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UNDER THE CLOUD

January 16, 2012

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Jean Beaudoin is the co-creator of the Nuage de givre installation, which will hover in the sky above the Place des Festivals until February 2nd. I met him north of the Metropolitan expressway.

By Félix Larose
Between the Sri Lankan fashion boutiques and the basement produce stores that characterize Quartier Chabanel, the engineer/architect (fully equipped with two degrees, natch) was waiting for me at the Bienville café. A peaceful harbor of good design in the area's incoherent industrial/commercial whirlwind, the café is one of his projects -- as is the building that houses it and the street running past it.

If UNESCO has named Montreal an International City of Design, there's no doubt that the efforts of Jean Beaudoin were part of the reason. Beaudoin met Érick Villeneuve in 2009, during the development of Champ de pixels, the first winter light installation to occupy the Place des Festivals.

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Photo credit | Martine Doyon
"With Champ, we worked from the idea of marking the ground. It was very basic, 400 motion-capture devices that activated lights when someone walked past."

After having transferred the whole luminous contraption of Champ de pixels to Place Émilie-Gamelin last year, the two men wanted to push the idea further by taking the idea of an imprint on the snow and shifting it to the heavens. Like sky walkers (Luke's cousins, perhaps?), curious passersby can trace a path across the the 5,500 illuminated elements suspended above their heads.

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Photo credit | Martine Doyon
"The experience is different, because it draws the gaze upward. We wanted to focus attention on the city and and let people see the many things that have evolved in the Quartier des Spectacles. The idea of the imprint or mark is less concrete than in Champ de pixels, but the installation is more impressive."

To light up the 5,500 elements of the cloud, the two creators tested many materials, some too heavy, others too expensive, and finally arrived at water to make up Nuage de givre. "We found a company, Cryopak, that makes ice packs for food and medical applications, and we bought 100,000 of them."

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Photo credit | Martine Doyon
With his coffee and a notebook brimming with notes and sketches laid out in front of him, Jean Beaudoin is already talking about Nuage 2.0 and 3.0, which could drift over the Grand-Place in Brussels or even the Chinese city of Xi'an. He's excited to have his head in the clouds, and it'll be a long time before he comes back down to earth.

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