on a Friday night – let me know if you have any suggestions for venues.

      I’ve just moved into the Kensington Market area and I’m blown away by how great it is to walk to streets here… it’s beautiful! I hope your time in the city is just as enjoyable.

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