Samuel de Champlain may have been dead for nearly four centuries, but later this week, visitors to Nepean Point behind the National Gallery will get the chance to see him “come alive” in a stunning interactive light show.
“Normally buildings and sculptures are static,” says Pierre Schneider, one of the co-founders of 1024 Architecture. “What we want to do with our installation is to transform a ‘dead sculpture’ into a ‘live person’—to bring Samuel de Champlain back to life.”
French artists Schneider and François Wunschel, co-founders of 1024 Architecture, have been invited to Ottawa in partnership with the National Capital Commission, the Embassy of France, and the National Gallery, to mark the 400th anniversary of the French explorer’s arrival in Ottawa, and subsequent bonds between France and Canada, with their installation Plain Chant.
During the daytime, visitors can climb a specially constructed platform, which brings them eye-to-eye with Champlain.
“The location is really crazy,” says Schneider. “There is a perfect view from there of the river, of the Parliament, of the city, it’s really a perfect place . . . when you are at the foot of the sculpture you can’t see the surroundings as well, but when you are up on the balcony you will have an amazing view.”
When the Sun goes down, however, the real show starts. A lighting system installed on the raised platform will be programmed to present a five-minute sound-and-light display every fifteen minutes throughout the evening. Between the displays, people will be able to step up to a microphone that connects directly to the lighting system. When visitors speak into the microphone, the lights will respond with certain words designed to elicit specific responses. For example the words “Plain Chant” will turn on a spotlight for ten seconds, illuminating Champlain against the night sky like the Bat Signal.
Known for their architectural light installations, Schneider and Wunschel have been working together for more than ten years to create projects that breathe light and life into buildings around the world. The two are regulars at the annual festival of lights in Lyon, France, and at the Nuit Blanche celebration in Paris.
The idea for their installation in Ottawa, which promises to change the nightline of the city for three consecutive nights, began with a joke. “We were playing a game, calling Champlain Mr. Plain Chant, because in France you always take a word and you switch it, and so we switched Champlain to Plain Chant,” says Schneider. “Then we realized ‘Plain Chant’ was a way of singing, such as Gregorian chant, and we thought the best way to make an homage to Champlain would be to sing to him, or create a way for people to sing to him, and for Champlain to ‘talk back’ through light.”
Schneider is hopeful visitors will come to Nepean Point and read a poem into the microphone or sing a song, so that the driving force behind the light show will be interactivity between the public and Champlain.
The installation will be presented on 19 and 20 September from 7 to 11 p.m. During Nuit Blanche on 21 September, the display will run on a continuous loop from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. Access to the site is free.
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