Last night was the 2013 edition of the City of Toronto’s annual contemporary art festival Nuit Blanche. I’ve participated in past Nuits as a curatorial assistant in 2008, researcher in 2008/09, and solo artist in 2010. This time around I participated as 1/5th of The Directors Collective, staging a project at the Gladstone Hotel’s Fly By Night event called, Picture Day. In Room 214 we created a backdrop of an elementary school gymnasium complete with an actual gym bench (kindly lent to us by Ryerson Community School) and cubby holes made from milk crates. Visitors – friends and strangers alike – were invited to come and sit for a class portrait.
We were interested in exploring broad themes of commemoration and nostalgia through a re-staging of the classic annual school picture day which many Canadians can recall with either fondness or dread. I’m personally interested in the topic because for me, picture day was a pointless exercise that we had to go through every year. It was just another photograph to add to the archive of the self. But, I was soon to find out that picture day was actually a really significant event in people’s lives. Although picture day essentially commemorates nothing, the act of going through picture days, the rituals associated with preparing and sitting for the photographs, was what was significant. I’d never really given it much thought until now.
Regardless of my own perspective on the project it turned out to be a really fun night, which is saying a lot considering I didn’t get to see anything this year. The reactions of visitors was extremely positive. I was surprised by how enthusiastic the crowd was. Some couldn’t wait to finally sit on the bench having always been relegated to the back when they were in school because they were too tall. Others recalled the trauma of picture day and preferred to watch as their friends hammed it up for the camera. One of the more memorable conversations I had was with a lady who told me, “Whoa this is awesome! I always skipped picture day to get high.” I was surprised by this comment because I don’t recall school picture day happening beyond sixth grade so skipping picture day to get high really takes badassery to another level.
Picture Day was the first project I’ve ever done that was participatory and I gotta say, it was real pleasure to watch people perform and to chat with them about their memories of school picture day. It clearly meant a lot to them. For a first project with my fellow Directors, I’d say it was a success.
What do you think of picture day? Pointless? Dreadful? Good fun?
You can view class pictures from Picture Day on twitter at: @DirectorsCo with search terms: #pictureday #snbTO