Nuit Blanche, and Breathing Art

A couple of books ago, The Short Story Queen and I got talking about why we keep writing. We were frustrated with the fragility of infrastructure, the vagaries of distribution. I made a wry comment about the micro-press that had published a book of mine. It had just come out but you couldn’t find it online, not even on their catalogue. When I mentioned this to the publisher she was nonplussed. Just have people email me and I’ll send them books. she replied merrily.

It’s. Like. We’re. Selling. Homemade. Jars. Of Jam. I said to my friend.

It’s amazing anyone continues to paint, film, compose, write, etc. said Short Story Queen acerbically. We’re. Addicts. That’s. What. We. Are.

I wrote back to her: I wouldn’t say we’re addicts exactly. We’re true artists in the sense that we just do it anyways. I think about my brother Roman, out there on the street every day with his bandura.
Making music for him was about at the same level as breathing, an essential service to the self, and then beyond that, a simple gift to others.

Last Saturday, at the all-night art festival in Toronto known as Nuit Blanche, the whole city breathed art.

My buddy The Anti-Poverty Organizer and I drifted through the Financial District to see the works curated by Jennifer Fisher and Jim Drobnick, of DisplayCult. It was past midnight, full moon, and the streets packed with an all-ages audience.

Shauna Dempsey and Lori Millan’s “Wild Ride”, a midway with daredevil rides and screaming customers – smack in front of The Bank of Montreal – made apt and poetic metaphor of the recent financial crash.

An elite group of drinking and smoking men and women played Monopoly with real money, cocooned inside a financial institution (“Monopoly With Real Money” by Iain Baxter). We could see them if we pressed against the glass. It reminded me of 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings of wealthy bankers.

We ended our tour in Union Station, Toronto’s 1920s-era railway station, modeled on New York’s Grand Central. The artist, Heather Nicol, had filled the main hall with colour, shadow, fog and voices. People lay on the ground and gave themselves up their senses. This station, which I’ve rushed through a thousand times, catching trains, leaving trains, became defamiliarized. Beautiful. Strange.

Everything was up for grabs. As I entered the subway at Yonge and Queen I noticed a small crowd of young people gazing at The Bay’s window display, arguing heatedly about whether it was art, or not.

You decide.


  1. I think that’s it, I think we just do it anyway.
    If art is ‘deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions’ then the pink window display is.

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