I biked alone to the west end of Toronto with explicit directions, expecting to find the party instantly. I was unsure of where to go so I followed some people and later learned that finding the party was part of the mystery. It’s this kind of interaction and embarrassment that brings people together as they navigate uncharted territory.
I climbed through a hole in a fence, and saw an opening to a big quarry in front of me. Someone was collecting PYWC donations and people were actually paying. The fact that they were willing to pay speaks volumes about their respect for the risk the organizers are taking. The presentation of music and art in an unsalable environment was enticing. I paid what I could and entered Against Life.
I ran into a friend who was there to play in one of the bands. I learned that he and his friends had been involved in these events in the past, including ones where they didn’t get to perform. Some of them had even been arrested. “Why do you keep getting involved?” I asked. “Because if everything did work out,” they told me, “it would be epic. It’s the glory of playing and performing in a place that will never be the same as it was that night.” They saw the turnout of this event as a triumph for the Toronto community.
The dreary weather that night matched the purposefully dreamy atmosphere of Against Life, but I was getting antsy in the rain and felt the need to explore. A garbage can invited me to stick my head inside, so I did. As I was bending over, someone kicked me from behind. I turned around and saw my two friends laughing hysterically. They had glow sticks strung between themselves and other people at the party. A large group of people were doing the limbo under a string as an art piece. Everyone was happy and giddy from being connected in this way. When I asked who had come up with the limbo and glow sticks idea, I was told that although it was a secret, it had been “a fake Frenchman.”
Before I left I saw the faux Frenchman. It all made sense. He was the artist that I was most excited to see! I found a fallen glow stick and handed it to him, telling him that I thought people got what he was trying to do and that his work was great. “Bonne chance, and au revoir,” I said, then started to walk away. He tapped my shoulder and handed me back the glow stick. “Au revoir,” he said. I felt satiated.
Against Life feels radical because the organizers insist on taking talent outside of a structured, salable environment like the “white cube” art gallery. But it is more than just being outside. Compare it to Scotiabank’s Nuit Blanche. A homegrown and mutually supportive event like Against Life will always feel more liberating than a corporate sponsored art party.
An overgrown urban greenspace is an unstructured, navigable area where you get to choose how you interact with the art and music. It’s unobstructed and explorable. Just take equal parts nature and culture and create your own experience.