Have reactions from the past four years of Nuit Blanche influenced your choices? For instance, the problem with overcrowding?
There's certainly a double-sidedness to the success of Nuit Blanche in Toronto. People complained about lineups. So I tried to create some situations where, even without your knowledge, you're suddenly in the work. For instance, you're just passing through Commerce Court and find Davide Balula's piece, which is a choreographed clock performed by sixty dancers at a time. Hopefully, you will be able to meander and not even know that you're lining up.
But then you have Wait Until You See This , where people do line up to see what's behind a curtain and then there's nothing there but an alleyway. As well as being a line, it's a one-liner. Wouldn't it be safer just to show spectacles at a mass art event like Nuit Blanche?
It depends on how you read the public and their expectations. I'm still very idealistic. People have to be quite smart to negotiate the current world. This is a very complex society and there's a lot of irony and sarcasm in the culture - in The Daily Show, for instance. I agree that this piece is a one-liner but that one line can unravel and reveal very basic notions of what it is to be a spectator, what it is to present a spectacle, what it is to be part of such a huge undertaking like Nuit Blanche.
Hopefully, the letdown will lead people to self-reflect and think of other situations where they've had built up expectations of a grandiose happening.
I've often heard the complaint at Nuit Blanche about the boring nature of some art. Are any of your choices a reaction to that?
Some of the works are a reaction to that, but they are not about trying to please the audience. For example, Erik Satie's Vexations will be extremely boring. And Satie was very explicit that he was trying to explore boredom. He talked about doing furniture music - music that you're not supposed to pay attention to. John Cage is the person who revived that piece and actualized it, taking Satie at his word and playing it 840 times.
There's a great John Cage quote about how if you find something boring for two minutes, just wait another four minutes and it becomes interesting. You have to get into it, into that space of hypnotic notion where the anti-spectacular becomes spectacular.
For The Task , Chris Shepherd is going to stack 15 tons of concrete blocks and then unstack them. Is this a statement about Nuit Blanche itself, which gets set up and then breaks down over one day and night? Does anything actually change about Toronto when it's over?
It's true, at the end of the piece nothing will have changed in terms of the objects, but all of the temporality and endurance and exertion in the piece will be exhibited in the weariness of the performer. And you can transpose that to the audience as well. Twelve hours later, everyone is exhausted. It's Sunday morning and they go to sleep and they have all these images of all these art pieces dancing in their heads. And that requires a mental exertion. And that is directly related to Shepherd's physical exertion.
There will also be some hangovers, I imagine. People complain about the drunkenness at Nuit Blanche, but it could also be a curatorial opportunity. Which piece in your zone would be the most interesting while drunk?
That depends on what kind of drunk you are.
There's the stereotype of the drunk who needs noise and spectacle. There's very little in my zone that is going to appeal to that mindset. In terms of altered states, I think being out at night and not sleeping already creates a shift in your perception. When you're about to fall asleep, you reach a semi-dream state that is a very rich moment for the loosening of the unconscious - Nuit Blanche is an extension of that moment of falling asleep. It is 12 hours of falling asleep.
I was thinking Sandra Rechico's 1850 - the installation of blue lights on Front Street where the shoreline of Toronto used to be 160 years ago - will make a nice chill-out space in the twelfth hour of Nuit Blanche.
Yes, and it's also the de facto end of Zone C. I always had the conception of people starting in the north and going south. And then metaphorically walking into the water.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Special to The Globe and Mail