(Cassandra Rogers / McGill Tribune)

Rallumons le Red Light reclaims Montreal’s Red-Light District

a/Art/Arts & Entertainment by

Whatever its faults, Montreal’s entertainment district cannot be described as poorly lit. On the evening of Oct. 24, a new artistic illumination joined the gaudy lights at the intersection of St. Laurent and Ste. Catherine. An excited crowd came to witness the unveiling of Rallumons le Red Light, an installation gracing the face of the 2-22 building.

The project’s name is a nod to its situation in Montreal’s former Red Light District. It aims to reclaim the ‘red light’ by re-illuminating the area and paying homage to a somewhat shady chapter of the city’s history—gambling, prostitution, and illicit drinking were activities typical to the area.

The installation, referred to as an “illumination” by its creators, is the product of a collaboration between La Vitrine, the cultural centre that occupies the 2-22 building, and Moment Factory, a Montreal-based studio that creates multimedia installations in public spaces. Moment Factory’s multimedia approach combined several types of performance art at the unveiling in an impressive display of Montreal talent.

As the audience assembled in the middle of the notorious intersection for the unveiling, 2-22 stood dark and quiet, lit only by a few dim red spotlights. The building’s face is made of glass crisscrossed by steel beams and three interior runways on which the red light screens are mounted. Actor Maude Guerin appeared behind glass above the building’s entrance and paid tribute to ‘The Main,’ as St. Laurent is affectionately called, with a dramatic monologue from Chante de Sainte Carmen de la Main. As the final line—“on rallume le red light”—rang out, the red lights sprang to life on the runways around her and began undulating in time to slow ambient music. They then picked up speed, flashing and spinning in time to upbeat electronic music in an impressive display of digital engineering.

(Cassandra Rogers / McGill Tribune)
(Cassandra Rogers / McGill Tribune)

The lights served as backdrop and accompaniment to each of the acts that followed: first a performance by the O’Vertigo dance group, then an opera excerpt performed by singers from l’Atelier lyrique de l’Opera de Montréal, and finally a breathtaking circus act by Les 7 doigts de la main—all of their homegrown talent, and all performing from the precariously high runways. The lights’ infinitely changeable nature complemented the performance, and will ensure that the installation captivates passersby in the months to come.

The event’s only pitfall was the interactive game played via smartphone that the announcers tried desperately to organize, in accordance with Moment Factory’s mission of creating interactive art experiences for the audience. In this case, however, the interactive aspect did not enhance the installation whatsoever. It was fraught with technical difficulties that created a major anticlimax; one audience member remarked that the game had turned them into “a thousand confused people.”

La Vitrine’s decision to mount the Red Light installation in public view on the façade of 2-22 is not a surprising one for an organization that works to make art and performance accessible to all Montrealers. The display can be appreciated by any and all passersby, which reflects La Vitrine’s mission of promoting culture to the public rather than reserving it for the elite, and also celebrates Montreal’s checkered past. All in all, definitely worth a look.

The Rallumons le Red Light installation can be seen on the face of the 2-22 building, 2 Ste. Catherine E.