ARTS AND CULTURE
5 Minutes With … An Artist Behind Montreal's Non-rideable Ferris Wheel
Before La Vélocité des lieux made its debut on Sept. 19, locals wondered why Montreal needed another ferris wheel – after all, there’s already the Grande Roue at the La Ronde theme park – especially one that came with a price tag of $1.1 million.
The 18-metre-high object is actually a massive sculpture, not a true ferris wheel – though it takes parts from five buses and forms them into a circle to look like one. It’s an homage to the area’s role as a transportation hub, says Nicolas Laverdière, a member of BGL, the art trio who constructed it. “It's the biggest sculpture that we've done and I don't know that it will happen again,” he says. “It was an adventure for sure.”
La Vélocité des lieux (the name roughly means “the speed of places”) is part of the redevelopment of Montreal-Nord, which is making the area around the two very busy boulevards of Henri-Bourassa and Pie-IX more hospitable towards cyclists and pedestrians. The city’s Public Art Bureau commissioned the sculpture as a public art project, in addition to (less controversial) trees and parks to make the area more livable for residents.
As followers of contemporary Canadian art may recall, BGL are representing Canada at the current Venice Biennale with their installation piece Canadassimo, a replica of a dépanneur (convenience store). BGL were also the brains behind Water Velocity, a sculpture commissioned in Toronto for the 2015 Pan Am Games and installed at the University of Toronto Scarborough’s athletic centre.
Laverdière spoke with Billy about the logistics of creating a massive project in the middle of a busy city, and the importance of public art.
“There are eight legs done with galvanized steel. Then you have the skeleton of this circle, it's stainless steel, and then all the forms that give the image of having buses and seats. This is all aluminum. The structure is heavy and strong. The legs were done in January 2014. It took two months, and then they had to be galvanized. I found parking near Dorval where I could leave them under a homemade tent for a year because finding a place in Montreal was too expensive. That's where we left the legs for a year — it was parking mostly used by campers, so the price was reasonable. It’s really difficult to deal with working outside in our country, with a low of -35C of and high of 35C.
“Colour is always something important for us, we always try to (use) as much colour as we can. When we first presented the idea we were (planning to paint) the aluminum, and the jury told us, ‘Guys, if you paint it you can forget the project, you won’t have it, because it would be so expensive to repaint all that.’ There are two Plexiglass lines that are passing through all the buses and are transparent green and yellow. The aluminum stayed grey, which is a compromise.
“The piece doesn’t have lights from outside that are lighting it. The lights are realistic lighting, as if it were five real buses. What I mean is that we used front lighting, headlights, that are white, and the back lights are red. There are these lights also that are lighting all the seats and the floors, so it’s really like five buses floating and creating a luminous ring. This winter, this sculpture will be lighting up at 4:30 p.m. every day, so this will be a big part of the experience that it will offer, the way that it gets lit. You will see it from far, for sure, even from a plane I think.
“While I was installing it, lots of people were asking if they could get a ride, because they were recognizing the big wheel. We were laughing and saying, ‘Yes, come in!’ and then they would discover that it was buses. When you look at it at first you don’t recognize the buses. I think you have to be curious and then discover what it is. When you get nearer and take a couple of seconds to really discover what it is and you see that you (can’t) get a ride, then you maybe project yourself into one of these buses. That’s what we wish, but we’ll see if that’s what it’s going to (inspire in) pedestrians.
“I truly believe that fascination is healthy, and when a piece of art can create that, when you can generate a smile, I’m pretty sure that it helps our society to be healthier, it helps people to appreciate the place where they live, to appreciate life. I think that sometimes some pieces of art are really crazy and craziness is also something else that I really believe we need people to see – that artists and creation can be crazy, can be totally free. It’s something that is inside humans, and sometimes we forget. Some public art is existing to remind us of that, that we can be crazy, we have freedom to play and to generate smiles. It’s a challenge that we [BGL] gave ourselves, to generate fascination, but it’s not something that happens all the time.”