Fort Worth residents Martha Prudhomme and Mary Russell are smiling and laughing as they emphatically push and pull a chrome metal lever inside one of a cylindrical piece of art.
“You don’t have to go to the gym in the morning. You can just come here and do this,” Prudhomme jokingly says to Russell. “She’s making me work,” Russell replies. “Row! Row! Row!” Prudhomme facetiously shouts at Russell and the two laugh uproariously.
‘Loop’ is a traveling interactive public art installation. It features a dozen circular-shaped, hand-powered machines along the park’s walkways. You climb inside one and it’ll light up, play music and project moving animated images; sort of like a giant zoetrope, one of those old-fashioned devices that spun images around, making them move. The animations are inspired by fairy tales, like “Alice in Wonderland,” but they move thanks to people power.
See, each nine-foot-tall cylinder has a lever – kind of like the lever on a railroad flatcar – and as a person pumps the lever back and forth, the cylinder activates. Lights flash around you, music starts – and a flip-book-style animation begins.
“Interactive art is not – I don’t see much of that down here,” Russell explains. “Except maybe the water feature at Sundance and that’s mostly not so interactive, but wet! (laughs)”
Russell works at the YMCA in downtown Fort Worth, near Burnett Park. She thinks “Loop” will draw people out.
“I think it’s fantastic. I can’t wait to see it at night when it has all the lights and stuff going. But anytime that you can bring people that live downtown and elsewhere down to a park that doesn’t get used very much – I think it’s a great idea,” she says.
Fort Worth City Councilwoman Anne Zadeh agrees. Zadeh says the parks downtown are meant to serve all of Fort Worth. She thinks “Loop” is attractive, because unlike some artworks, it’s just fun to play with.
“You don’t have to go to a museum,” Zadeh says. “You don’t have to use your museum manners, which is all very important as well, but coming down here and being able to touch art and interact with it, I think just opens it up to a broader audience.”
That prospect is exactly why the folks at Downtown Fort Worth, Inc. brought “Loop” to North Texas. The organization – which aims to make the city center a destination – admits that Burnett Park has been under-used. It’s mostly visited during the day by nearby office workers or people leaving the courthouse. They hope ‘Loop’ changes that.
Bob Jameson thinks it can. He’s CEO of the tourism group Visit Fort Worth.
“People are looking for more interaction, more direct engagement with whatever it is that they have to experience. And art is no different than anything else. And so to be here and to be part of it and to activate it just touches people in a way and engages them” says Jameson.
10-year-old Dylan Konur was what you’d call definitely engaged. He played with 10 of the 12 cylinders.
“My favorite part is that as you’re pushing it – how it’s telling a story and you can watch it while you’re in it and it just keeps on going and going,” Konur says. “And it lights up. The sound is cool. It’s like music almost.”
Kevin Murphy works in Burnett Plaza. The Park is literally outside his office doors and he says the immersive artwork is pretty sweet.
“It looks super futuristic too,” he says. “I don’t know what about it makes me think that? Maybe it’s the round shape of it or something? But it almost looks like aliens dropped like a little part of their spaceship in our park or something. (laughs)”
It’s not from outer space. It came from a pair of artist in Montreal. And ‘Loop’ has already landed in D-C and New York. The Fort Worth invasion will only last until the end of October.
Hello Olivier! Can you tell our audience who you are and what you do?
Hello! My name is Olivier Girouard. I am a composer and also the artistic director of Ekumen, a small production-based company in sound and public art in Montreal. I’m 37-years-old. And I created ‘Loop’ with Jonathan Villeneuve.
Can you tell us a little bit about ‘Loop?’
‘Loop’ takes the old-school 19th-century technology of the zoetrope, music box and handcar and fuses them into a retro-futuristic motion-picture machine. Audience members are invited to step inside of the wheel and discover how their own movement turns a series of still images into an interactive animation and soundtrack.
Why did you and Jonathan create ‘Loop?’
There is a contest every year called Luminothérapie at the Place des Festivals in the Quartier des Spectacles in Montreal where artists and organizations are invited to submit an idea. And from that idea, five finalists are chosen. Then a winner is selected and their work is created and put on view. Each contest has a theme. And in 2016, the theme was fairy tales. So we had to come up with an idea that included fairy tales, but also sound, movement and light.
At first, we wanted to do a merry-go-round. But then we realized that Quebec has a law prevented us from making that sort of machine. It’s considered “too dangerous.” In my other life (not my artistic practice), I ran a marathon and there was this big hamster wheel where people could run inside of it. So we decided to take our merry-go-round idea and make it vertical. But then we needed to find a way to make the wheels move so that the images could be animated. And that’s why we added the handcar rail.
What do you think the most interesting thing about ‘Loop’ is?
I think it’s nice from afar. It’s fun to look at. And it’s fun to participate. There are 12 of the loops, so you can move from one to the other and try different fairy tales. The experience is very short. It’s like an animated GIF, so that’s like four to seven seconds. You can make the images work for someone else to view. Or you can work with friend and make it together. I like that there are so many ways to look and play with the machine.
The ‘Loop’ machines seem otherworldly. Can you talk about why you chose this look?
They look like a time travel machine. We wanted something that looked very slick, very technological, but at the same time, the tech is actually very simple, very old-time at the same time. Everything is mechanical. The only electricity that we use is for the sound and the light. So in reality, the whole thing basically works like a bicycle.
‘Loop’ was built for Canadian audiences. And it’s visited a few stops in the U.S., but what are your thoughts about coming to Texas?
We are thrilled to be in Texas. We’ve started to travel a lot with this project. As you said, we started in the winter here in Montreal. It was sort of perfect for winter time, because it’s cold and snowy here. But you can put on a jacket, hide from snowfall and then move to make the animation work and keep yourself warm. Texas is the furthest south that ‘Loop’ has traveled. And we think that is cool. Burnett Park and its walkways look like it was built for our installation (laughs). We hope people enjoy it as much as we do.
Interview questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Location Mentioned: Burnett Park