Nuit Blanche—an all-night affair where Toronto’s best artists get the opportunity to present their work to the public—featured installations from Ryerson’s Department of Architectural Science.
401 Richmond played host to two of the more reactive installations: Somnium, the dream, and Nova, the phenomenon. The building, with its narrow hallways and multiple floors, was packed with crowds of art enthusiasts clustered together, eager to take a walk through the riveting installations.
Stratatone, the more interactive exhibit, was held at Ryerson Artspace.
Ryerson’s involvement with Nuit Blanche, however, is nothing new. According to Vincent Hui, the Architectural Science professor who oversaw the installations, Ryerson students have had their projects featured in the all-night affair for the past six years.
The projects were supported by [R]ed[U]x Lab, a collective of fabricators and designers from Ryerson University’s Department of Architectural Science, as well as arc.soc, a student-run society that helps architecture students bring their projects to life through financial aid and academic guidance.
A door opens and you walk into a darkened room. As you move closer, you see a flicker of purple lights in the distance.
Upon closer inspection, you are met with what looks like giant purple drapes hanging from the ceiling, seemingly immobile.
You move right in front of the module and suddenly, it wakes up. The fabric moves up and down in a swift jellyfish-like motion.
Somnium, which means ‘dream’ in Latin, is a reactive installation that lives up to its name. What started off as a final-year project for Ryerson’s Architectural Science program became one of the busiest installations featured at 401 Richmond on the night of Nuit Blanche.
The dreamlike experience was constructed by a group of seven students and lead by architecture student Valerie Gershman.
“We got together to make an installation that could be both a space and an experience together,” explained Gershman.
As users move closer to the installation, the fabric module senses their presence through their body heat and reacts, moving up and down like a jellyfish.
The theme of the piece revolves around the idea of sleep, light, sound and luminescence. Gershman compared the fabric to how jellyfish function. Like jellyfish, the fabric is luminescent and glows from within.
“Ultimately, that was our inspiration—the idea of inner glow and how it works and affects people,” adds Gershman.
The team submitted their design package to Nuit Blanche last year, creating prototypes and visualizations of what they wanted the installation to look like; the process took almost a year. Using what they learned in school, they had to figure out how to build a room within a room and how to create a positive arrangement for users.
“That was definitely something huge that we transposed from our education into this project. The idea of how an experience can be created through space, through movement, through materials, and through light,” said Gershman.
Imagine being in the midst of a phenomenon in space, where a star suddenly becomes brighter and brighter—an instance which no human being has ever experienced before.
That’s the basis of the idea that Shivathmikha Suresh Kumar and her team wanted to implement into their installation.
Nova is the natural phenomenon in which a dormant star suddenly becomes brighter, then slowly proceeds to return back to its original state in a matter of months.
“Nova was an idea that no human being could relate to firsthand. We wanted to show our audience our interpretation of the natural phenomenon and the sense of being present within it,” said Kumar.
Nova was created to appear as a dormant space that momentarily lights up as individuals make way through a path of parallel-running mirrors.
The lights react and change colours, responding to each visitor that passes by.
According to group member Nineveh Rashidzadeh, the team’s aim was create the illusion of an expansive space, as the lights reflected off the parallel-running mirrors within the narrow path of their installation site, mimicking the infiniteness of outer space.
The team began working on Nova as a project for their final year Digital Tools course in December 2015. They carried their academic learning into the real world by submitting their project to Nuit Blanche.
“We were able to apply digital fabrication knowledge that we gained throughout our undergraduate career, while designing, prototyping and constructing the installation,” said Kumar.
The installation took over eight months to develop and the final exhibit was constructed in a week and a half.
Photography by Celina Gallardo
Developed by a team of six students, Stratatone is an interactive space that explores the idea of human interaction with art and design, visually showing the distortion of messages or images.
According to Brandon Bortoluzzi, who led the group, the goal of the installation was not only to create a visually appealing space, but also to deliver a message or a critique of the world we live in.
“We are living in an age where messages are tweeted and retweeted or shared with millions of people in an instant. While this allows the spread of an idea it also allows that idea to be skewed. Essentially mass communication has placed us in the middle of a game of broken telephone,” said Bortoluzzi.
The installation initially consisted of a series of panels with drawing robots. These panels were each coded with a base pattern that would allow them to be able to draw repeatedly. Each panel also had a small piece of code that would allow them to change; it would change to the point that it became unrecognizable by the end of the night.
The installation took on different meanings throughout the night and ended up going in a different direction from what it was originally meant to be. At one point, there was a panel that wasn’t drawing anything so a participant asked if they could, instead, add their own message to it.
From that point on, the team decided to phase out all of robots, until the last one stopped working and had the visitors add their own messages and visualizations to the panels.
“The idea of robots representing or working for us in one sense seems like a cool concept, but in reality, people want to take back control,” said Bortoluzzi in regards to the different turn the installation took throughout the night.
He added that although the installation ended up becoming more of an performative art piece, the end result still reinforced the original idea of messages being distorted through technology.