Nuit Blanche Projects
For one magic night in October, Toronto turns into Art City with Nuit Blanche, an all night art event. Up to a million people turn out to look at art installations of all kinds. It is an event that gets the whole city engaged with visual art. It's amazing!
I have always felt that looking at finished art in a cleaned up, managed setting gives viewers an unrealistic idea of what art actually is. They don’t see the chaos, the failed attempts, the bad ideas, the failures, the fun, the mess that is the true process of art, and this makes the final product remote from them. It is something that they stand apart and look at. No matter how large or impactful it is, they move on. On Nuit Blanche, I like to show, and ideally involve people in, the process of making, to begin a collaboration. The building where I have my studio (http://www.401richmond.com/) is a Nuit Blanche site with thousands of visitors, and the management have enthusiastically supported several projects there.
I wanted to investigate how far we have moved into the paperless society we were promised with the advent of computers. I asked people to collage papers they had in their pockets or bags onto wooden panels. I took photographs of them as they worked. After the event was over, I drew in pen and ink images of the participants on top of the collages that were made. When the drawings were resolved, I masked part of the the collage with thick paint - bits of the original papers are visible through the drawings. I found out that while some people had no paper at all, many had lots to choose from - gum wrappers, bus transfers, maps and brochures, magazines, flyers. We are not quite paperless yet. And all sorts of people love collage. I had hundreds of participants, all night long.
2015: Make Your Mark
Working with the idea of paperless drawing, I borrowed 12 “Surface” computers from Microsoft and using their active screen, I had visitors draw on the screens with their fingers. Over 500 people had fun drawing in a paperless medium, donating their drawings to this project. Some were simple doodles, some (of course) obscene, and some quite resolved drawings. After the event I worked with the drawings on an iPadPro using an Apple Pencil to elaborate on the beginnings - doodling, playing, seeing where I could go with them. I recorded the process and created a 60 minute time-laps animation video.
2016: Mark With Me
After twice creating a sequential collaboration, I wanted to investigate real-time working with visitors to Nuit Blanche. What would the creative process be like if I worked with people on a drawing at the time - not after they have left their work. How would it be to share control of the final work with people who weren’t artists and who had their own ideas for their drawings? And would someone walk off with my Apple Pencil? This was much harder, but more fun. The final drawings ended up in quite different places than I would have predicted. I recorded the process with an animation app and spliced them into the video made in 2015.
The video made in the Mark events, about 60 minutes long, was loaded on to old, dated, repurposed, ready for recycling, smartphones - as many as I could collect from people who were glad to donate them - a hundred so far. The smartphones, mounted on a wall, are arranged as a garden. They are large flowers, with the phones as petals; stems and leaves, "drawn" with the charging cords, cables and obsolete headphones; vines and seeds and power bars make an electrically powered wall drawing. The technical challenges of this project were significant and professional expertise was hard to find. Just getting it to run at all required many hours of tinkering. The next challenge is to make it not just the result of a collaboration with visitors, but to make the garden itself a collaboration - make it not a final product that visitors just look at but something in which they can meaningfully collaborate. The more sophisticated the technology, the harder it is to involve people. I have several ideas about how this can be done, but will have to see if the software exists, can be used on several manufacturers devices, using different operating systems, with free apps, that won’t crash... Possibly I will go back to drawing with charcoal on a cave wall.............