A few nights ago, I had the privilege to experience something magical in my current home of Fort McMurray. With our Friday evening free, my wife and I decided to take a performing arts tour around the city being offered by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, known as igNGHT. I will admit, I was ill prepared for what I was witness to.
I’ll lead off by saying that there are those that claim there is nothing to do in this city. Many come here for work but find no time for play. In many cases, they are unable to find, or aren’t aware of, things to fill their lives outside of work. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve heard this from people I’ve interacted with since I’ve moved here. In fact, I myself was one of these people for the first few months of my life in this strange city.
For those that still have that opinion, you really aren’t looking close enough as igNIGHT was spread right across the city in many places that frequent a lot of traffic. The art exhibits we witnessed were so spread out that it was incorporated into a city bus tour that lasted nearly 2 hours (it was also remarkably the first time I had been on a city bus here). What I saw that night made me smile, laugh and watch in awe.
The tour began at Jubilee Plaza, located next to the municipal buildings, where we started with the first exhibit titled “The Pool” by Jen Lewin. There was a choreographed dance with music for the crowd which was fantastic, but that wasn’t the most interesting aspect of the piece. When we first arrived, there were children and adults running and playing on each of the pieces which would change and swirl different colours each time they were stepped on. There were no bars, glass cages, fences or guards. Everyone was having fun with a truly interactive and accessible piece of art that was constantly in a state of change.
One of the next stops on the tour was MacDonald Island park, a giant recreational facility serving thousands of people every day. Just outside of its doors was piece titled “Tri-Harmonic” by Stefan Verstappen. This piece featured some well known local talent signing some familiar tunes through a microphone; the three structures that surrounded them would respond to each sound with various harmonies and lights. Of course, people were invited to participate, standing in the center of the piece, and watch as the exhibit produced its interesting mixture of amazing, brilliant and sometimes eerie sounds and glows.
Climbing back on the bus, were then treated to a rendition of “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe on the way to our next stop. It was done dramatically and beautifully and it delightfully set the mood for our next stop on the fields of Keyano College. There, a sculpture of a Raven stands proudly in the night, made of various fabrics and PVC pipe.
One of the final stops on the tour was also one of my favourite pieces. At the Snye, in the middle of a dark field, was an exhibit called “Wreck to the Seaman, Tempest to the Field” by Robert Cram and Nathaniel Wong. It featured what looked like wrecked sails of a ship coming up from out of the ground while dim orange and yellow lights flickered and the wind blew gently creating a beautiful and eerie feel to the whole thing. As if this wasn’t enough, there was instrumental accompaniment which made the thing all the more interesting as various strings from handmade instruments were plucked, hit and gently pulled. It sent shivers down my spine and gave me a moment of reflection as I watched in awe of the whole spectacle.
The final piece on the tour was “Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light” by Sarah Beck. This was probably my absolute favourite of the evening. It was rather simple, but contained an element of sadness and thought. The words of the pieces’ title were arranged in incandescent lights bulbs as if they were meant for a light up sign on Broadway. The piece successfully celebrates the achievement of the invention of the light bulb we have known for well over 100 years. It also serves as a memorial to an invention that will no longer be produced by year’s end and shows that change is inevitable as the bulbs will gradually burn out, one by one, until the piece goes completely dark.
Everything I saw on this tour sparked something in me; it made me reflect and it moved me in different ways. Everybody will experience art differently and therein lies some of the beauty behind it. Everything that I witnessed and experienced that night was visible, moving, accessible and interactive. I believe that this is what art if truly about. Not only that but I’ve only listed a few of pieces here and you don’t even need to take the official bus tour to see them.
Fort McMurray is on the verge of a transformation itself. While oil is a vital part of what brings us here, there is something just under the surface which many people are quick to dismiss. This city is on the edge of an art boom. For those that say there is nothing in this city besides work, you aren’t trying or even bothering to look.
While igNIGHT may only be a temporary exhibit, it has encompassed the whole week and there are aspects of it throughout this city that you can approach at any time regardless of age, job or income. Art is for everybody. The concept that it is stuffy and boring is far from truth. While the bus tours are now done, you have one night left (tonight – November 1) to experience this for yourself. Make sure you don’t miss out – I promise it will not disappoint. Art will not go gentle into that good night…..