Montreal's luminous art walk brightens up city and spirits amid winter darkness

·4 min read
Montreal's luminous art walk brightens up city and spirits amid winter darkness

This year's version of Montreal's outdoor art exhibit takes walking in a winter wonderland to a whole new level.

Arranged in the city's Quartiers des Spectacles at the start of December, a series of colourful, interactive installations make up the 12th edition of Luminothérapie, a luminous art walk that invites visitors of all ages to come out and play.

"Kids, adults, everybody has so much fun and you have music as well in the experience, so this is kind of a family activity," said Catherine Girard Lantagne, director of programming and production for the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership.

Dave St-Amant/CBC News
Dave St-Amant/CBC News

This year, spectators are invited to engage with five interactive and contemplative works, including Impulse, one of the most iconic creations, marking its third year in the exhibit, Girard Lantagne said. The installation is made up of large, illuminated seesaws that glow and vary in tone and intensity as you move them up and down.

Entre les rangs, made up of thousands of luminous, flexible stems designed to evoke a field of wheat swaying in the wind, secured a place in the exhibit for a second year in a row.

Iceberg is a tunnel of illuminated metal arches that each make a particular sound to mimic water droplets as ice melts; and Nova projects a video inspired by the motion of water linked to Montreal's rivers on surrounding buildings.

Dave St-Amant/CBC
Dave St-Amant/CBC

Girard Lantagne says each year, people come from every district in Montreal to view the installations.

"Now we realize that people want more and more, so the activities start to change," she said.

Arguably the most imposing and popular interactive structures this year is a luminous 4.5 tonne, 17-metre steel whale, which dims its light and sound if spectators get too close as a way of portraying the harmful impact of humans invading nature.

Erected in Place des Festivals, Echoes: A Voice From Uncharted Waters won the coveted spot for this year's major installation in the annual multidisciplinary public art competition held by the Quartier des Spectacle.

Vivien Gaumand/Quartier des Spectacles
Vivien Gaumand/Quartier des Spectacles

Lastly, with Cœur dansant, the Quartier des Spectacles becomes a dance floor for five minutes every evening at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.

"You can't stay and don't dance with this moment," Girard Lantagne joked, "so this is an element to put some joy in the winter and the darkness."

Providing light therapy — the English meaning of luminothérapie — is the idea behind the eponymous annual exhibition, she explained.

This year's Luminothérapie installations are open from Dec. 2, 2021 to Feb. 27, 2022, free of charge.

Exhibit is a real form of therapy, expert says

Last year, the darkness of the pandemic upped the event's popularity "more than ever," according to Girard Lantagne, as Montrealers yearned for some much-needed holiday cheer.

And as the winter season brings shorter days and longer nights, one doctor says the event may actually live up to its name.

"I'd say that the [art exhibition] really is therapeutic at multiple levels," said Dr. Robert Levitan, the head of depression research at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Manmeet Ahluwalia/CBC
Manmeet Ahluwalia/CBC

For years, Dr. Levitan has been recommending light therapy to combat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which involves exposure to bright, ultraviolet-filtered artificial light for about 30 minutes every morning.

SAD is a seasonal depression that affects three to five per cent of the Canadian population — disproportionately young women — during the darker winter months.

Although the art exhibition is intended to be explored at night, and no controlled studies have been conducted to show its effects on mental health, Dr. Levitan said it might provide multiple benefits.

"It's possible the light itself is sufficient, I suppose, to have a biological effect... but it also gets [people] out of their house, so it's got a behavioural activation component."

Behavioural activation therapy can help people suffering from depression by using activities such as getting outside, breathing fresh air and interacting with people. Novel experiences, something many of us lost throughout the pandemic, Dr. Levitan explained, also release certain mood-improving chemicals in our brains.

"Good art is very novel and very exciting," he said.

The 12th edition of Luminothérapie at the Quartier des Spectacles opened Dec. 2, 2021 and ends Feb. 27, 2022. It runs from noon to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday and noon to 11 p.m. Friday to Sunday. Visiting the installations is free.

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