One of my more unusual interests, I half-blush to admit, is occultism—as in the practice of ritual to send requests into the nether-realms. It thrills me when I read coherent, sane and sober voices describing magic ceremonies (complete with capes and wands) to accomplish certain ends. I don’t think my interest in occultism is all that unique though. Harry Potter wouldn’t be a household name if nobody cared about magic. On the other hand, I’m also reminded of a ‘hard-nose-realist” friend of mine who’s fond of saying, “the only problem I have with magic is that it doesn’t work”. Anyone who has tried in vain predict a lottery number or move an object with their mind would sympathize with this, I think. I have tried and failed to move stuff with my mind (I tried to get my keyboard to write this blog for me, for example), and yet I still completely and utterly believe in magic, in some sense. In fact, most people have been thoroughly involved in a rather elaborate magical act without their realizing it, for what’s a wedding other than an elaborate ceremony, with sacred scripts to be read, often a divine presence invoked, and the nature of the couple’s relationship changed in the eyes of everyone, including the law. A wedding is the closest most people come to a deliberate act of magic, a sort of complicated love spell. Wouldn’t it be cool if people took a ‘magical’ approach to weddings more often? But you don’t need to get married to someone to get your magic on. I consider Nocturne to be a powerful act of magic as well, one that temporarily unhooks the city from the consumer reality interface and redefines the pedestrian experience much more loosely, forcing people to see with new eyes, hopefully more thoughtful and enchanted.
In the 80th episode of The Simpsons, Homer says, “It’s because they’re stupid, that’s why. That’s why everybody does everything”. I remember I laughed uncomfortably at this line. Homer’s statement on the human condition was too similar to my own sometimes cynical take on the state of affairs: ‘Money, that’s why everybody does everything’. Nocturne definitely challenges my vantage point. Installations requiring vision, effort and precious time are set up in the city and people come to see, listen and touch. Nothing is being sold, there are few logos, and I didn’t hear a single sales pitch. It’s just art. At night. Some of the installations are so creative, so unusual, and so thought-provoking that I look at the artists and wonder, why? Why do they do it? Why not binge watch Netflix like most of us do on a cold windy night rather than display their creations? What’s the return on investment? The question seems especially relevant to this year’s theme, which was Motivation. I’ve often asked myself the same question about the Nocturne board–which is entirely run by volunteers working year around–as well as the scores of volunteers that come out to help. At a time when careerism is the dominant religion, Nocturne is….something very else. For me, at the very least, it’s a cure to my cynicism.
After shooting a string of art installations during the night of Nocturne, I remember a weird and growing sense of curiosity within me. Every installation is different, but they are all the same because they are all art. So what does that mean? I guess it means that the church on the corner is doing a psychedelic light show with acrobatics, that political hip-hop is going on live outside the law offices, that the ferry to Dartmouth is a floating karaoke building, and that on a bridge over the seaport market there’s a real-time projection of Emma Fitzgerald drawing on a wall in Pier 21. None of these events have anything in common except that they’re all “art”, whatever that is. If these things are all art, what does the word “art” even mean? The answer that came to my mind immediately is that art is honouring an idea. That’s all. Anybody who deliberately honours their (often strange) ideas is an artist. I’ve thought about it a lot over the last couple days, and I’m still satisfied with that definition.
Some things that happened at Nocturne: