Light artists in the spotlight

January 5, 2011

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After few weeks of activity, the Light Therapy installations are eliciting curiosity and enthusiasm from Montrealers. Champ de pixels, Projections monumentales and Sphères polaires are working like a charm. But despite its simple appearance, this arsenal of lights is the result of a colossal effort. The three people responsible for mounting the installations had to overcome very different challenges in putting them together.

Sphères polaires

Photo credit | Martine Doyon
Meteorites from an ice planet? Giant snowballs? Intergalactic habitats? Everyone has their own particular interpretation of Sphères polaires (25 giant interactive spheres installed at the Place des Festivals). “We wanted to create a surrealistic atmosphere” describes Bernard Duguay, director of Lucion Média. “Pedestrians walk through a dream zone. Surrounded by round spheres, you forget sharp angles, you’re everywhere at once.” The lively modules, which illustrate different themes around the idea of winter, respond to the commands of visitors. With each simple step, sound, light and images transform themselves. “Our first reflex was to start dreaming of a high-tech project, but we reconsidered. We opted for a more artisanal approach, bringing in elements like shadow puppetry.” The work didn’t stop when the concept was drawn up. 25 people contributed to get Spheres polaires rolling. The greatest challenge was to make the installations respond almost instantaneously to the movement of the public. “To trigger the lighting, you have to transform movement into MIDI data, then into DMX code sent over fiber optics to a console, which interprets the signals and sends them to a wireless network. You have to do all of that, and there can’t be a perceptible delay.”

Champ de pixels

Photo credit | Martine Doyon
The giant installation created by artists Erick Villeneuve and Jean Beaudoin is back this year, after its successful 2009 debut. “We decided to go with a playful, simple and efficient installation, but above all one that was interactive” recalls Valérie Gareau, production director at Novalux. “It can accommodate a whole flock of urban pedestrians, strolling across it and changing the light. We also wanted to fill a space. I think it’s one of the first times that Montreal has welcomed an urban land art installation.” This year, Champ de pixels moves to Place Emilie-Gamelin, at the east of the Quartier des spectacles. The location isn’t the only thing that has changed from last year. Valérie Gareau and her team also gave themselves an extra challenge: power Champ de pixels with green energy. To make it work, visitors will have to pitch in. Or is it more like pedal in? “We asked Bixi to lend us some bikes out of winter storage, and we hooked them up to a generator system. Every time someone pedals, they generate energy to feed batteries, and it’s the batteries that power the installation.” Even with her mission successfully accomplished, Valérie Gareau is still keenly aware of the caprices of Mother Nature. “The whole installation is full of experiments: we have to beat the cold, the rain, the snow, the sleet; figure out how to send a low-tension current over a large surface and put bikes in the snow!”

Projections monumentales

Photo credit | Martine Doyon
This winter, the façade of Saint-Jacques Church at UQAM’s Judith-Jasmin building transforms into a shared canvas, painted by a long list of light artists. “It’s the first year, and it really is a laboratory” explains event director Jimmy Lakatos. “We opted to explore different genres of architectural projection, so we’ve mixed social approaches with critical, contemporary, playful, festive, popular and interactive works.” One after the other, different designers (Olivier Sorrentino, Erick Villeneuve, UQAM students, the NFB), will have their shot at impressing the passersby on Saint-Denis Street. The biggest difficulty? Working on a rough, uneven surface. “With a 3D digital system, we managed to reproduce the contours of the church. This let the designers work precisely with the forms of the façade.”
By Charles-Éric Blais-Poulin