February in Calgary can be grim. Questionable weather, the roads brown with mud and gravel — aesthetically speaking, unless there’s a fresh snowfall, February is not easy on the eyes for Calgarians. That is, until now.
This year, we have something imaginative and conceptually beautiful to look forward to. Downtown Calgary invites you to Glow: Downtown Winter Lights Festival, which will take place throughout the downtown core this Family Day long weekend. With entertainment hubs as well as roving performances throughout downtown, the festival is mainly comprised of 12 light art installations created by 21 local, national and international artists, as well as projections and theatrical experiences, offering up a visually stimulating reprieve from winter.
With such renowned artists including local favourites Caitlind R.C. Brown and Wayne Garrett, Raw Design from Montreal and Varvara & Mar from Spain to name but a few, the festival is gearing up to be the start of something great.
Another local artist contributing to the festival is set, lighting and sound designer Anton de Groot who is well known and respected in the Calgary theatre community, having won awards for his lighting designs.
I had a chance to sit down with Anton and find out a bit more about his installation, A Light Shower, which invites people to enter into what seems to be a conventional shower, but once inside, they will be exposed to the lights, sounds and feelings of summer in Calgary.
Q: Is the concept of A Light Shower something that you had come up with prior to hearing about this festival?
A: To some degree. So, it sounds pretty hilarious, (when I had heard about) the call for submissions, it would have been back in late spring/early summer of 2016, and this is the first time this has ever happened to me, ever, because I am much more laborious in terms of a thinker, but this idea appeared to me fully formed in less than a minute. It just popped into my head and I don’t know what confluence of interesting things were going on in my life at the time that provided or made the space for that, but just it just conceptually just appeared in my head.
Q: And that’s when you know that it’s right.
A: Exactly! And there are a few things that I did that were totally there (initially) like the idea of the soundscape came out a few minutes later, but the idea of an enclosed space being totally covered in light, just in terms of a shower as a model, just as kind of like a cleansing ritual idea for the patrons to do when they enter the space.
Q: Like having a bit of a break from winter?
A: Exactly. So then (last summer) I just started recording a few sounds, I would take my little recorder out and about … the Folk Fest, the Stampede Parade, I took it to Village Ice Cream once … and so I listened to the sounds and actually am just now about to start putting the bulk of the soundscape together. I’m not sure 100 per cent what the narrative is going to be yet.
Q: So, how big is the shower?
A: It is eight-feet tall, it’s about two-foot by two-foot wide or two-foot-eight by two-foot-eight wide.
Q: So you could only fit maybe two people in there at a time?
A: Ideally only one (person at a time) would be my preference. I invited my dear friend Riley Miljan (to help out) – he runs a small company called TechArt Custom Creations, he builds a lot of the sets around town and he’s built a bunch of stuff that I’ve designed. He also built The Hollow for Vertigo Theatre. I needed him in order to get to accomplish this, because I am not the world’s greatest builder. I sent him all of the drawings and just the shape of the panelling and how I wanted it to look.
Q: When I first envisioned the shower I thought it would be all dark and then the lights would pop out — but (seeing pictures) this is actually a white, bright shower.
A: It’s modelled a little bit on the shape of some really modern looking showers that you see in really expensive magazines on the inside, so with lights in the shower head, the activation button in the middle and the faucets, and doors that will close up behind you.
Q: So, it’s kind of like a Tardis?
A: Yeah, actually (laughs).
Q: Was creating public art different than, say, creating art for the theatre?
A: I’m a theatre designer, set, light, sounds are the three things that I do. And this is kind of an amalgamation of all of those things but also none of those. I have been really intrigued by the idea of public art and I really want to see what kind of work that I can do more of in that world because I love theatre, I love performing arts, but I also recognize that sometimes it’s harder to engage audiences, and that’s the big question. Anything I can do that becomes a theatrical moment outside of the theatre is going to be more accessible and I think maybe encourage people to go see plays. I’m starting to try to think about how I can start to tap more of my work into larger public art ideas.
I am most interested to see what this piece has to say beyond just the experiential moment of it. I’m still trying to decide what that is, I’m excited … I have an idea in terms of our relationship to private space in the public. I’m trying to find ways to let the work be engaging.
Anton won’t be able to see his installation during Glow — he’s currently working as assistant lighting designer at the Stratford Festival until the beginning of June. You, however, can check it out down at the Harley Hotchkiss Gardens outside of the old Courts building February 17-20 from 6:30-11pm nightly. Information on artists, schedule and locations can be found on Downtown Calgary’s site here.
Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of Fast Forward Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through her website, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at email@example.com.