Twilight zone-out

The jeep roars to life, flooding the quiet parking lot with blinding light. It’s full of corpses. Dozens of them, staggering blindly, tongues lolling, eyes wild and hungry.

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My forehead’s been pierced by a gaping bullet hole, but I feel no pain. Only a vague sensation of cold, wet blood oozing down my skin. I stagger forward to join my undead brethren.

“Okay, cut, cut!” Director Jillian Mcdonald waves her megaphone to get everyone’s attention. “We’re going to do that again, but this time….”

I’m shooting a scene for Mcdonald’s art installation Zombies In Condoland, the College Park version of Night Of The Living Dead, one of Nuit Blanche’s 155 exhibits, including many live (or at least undead) performance pieces that let the viewer into the action.

From the ever-changing light show on City Hall to buildings transformed into forests, infernos and waterfalls, a marathan of mascots, trees turned into promises and factory walls into mammoth film screens, there’s no ennui at Nuit. Tonight’s spectators have come for the shocking and the whimsical – and that’s what they get.

Back at the spook shoot, the megaphone crackles. “Look up at the condos,” Mcconald instructs us. “Be astounded by the condos! Their beauty reminds you of what it was like to be human.”

I try to look vacant (but fearsome!). I’m in my element. A total horror junkie, my ideal date is forcing guys to cower and yelp their way through blood and gore flicks. It’s my secret compatibility test. But for now, wimpy boyfriends be damned!

High above the ground, another exhibit is taking audience participation to a whole new level. Now I’m standing in a giant wooden treehouse in Yonge-Dundas Square with artist Daniel Olson. His Andy Warhol-inspired installation, 15 Seconds, is hardly subtle.

Armed with a massive spotlight, Olson searches the crowd for his next victim. He spots one: a teenage boy with a mohawk heading for the subway, hands in his pockets. Olson swivels the spotlight and suddenly the teen finds himself the centre of attention. He looks around, bewildered. Every time he steps out of the beam, it moves to follow him. He makes a run for it, head down.

The light changes direction, locking on a young couple who wave and do a dance. Next, it’s a man in a track suit who drops to the ground in mock surrender: “Don’t shoot!” Every few seconds another face in the crowd becomes an instant celebrity.

Exploitive? Maybe. But in a city where it’s so easy to feel invisible, having a moment to stand out is something special. From up here, the muffled hustle and bustle is peaceful and otherworldly – like watching a silent movie, with some reactions straight out of Buster Keaton.

At SMASH! Droppin’ Stuff, in a parking lot on Atlantic, the art is in the undoing: snow globes, cellphones, a large plaster bust of Elvis – tossed from a crane and smashed in an “intense ritual of destruction,” one person’s trash another artist’s pleasure. This is where junk comes face to face with its maker.

“We wanted to draw attention to this ritual of modern life by celebrating the objects and giving them a big send-off,” says artist Geoff Bouckley.

By 5 am, it’s total carnage. Two artists armed with hard hats, safety goggles and sledgehammers wade through an Ikea catalogue’s worth of plastic and corkboard, all battered, all defeated, broken glass crunching under their boots.

It’s like Jerry Springer: man versus household appliance. And the crowd wants blood. The artists spot a computer monitor, still vaguely identifiable, and start to close in.

“Smash it!” the crowd hollers. It’s quick and dirty. “Nineteen computers,” the emcee proudly announces when it’s over. “And each one feels as good as the last.” No mercy when it comes to junk.

Bouckley points to a life-sized white ceramic cat, the fluffy Persian kind, that sits next to an electric fan awaiting execution. “I had a women begging to take that one home,” he shakes his head in disgust. “No way. I know she’d just take it home and let it collect dust. At least here we can celebrate its death and demise.”

So what’s the appeal?

“Everybody unconsciously doesn’t like having so much stuff,” Bouckley says. As they hoist up a baby stroller, complete with a plastic doll (“Let’s see how safe this thing really is!”), the crowd goes nuts, and I can’t help but join in.

At Nuit Blanche, everyone’s the star of the show. It’s not about filling the spotlight it’s about living it. And taking pride in how we decorate Toronto with our habits, our passions, our quirks. Our art.

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