The artists in this year’s Façade Festival are used to expressing their work on canvases or screens, but it’s a massive new step to project their ideas across an entire building—not to mention one as iconic as downtown’s Vancouver Art Gallery.
That’s been the challenge of the second annual event, which will project newly commissioned work from five local artists across the structure’s high-profile Robson Street side until Monday (September 5). The event is a collaboration between the Burrard Arts Foundation, Microsoft, and the VAG, with technical mentorship from projection-mapping specialists Go2 Productions.
In the case of digital artist Chris Shier, whose installation happens Saturday night (September 3), he’s had to take the feedback effects and the looping, mutating forms that he normally employs on websites and transfer them to a solid architectural edifice.
“The Go2 guys were pretty helpful in mapping out different areas of the building rather than a single surface,” Shier, who’s shown his work everywhere from the Centre Pompidou to the Western Front, explains to the Straight over the phone. “So we’ve put big concentric petri-dish shapes on the columns. And in the recessed areas there are video feedback elements.”
“The idea is to make the building itself into a work of art,” explains Genevieve Michaels, Burrard Arts Foundation gallery coordinator, in a separate phone interview. “I don’t think any of the five artists this year had ever worked with this technology before and they all found it exciting. They bring their own materials and ideas and work really closely with Go2 about how they could use this technology.
“For someone walking through downtown and coming across this, it’s going to be a magical moment. We’re really focused on public art and making it accessible.”
Joining Shier on the roster are artists Eric Metcalfe, Barry Doupé, Rebecca Chaperon, and Renée Van Halm, in an event in part inspired by huge visual-arts festivals like Sydney’s VIVID and Toronto’s Luminato and Nuit Blanche. All five participants will have their own solo showcase nights, culminating in two encore presentations featuring all five of them on Sunday and Monday (September 4 and 5).
What sets Shier’s work apart is that, for the first time at Façade, the projections will be fully interactive. A webcam will point at the audience area, where the crowd’s movements will feed into the effects that are being projected.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to have this scale,” says Shier, who adds that the festival is a big step for him. Interestingly, though, with projects like his viral “gifmelter” online, he’s used to reaching mass audiences. “It’s really about translating work from the computer screen onto another kind of screen, so it feels at home but feels like a big home. The scenario feels familiar to me: it’s very public, open, and egalitarian, with not much cost of entry.”
Still, Shier is psyched to be able to use such high-quality projectors on such a massive scale—in a celebratory atmosphere where people won’t have to websurf to find his work. “I’m gonna be going down there pretty much every night, I’m sure,” he says.
The Façade Festival runs at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Robson Street side from 8 p.m. to midnight until Monday (September 5).