Wild Ride 2009 by Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan. Performance Art/Multimedia Installation on Bay Street, Toronto at Nuit Blanche, October 3, 2009. Rides owned by Funland Outdoor Amusements. Photos courtesy of Scotiabank Nuit Blanche
Now that the summer is over in Coney, we have time to make good on our promise to cover not only Coney Island and the amusement business, but “fun places in between.” The category “Traveler” will include places we’ve been, places we’d like to go, and places that have something we’d love to see recreated in Coney Island. We’re kicking it off with free carnival rides!
Tag surfing for “amusement rides” on WordPress, photos of a Fun Slide and Avalanche ride set up in Toronto’s financial district for an all-night art fest caught our eye. Last weekend, the 4th annual Nuit Blanche (aka “Sleepless Night”) attracted an estimated one million festival-goers and featured over 150 contemporary art installations. On the Nuit Blanche website, we found this writeup by artists Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan about their “Wild Ride 2009″:
Bay Street – emblem of Canada’s banking industry – is closed. The smell of cotton candy and raucous music fill the air. Two midway rides reflect the whirling, tilting exhilaration of the bull market and its less than thrilling collapse. Free to the public and staffed by recently downsized businesspeople, the rides invite audience members to kinetically contemplate the ups and downs of the recent economic crisis. Out of the darkened financial district, screams will be heard!
ATZ enjoys seeing carnival rides transform the city streets at Little Italy’s San Gennaro and other Italian Feasts into a temporary People’s Playground. We’re taken with the democratic idea of rented carnival rides presented as a free public art project. Did we mention “Wild Ride 2009” and the other interactive artwork was free to the public thanks to $2 million in funding from the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario, and Scotiabank? We could use a few free rides in the newly rezoned Coney Island. Note to Creative Time, the non-profit which commissioned the Dreamland Artists Club sign painting project in 2005 and Steve Powers’ Guantanamo-themed “The Waterboard Thrill Ride” (not an amusement ride) in 2008. Here’s your next Coney project: Commission an artist to bring back the Whip and Zipper rides and spin a narrative around it.
“Wild Ride 2009” creators Dempsey and Millan have collaborated on performances, film and public art projects since 1989, but for this project they teamed up with showmen from Ontario’s Funland Shows. How did it go? We did a quick Q & A with the artists via email to find out…
Q: How did you get the idea do this?
A: We received the commission in the fall of 2008. It was to do a 12-hour art piece on Bay Street in the business district of Toronto. In Canada, Bay Street is synonymous with the economy. It is the financial engine of the country. A couple of things struck us about the site. The area is a series of glass canyons: banking skyscrapers everywhere. Loads of reflective surfaces. There also aren’t any people on the street. There is an underground system called the PATH that is really a vast underground mall. It sucks all the life from pedestrian street traffic. The economic collapse had just happened so the lack of people on the street seemed more eerie. The financial centre of Canada seemed dead.
Q: Are you fans of carnivals and fairs?
A: We grew up going to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. It was the thing that you looked forward to every year, almost like Christmas. Midway carnivals meant freedom, abandon, risk, and possibility. There was also that “post” feeling afterwards when you realized you had spent all your money and had nothing to show for it. We though it might be a good metaphor for the financial meltdown. A wild ride. We could comment on the folly/absurdity of the speculative financial industry.
Plus we wanted to return Bay Street to the people – us – who paid for it. Make it useable, functional, joyful. Make it ours. What would be more democratic than free midway rides and cotton candy?
Q: Can you tell me about carnival company from whom you rented the rides? What was it like working with them?
A: We rented two rides from Funland/Superior . They are a partnership with a long history in the Ontario midway business. They staffed the rides with their carnies who we dressed in business suits. Beforehand we told the public that the midway was being run by downsized business people but on the night we confessed that, really, those Bay Street types have few transferable skills, and that in the interest of safety we had hired skilled professionals and dressed them in business attire, as appropriate to the district.
We were afraid that the carnies would be resistant to wearing the suits but they were so into the spirit of the event. They looked super sharp, literally like they had just stepped off the trading floor of the stock market. And they kept the energy up all night, playing with the crowd, shaking their hands…very business-y! We were awed by their ability and enthusiasm. It made us think about how we valourize and reward some kinds of labour (like that of bankers and stock traders) but not others (like carnies). The guys working for us were just as capable, smart and charismatic.
We were also struck by how removing a ride from a carnival and putting it in another context transformed it into a beautiful object. It was as if people were seeing the rides for the first time. They looked so beautiful (and so incongruous) on Bay Street. People were awed by the blinking lights reflected in the banking towers.
Also, because everything was free, sometimes the carnies would let a ride go on for 20 minutes if the riders were willing. There was lots of teasing back and forth. It felt like there was plenty, that you could have all you wanted. Now that’s a rare feeling, especially on Bay Street!
We transformed the location in a couple of other ways, too. We made signs (“Wild Ride…Do You Want to Go Lower?”and “Absolutely Free and Worth Less All The Time”), and pumped out a soundtrack featuring songs about money and loss with a voice-over by a barker (“Lay your money down”). The free cotton candy (distributed by volunteers in business suits) had clown-headed garbage cans nearby. People danced to the music, some putting the clown heads on, some playing air guitar. We rocked them all night long. Even at 6 am there were still lineups and big smiles. It was a beautiful night, the way fairs and carnivals can be, outside of time and sense: magical.
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October 25, 2009: Traveler: Bryant Park’s Beguiling Carousel Is Awhirl for the Holidays
October 12, 2009: Moments in Time: Artist Eric March’s Coney Island
October 4, 2009: The Wonder of Artist Philomena Marano’s Wonder Wheel