Under curfew, the city sleeps early. The flame of Montreal’s infamous nightlife seems to have been extinguished, leaving no trace of the nocturnal glowscape it once was.
If you have wandered downtown recently, you’ve likely encountered a series of spinning wheels in Quartier des Spectacles. These glowing rings are no alien spacecrafts––they are part of the public art installation LOOP, which hopes to bring back the light that the city has been missing.
LOOP, the 2016-2017 winner of the Luminotherapié multidisciplinary competition for public art installations, features 13 giant glowing loops, which use visual art, light, and sound to pay homage to Quebec authors and artists.
Olivier Girouard, the artistic director of Ekumen, the company behind LOOP, began the project in 2017. His background in music helped him create LOOP.
“The tools that you use for live performance and outdoor performance art are basically the same,” Girouard said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “Once you’ve done that, it’s easy to transpose that into bigger space.”
Girouard and fellow artist Jonathan Villeneuve were also interested in creating a public merry-go-round, but could not do so for security reasons. Instead, they found a creative alternative.
“I had just run the Toronto marathon and I was interested in human-powered machines,” Girouard said. “With LOOP, we used that same idea and we took the merry-go-round and flipped it on its side.”
The artists were inspired by the Zoetrope, a device that predates film reels and uses the same circular motion to produce moving images.
“We reproduced [the Zoetrope] with flickering light,” Girouard said. “The brain creates the illusion that the images are moving.”
This year, LOOP took an interesting turn when SODEC, a government organization supporting Quebec’s cultural enterprises, was invited to show a piece at the Frankfurt Book Fair, an event which features a pavilion dedicated to a different country each year. This year, with Canada being featured, SODEC hoped to highlight Quebecois culture in the installation and reached out to the creators of LOOP to do a variation of the piece for the book fair.
“SODEC wanted Quebec to be more represented and approached Quartier des Spectacles to do an installation, and we adapted that this year into a new version of LOOP, with 12 stories all representing a Quebec author or book,” Girouard said.
Each loop tells its own story, such as that of the children’s book Au-Delà de la Forêt by Nadine Robert and Gérard Dubois. The images depict the tale of a rabbit curious about what lies across its forest and climbs the trees only to find a deer in another forest staring back at him.
Not only does the exhibition feature a wide assortment of literature, but its interactivity makes it unique. The lever-pulling action required to activate the installations keeps visitors warm during the winter months.
“In the public space, interactivity is really important,” Girouard said. “What makes [LOOP] special is the different layers of experience; from a distance it’s a light sculpture, already an experience from afar. When you get closer, you see people activating it and you have the option of activating or not. It’s a combination of the sound, the images, the literature, and the sculpture; a meeting of all that art together.”
LOOP is not the only installation to light up Place des Arts this year; Entre les Rangs allows visitors to walk through a variety of ethereal winter vegetation, and Nouvelle Lune uses music, shadows, and light to reveal images representing the culture of the Quartier des Spectacles.
Girouard is also behind Coeur Battant, a five-minute light show on Rue St. Catherine that can be seen every night at 6:00 p.m. from different buildings throughout Montreal.
“I wanted to create a piece in solidarity with the public and artists of Montreal to say that we’re still here,” Girouard said. “It’s a five-minute short story representing the year we’ve just been through—the disillusion, the changes, but with an ending describing better days ahead.”