Luminothérapie: Loop’s giant wheels make everyone feel like a kid again

December 9, 2016

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Loop is its official name, but the two designers behind this work of art will refer to it as “the wheels” or “the machines.” That comes as no surprise when you know that one of them says he’s lucky, at 36, to be making a living building Lego sets, while the other was just a little kid when he realized he wanted to be a designer. No matter what you call it, this illuminated, musical, interactive installation is the centrepiece of the seventh annual Luminothérapie event, lighting up the Place des Festivals until January 29.

What it is? 13 giant, illuminated, musical zoetropes in which you’re invited to sit and activate a mechanism. You’ll then see a short animated loop based on a fairy tale.

We spoke with Loop’s designers and makers, Jonathan Villeneuve, an artist with a love of gadgetry, and Olivier Girouard, a composer and the director of the Ekumen studio.

How did the idea for Loop come about?

Olivier Girouard : Jonathan returned from a trip to Berlin, where he’d visited the Technology Museum. He saw all kinds of mechanical inventions there, including the zoetrope, a device, from before movies were invented, that animates a series of images when you spin its cylinder. Then, thinking of hamster wheels, we decided to build a vertical zoetrope. So we combined three mechanical elements: the railway push-car (like the ones made famous by Bugs Bunny cartoons), the music box and the zoetrope. We came up with the idea and sketched out the project just one week before the deadline for submitting proposals!

Jonathan Villeneuve : Our invention reminds me of the Chimera, the mythological three-headed beast born of the intersection of different universes. I like this more or less unclassifiable hybrid machine. Is it a toy? A projection device? A kind of lighting? Looking at previous Luminothérapie pieces, we noticed that installations that were not only participatory but also collaborative, where participants had to act together to produce a result, were – in our opinion – the more successful projects and the most appreciated by the public.

Along with all that, there’s a narrative structure inspired by fairy tales…

O.G. : Having decided to work with zoetropes, the idea of animation came to mind. We approached the Ottoblix design firm, which I’d worked with before, and they handled the visuals and the narrative. They developed short loops, about 20 seconds long, using themes and characters from classic tales. It’s more figurative than narrative.

You are the core duo behind the project, but Loop was made by a large team.

O.G. : In all, around 50 people worked with us to build Loop over the last six months. Impressive! Some had already worked on Luminothérapie, so they knew what works and what doesn’t. We drew on each individual’s strengths and expertise. That’s essential in this kind of project.

J.V. : Loop is not the work of one person, but of a team. Working in a team involves a lot of negotiation, but surprisingly we had to make very few compromises on the content. The final work is very similar to the original sketches.

What were the toughest challenges you faced?

J.V. : The schedule! Getting it all done in six months was a huge challenge!

O.G. : The mechanical issues were significant, because it’s a complex device. But there are always ways to solve technical challenges.

J.V. : The human challenges are even bigger. Managing 50 people, with 50 different ways of thinking – it’s hard work!

What do you change about your approach when you’re creating for a public space?

J.V. : The Place des Festivals is part of a worldwide network of major public spaces. Working outside museums and galleries gives us the opportunity to think differently and reach different audiences – people who want to have their daily routine punctuated by something extraordinary. Our job is to give them something that’s both meaningful and astonishing.

O.G. : I had worked with public space, but for a more targeted audience – roving theatre, street performances. With Luminothérapie, the work is much larger. Usually, I work with a sense of urgency and I’m able to come up with solutions right up to the last minute. It’s different with this kind of machine. We had to plan for everything and be very disciplined at every step in order to respond to issues related to using the machine in a public space – the weather, safety, stress on the materials.

Now that Loop is finished and open to Montrealers, what are your hopes for your installation?

O.G. : We refer to it as a work of art, but some people describe it as a carnival ride. An electrician might see it as lighting! And they’re all completely right. Some visitors will want to get inside, move the bar, play with the installation. Others will be happy to watch it from a distance. There are all kinds of ways to be amazed!

J.V. : We realized our vision to the fullest. Now, we want to see how people respond to it, approach it. I might turn out to be completely different from what we envisioned! And that’s what’s interesting. We want to see how each person connects the experience to their own life.

Check out the video clips for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Loop.

Place des Festivals
December 8 to January 29