December 19, 2011

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Thursday, 5:20 PM. A freezing rain comes down to beat the pavement of Sainte-Catherine Street, not sparing me on its way. I have no umbrella, of course. Rain or shine, I'm starting my Luminothérapie sessions at the Quartier des Spectacles tonight.

By Charles-Éric Blais-Poulin
And boy, do I need it! Once again, light artists are adding a bit of cheer to the Montreal winter. Think of it as a salve to ease all those 40-below days, or that darkness that starts to gather while some restaurants are still serving breakfast. First stop: Éclats de verre, a playful and vibrant work at Place Émilie-Gamelin. Around 5:30 PM, dozens of brave folks are already here to celebrate the opening of the installation. The first thing I notice are the coloured panels, positioned just so to create a play between shadows, light and reflections. And when the last rays of the sun are exhausted, spotlights switch on to replace daylight.


Photo credit | Martine Doyon
Next I glimpse a pair of shining cubes, mounted at the end of two springs, which had drawn a curious crowd around them. From here, passersby can exploit the work's interactive potential. As soon as my hand touches one of the modules, the facade of the Hôtel des Gouverneurs crackles, breaks and fragments, with a soundtrack to match. The ice had broken. I immediately understand that all you have to do is move one of the cubes to change the surroundings. To the left, to the right, all the way around, and the lights and projections change. Lift it just a bit and bam! the sound of howling violins. After fifteen minutes playing with this high-tech toy, I had figured out how to (finally!) make it snow, to make the hotel windows waltz and the shapes dance.


Photo credit | Martine Doyon
6:20 PM. After a hot chocolate I head for the corner of Maisonneuve and Saint-Laurent to see Forét Forêt, another work lighting up the sleet-filled night. Lo and behold, it's a birch forest planted smack in the middle of Montreal, next to a parking lot and a garage. Steel trees await urban explorers, and once again, aesthetics meets interactivity. The rarest specimen in this forest is the blue tree; all that you confide in its resonates out through the woods as if by magic. The secret? Loudspeakers hidden in three of the birches. It's simultaneously beautiful and playful, and inhabits such a seemingly dull space. I love these new public works, most of all for their accessibility. Éclats de verre is spread out through a public square and attracts as many families as punks, Forêt Forêt stands a few steps from a metro entrance; in both, people can meet to participate in collective acts of creation, no matter their status.

7 PM. Umbrellas start to fold away. The rain finally stops pouring down. Clearly, this Light Therapy session has worked.