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From the archives, circa 2015: For most of us, nothing says “summer” like the flash and twinkle of fireflies calling to one another in the darkness. Summer was officially over this week, but in Montreal, you can catch one last glimpse of the nighttime magic. A unique interactive experience sponsored by Space for Life, the city’s life science museums, is following UNESCO’s lead and celebrating 2015 as the Year of Light.
Light Bearers, the June-through-November exhibit at the Montreal Insectarium, is a result of two local artists’ fascination with the frail beauty of fireflies and the flashing dialogues they create. Artists Maotik (aka Mathieu Le Sourd) and Etienne Paquette created a poetic, multi-media representation of the fireflies’ “conversations” using state-of-the-art technology—including lasers and leap motion—combined with an original soundtrack and more than 2,500 original crafted objects.
Le Sourd and Paquette’s immersive environment interprets a natural ecosystem and invites visitors to participate in the experience by creating their own audiovisual show inspired by the tiny light bearers.
Their biggest challenge was to reconstruct fireflies’ natural ecosystem. They chose a DIY approach: using metal rods and standard light bulbs filled with tonic water, they created a field of about 2,500 bioluminescent “plants,” each individually handcrafted and set within the exhibit space to evoke an organic design. The entrance to the 1,000-ft. exhibit is a field of the bulbs filled with tonic water that shine in the dark with the help of black light.
Paquette created the exhibit’s interactive stations with two large pieces of a tree trunk that he hollowed out and arranged to integrate computers and leap motions.
The technical side
Le Sourd and Paquette used normal transparent light bulbs filled with tonic water for the bioluminescent pathway, and special reflector bulbs for the main field, to maximize the impact of the lasers. Three lasers were used to cover the whole surface, blended and connected to a network router. Le Sourd built a tool with Touch Designer to control each beam with a leap motion.
Two visitors can interact at the same time, by placing their hands on top of the wooden interactive stations. IR sensors on the stations allow each finger to become a light beam—a firefly. Visitors’ movements create a sculptural interactive and generative environment, a mix of organic design, high technology, and craft. The artists say their goals were to create a bridge between science and art and help generate renewed interest in Montreal’s museums. “We also wanted to offer visitors a poetic and participative experience around the phenomenon of communication among fireflies, inspired by the frail beauty of the luminous messages they exchange.”
Light Bearers was open to the public until November 1, 2015, at Montreal Insectarium Espace pour la vie/Space for Life.
LIGHT BEARERS INTERACTIVE EXHIBIT
Client: Space for Life (Biodôme, Insectarium, Botanical Garden, and Planetarium)
Location: Montreal Insectarium
Design and Direction: Mathieu Le Sourd and Etienne Paquette
Art Direction: Mathieu Le Sourd
Environmental Design: Irena Lesiv
Sound Design: Jean-francois pedno
Technical Design and Production: XYZ Technologie Culturelle
Photos: Adrien Williams
About the artists
Montreal-based digital artist Mathieu Le Sourd (Maotik) creates immersive multimedia environments and generative visuals. His work has been presented in festivals around the world, including Live Cinema in Rio, the Plums Festival in Moscow, Visiones in Lima, Mutek Festival in Barcelona, and the London’s BFI Digital Québec. He is one of the artists behind the immersive multimedia performance Dromos.
Etienne Paquette is a PhD in Communications and a multidisciplinary artist who has worked as a designer, scriptwriter, and director creating narrative environments such as museum exhibitions, audiovisual experiences, and interactive multimedia installations. He is one of the creators behind the interactive urban installation Megaphone.