The Library at Night

A Lighthouse Immersive in Association with Luminato Festival, Toronto

Courtesy of Luminato Festival and Lighthouse Immersive

Joe Szekeres

Lepage has created an Inviting, Intriguing and Interesting discovery of places we so often take for granted – our libraries.

I was really looking forward to attending ‘The Library at Night’. I concluded my 33-year teaching career as a secondary school teacher librarian before my retirement. Libraries have always fascinated me as a kid, and they do even now. The term now thrown around today in educational settings is LEARNING COMMONS but I’m not even going there as that’s fodder for another discussion in the understanding of the concept of library.

Selecting a book from a particularly organized shelf either in a school or public setting continually opens a world of which I never knew. The press release states: “At night, books disappear into the shadows, assert themselves into your circle of light.”

Just reading that previous statement made me know I selected the right degree program in studying English Language and Literature.

Libraries have this stigma attached to them as quiet places, and I believe there’s nothing wrong with that even though the LEARNING COMMONS today in schools can also mean there’s productive noise within its four walls. Depending on whatever task I was or am accomplishing at any time I need silence to focus and concentrate. I still do.

The journey through Robert Lepage’s THE LIBRARY AT NIGHT calls for twenty people in each group to ensure feeling safe regarding health precautions. This presentation was inspired by the writing of Argentina Canadian Alberto Manguel and his 2006 book of the same title which explores the theoretical, architectural, and social dimension that underlie any library’s existence.

Loved this connection, and we were oh so quiet as we listened intently to the guide’s explanation. More about this shortly.

I was about to experience a virtual reality (VR) of headsets, 360 video immersion technology and scenographic experience of ten worldwide libraries and how they support Manguel’s writing. According to the press release, this exhibit was initially designed by Lepage and his production company Ex Machina to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Montréal’s Grande Bibliothèque in 2015.

This focus and concentration of which I spoke earlier was haltingly put to the test for me for at least the first five minutes initially. The guides did not give clear directions on what was to be done to manipulate the headsets and where we were to be sitting. Since I can only get by when it comes to technology, I felt my frustration level rising.

Once it subsided and I felt in control, I quite enjoyed the experience and would most heartily recommend a visit.

I felt my jaw drop as I entered a magical world of a recreation of Manguel’s personal library in the south of France. Our group was then invited to explore the room for a few minutes but not touch anything. I could just imagine the smell of freshly varnished and cleaned mahogany wood.

After a few moments, we were then shown how to fit the VR glasses and headset around our head and face. We were instructed by a guide to go to a bench around the room, open it, sit down first and then place the glasses and headset on, which I did and so did the lady next to me.

I sat there for a few moments with headset on waiting and then felt that something wasn’t right.

Off came the headset and I was one of the last to leave as everyone else had been ushered into the next room (a mythical library in a moonlit forest) where we were then told to put on the gear.

That hadn’t been clearly explained in the introduction.

Once we sat down in the second room, the headsets went on again.

The first viewing was mind-blowing for me. I loved it and appreciated hearing the explanation.

Then frustration mounted again as it appeared the first viewing repeated and I couldn’t stop it. Off came my headset. The lady at my table also found the same thing. We were then given new headsets.

And again, on went the headsets, this time to another visually astounding scene of Jules Verne’s library. When that scene finished, I finally discovered that I had to turn my head to go to the next virtual reality library scene.

This bit of information was not made clear in the introductions by the guides.

Augh!

Nevertheless, once I had this understanding of how to manoeuvre the headset, I was entranced with the worlds I had entered of the various libraries. Sound effects were crisp and clear. I could almost feel the emanating heat from the flames outside the Sarajevo library while the lone musician played on the grand staircase of the library. At other times, I wanted to reach out and simply touch some of the gorgeous balustrades or remove one of the books from the shelves and open it to see what I can discover. Calm and soothing voice narration made me swivel in my chair to experience the 360 degree visual immersion.

Final Comments: A frustrating and confusing initial explanation finally paved the way for an extraordinary experience I’ve always wanted to try. Hopefully the guides will be clearer in their directions for future visitors.

Would I partake in another VR experience? Absolutely now that I feel comfortable in how the headsets work.

‘The Library at Night’ runs to April 18 at Lighthouse Artspace at 1 Yonge Street, Toronto (in the same building as the Toronto Star) For tickets and further information, please visit www.lighhouseimmersive.com for tickets and information.

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