Nocturne, the annual festival of visual arts, returns to the streets of Halifax in October, exploring the changing landscape of our city. Ironically the biggest challenge for this year’s curator came in finding locations to host the associated events.
“I tried to find locations for several projects, and I think that there were about three locations that they called me later and said ‘sorry, we’re likely going to tear this building down’,” says Nocturne’s 2019 curator Tori Fleming. “And every time that happened, it was like such a hassle, but also so reaffirming for my theme.”
That theme is Scaffold, in which artists have been asked to respond in absurd and critical ways how Halifax has changed. For Fleming, the idea focuses on both the physical and the political to this transformation.
“On a literal level, if you walk around Halifax right now, it’s physically very hard to navigate our city these days,” she says. “We’re in this time of extreme growth with so much construction and so much being torn down.”
Beyond the changing architectural landscape in Halifax, Fleming also saw Scaffold as an opportunity to explore the effect of climate change on our physical landscape.
“CBC recently put out an article about the possibility of Nova Scotia becoming an island, which rocked my world,” she says.
Fleming believes this year’s Nocturne will also take on greater importance as it takes place during the height of the upcoming federal election.
“There is so much change, and there are so many possible directions to go, and sometimes it makes you feel powerless,” she says. “We’re in the middle of this construction zone in every sense of the word.”
A graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Fleming may be best known locally for her work as a programming director for the Centre for Art Tapes (CFAT), the Halifax hub supporting video, audio and electronic media artists. In addition to her work at CFAT, Fleming has also spent the last few years working as a curator and programmer for a variety of arts organizations including galleries and film.
“A lot of my curatorial work focuses on the media arts and the space between film and media and fine arts,” she says. “But I’ve taken a much broader view for Nocturne, with a wide variety of mediums for that festival.”
A past member of Nocturne’s board of directors, Fleming was particularly excited about taking on the curatorial spot given the festival’s ability to draw in crowds who might feel intimidated by more traditional approaches to the visual arts.
“I sometimes find that the general public has this fear of gallery etiquette where they may not understand the work and are not allowed to touch anything or have to be quiet,” she says. “Those are the kind of barriers I like to see broken down in all of my work.”
Tori’s Top Tips for Nocturne:
1. Read the guide before you go. That cool thing you saw last year may not be in the same place. Plan your route so you don’t miss something.
2. The guide is also really helpful for other things as well. Is this project kid friendly? Is it physically accessible?
3. Wear a hat and mittens because it always gets colder than you think it will.
For Fleming, Nocturne offers the ideal counterpoint to those more conventional art exhibits. With its built-in accessibility and few rules, the festival drew 30,000 attendees last year; a number not usually seen for fine arts events.
“Nocturne is set up to seduce the general public into coming because you’re just on the street,” she says. “They know that they’re going to get to interact with things and that’s not an experience that everybody feels welcome to do in galleries. People get so excited by it.”
Helping to create that excitement comes from what Fleming refers to as the five “anchor projects,” which are provided with a budget and specifically designed to draw in audiences. But while they may be the “blockbusters,” they are only a small part of the over hundred projects this year.
In choosing the projects, Fleming has tried to ensure they are as humorous as possible, a mission she hopes will not only make the festival even more accessible but help spark the creative juices around such a serious subject.
“The thing I find frustrating about watching politicians or bureaucracy or people responding to climate change or any big issue is that everybody agrees that things aren’t working,” she says. “So, isn’t that the time for the most absurd ideas?”
Among the more absurd ideas on display at this year’s Nocturne will be an installation by Toronto conceptual artist Natalie Quagliotto where guests can quite literally play with the art, and a 20-foot flying unicorn. “It’s going to be wild,” says Fleming.
Beyond what might be taking place in our city now, Fleming also sees it as a commentary on what lies ahead.
“On the one hand, it’s nerve-wracking and there’s a lot of change happening, and I can’t navigate through five blocks anymore,” she continues. “But exciting new things are being built, and change can happen, and it reminds me that we don’t have to stay the way we are forever. So I think now is the time for absurd ideas and jokes.”
Nocturne kicks off with a party on October 17. The main event will take place on October 19. Visit nocturnehalifax.ca for more information.