Celebrating the genius of Norman McLaren in Quartier des Spectacles

April 11, 2014

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Norman McLaren was one of the world’s greatest animation filmmakers. After seeing one of his films, Picasso is said to have exclaimed: “At last, something new in the art of drawing!” And yet many people are not familiar with McLaren’s work. To mark the 100th anniversary of his birth, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership have decided to honour him in a big way. From April 11 to June 1, seven video-projection sites in the Quartier will feature new creations inspired by McLaren’s work, while an eighth site will present highlights of his major works.

Four of the seven sites will show films selected through an international competition (see sidebar) and three will host major interactive works by Montreal-based artists.

We talked to the local artists who created the interactive works: animation filmmaker Theodore Ushev with Iregular, multidisciplinary artists Melissa Mongiat and Mouna Andraos of Daily tous les jours and musician and DJ Kid Koala with Mike Wozniewski of Hololabs.


Mélissa Mongiat, Mouna Andraos, Theodore Ushev, Mike Wozniewski, Daniel Iregui, Kid Koala. Photo : Pedro Ruiz

Diagonales Le Pigeon

Diagonales. Photo : Le Pigeon

Diagonales Theodore Ushev and Iregular Inspired by the films Lines Horizontal (1960), Lines Vertical (1962) and Synchromy (1971) Grande Bibliothèque

What is the concept behind Diagonales?

We created a monolith, sort of an artificial intelligence inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey. From its position in front of the Grande Bibliothèque, people can scratch, touch or hit it to activate visuals and sound. I jokingly say it’s sort of like McLaren’s brain, because it will allow people to create an infinite number of unique combinations of sounds and images. McLaren scratched his film stock when making his movies; the audience can scratch the monolith to make their own creations.

Diagonales is a monumental work …

To symbolize McLaren’s genius, we wanted our installation to be gigantic. The steel structure weighs one tonne and is three metres tall. The projections are seen on two of the Grande Bibliothèque’s façades. With this work, it was important for us to make people feel the building’s internal energy, to bring its dynamism outside.

What does Norman McLaren mean to you?

I am a filmmaker at the NFB and his influence is still being felt there. He is an extraordinary source of inspiration not only on people making animations but for all of the filmmakers. It is a great honour to be able to create this kind of tribute to him.

McLarena Martine Doyon

McLarena. Photo : Martine Doyon

McLarena Melissa Mongiat and Mouna Andraos of Daily tous les jours Inspired by Canon (1964) Outside Saint-Laurent metro station

Why did you choose Canon, by McLaren and Grant Munro?

In Canon, we discover a musical form, the canon, through imagery. The third part of the film, where we see Munro do a repetitive dance, fascinated us. It gave us the idea of having the audience reproduce the choreography from the film as a game of “broken telephone.”

In McLarena, you invite people to illustrate the canon as a collective interactive dance?

Exactly. We want to recreate the film in the street with the public. We set up a recording studio in a shipping container placed outside Saint-Laurent metro station. The result will be a kind of Macarena, which explains the title of the work. The first person who enters the booth will try to reproduce Munro’s movements. The next will imitate those of the person before them, and so on. We wanted to play with the idea of mistakes, a key concept in McLaren’s works. But the segment with the original dance will be regularly added to the loop so that the original dance is not completely lost.

You also redesigned the area outside the metro station.

Yes. We wanted to create a welcoming space, somewhat along the lines of what we were able to do on Promenade des Artistes with 21 Balançoires. There will be a small patio where people can sit back and watch the work. Saint-Laurent metro station is a simple transit point that needed some love. We wanted to find a way to make people choose to stop there.

Phonophotopia Martine Doyon

Phonophotopia. Photo : Martine Doyon

Phonophotopia Kid Koala and Mike Wozniewski of Hololabs Inspired by Dots (1940) Théâtre Maisonneuve

How does Phonophotopia work?

Mike Wozniewki: The idea is to create sounds from images, like McLaren did. People can place objects on a conveyor belt – representing film stock – located on the Place des Arts Esplanade. As the conveyor moves, the objects pass a sensor that triggers a musical note. An image is immediately projected on the outside of Théâtre Maisonneuve. The number and arrangement of objects on the belt determines what notes are played, and the colour of the object selects an effect to be applied to the note. So the public will be able to learn how to “control” the resulting sounds and images. We want the public to have a truly experimental experience.

Why did you choose Dots as your inspiration?

Kid Koala: In this film, McLaren explored the idea of optical sound. It was still very experimental, and he was a pioneer in the field. By scratching the film, he discovered that it was possible to affect not only the image, but the sound as well. Because I do so much scratching as a DJ, the concept really resonated with me.

You composed the soundtrack. How is it different from what you usually do?

Kid Koala: I’m used to getting people up and dancing in clubs! This time, I was creating something for my first public art installation, right downtown. I wanted to compose something calm, atmospheric, meditative. It was important for me to avoid irritating people.

montage 4 facades

Photos : Martine Doyon

Four international works

After an international competition run jointly by the NFB and Quartier des Spectacles, four works were chosen for screening as part of McLaren Wall-to-Wall: Color.rythmetic by Christo Guelov (Spain) in Place de la Paix, Co existence by Léna Babadjian (France) on Cégep du Vieux Montréal, Dix anagrammes autour de Norman McLaren by Delphine Burrus (France) on the UQAM bell tower and The Baby Birds of Norman McLaren by Mirai Mizue (Japan) on UQAM’s Centre de design. In addition, UQAM’s President-Kennedy building will feature excerpts from McLaren’s nine most famous works.


McLaren Wall-to-Wall April 11 to June 1

Posted April 11