Once a year, on a chilly October Saturday night, Toronto closes its downtown core for Nuit Blanche, showcasing artists’ exhibits throughout the city for night crawlers to enjoy from dusk to dawn.
With much of the art converging into new media territory, many of the exhibits require some sort of electrical or technical help to keep it running for 12 hours, relying on Toronto Hydro to support it. They are the sole supplier that keeps the city energized, 365 days a year.
Nuit Blanche began in Toronto in 2006. What started off as an event bringing 450,000 people, grew over the past 10 years. There are now over one million people that come out for the art.
For Toronto Hydro, Nuit Blanche is business as usual. But even with all the power exhibits plugged in, Toronto Hydro barely flinches.
The 30-storey office buildings that light up the financial district aren’t used much on weekends, which helps regulate the energy circuit for the event. Since the weather is generally not extreme during October, Toronto Hydro said they are able to make the event go off without a hitch, as what tends to really affect the power supply is when air conditioning or heaters are being used in high demands.
“The amount of power that is used during this time is not an issue for our system. Especially as it’s held overnight on a weekend, during a time when electricity demand is really quite low,” says Tori Gass, spokesperson for Toronto Hydro.
In addition, the TTC extends its services to run all night. Extra streetcars are called in and the subway operates until the early hours of the morning. Other than requiring a few extra employees to trade in a few hours of sleep, the TTC said they never had a problem with running all night during Nuit Blanche.
Throughout its years, Nuit Blanche has celebrated its success with big, boisterous exhibits made up of wires and big screens as opposed to a traditional canvas and a paintbrush.
In 2014, an exhibit that required technical help was PING, a display created by Ryerson media students, Finlay McEwan, Julian Dubrawski, and Christopher Young.
The exhibit was a reimagining of Pong, a video game from 1972, which originated on the Atari 2600. People who visited that exhibit were able to play with two others who stood on a large screen on the ground. The players then controlled panels that bounced the ball back and forth by sliding on boards accompanied by a rail to move back and forth.
Although hectic, and just breaking even on the costs, Dubrawski says, “It was awesome, I’d do it again.”
Julian Dubrawski, a Ryerson new media student and programmer for the PING exhibit said that when they pitched the exhibit to the city, they seemed to be not concerned about the technical aspects – they just wanted it to happen.
“We showed them a proposal video, and after the pitch they loved it and just asked us what we needed. They were very trusting of us,” says Dubrawski.
What spawned from a project at a networking course at Ryerson quickly became a hit exhibit at Nuit Blanche that year.
The students were responsible for getting the materials, transporting, and building the exhibit, which wasn’t without its flaws.
“[The] night of was nerve-racking, we’re not engineers so there were some structural flaws in the exhibit,” said Dubrawski. The steel beam used for players to move around has some wear and tear throughout the night but still held up for the duration of the event.
Dubrawski also had some challenges with the programming side of things since he had to account for every possible variable during the night since so many people would be playing it.
With the big, flashy, electrical art on display every year as well as the crowds getting bigger and the demand getting higher, Toronto seems well prepared to assist the new media art scene and its artists by giving it a platform to grow.
Photos by Natalia Balcerzak