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Loop, an interactive art exhibit, lights up the Ped Mall

Loop

Iowa City Ped Mall, July 9-Aug. 10


Loop at night in Black Hawk Mini Park, July 10, 2021. — Izabela Zaluska

Loop began to light up the Ped Mall on Friday. The interactive art installation combines spinning illustrations and quiet music, all powered by the person viewing the art.

The installation features large cylindrical pods that mimic the display of a zoetrope, an early 19th-century precursor of the movies. Zoetropes were tabletop devices containing a loop of sequential illustrations. The cylinder containing the loop was spun, and viewed through the slits of the device, the images inside appeared to come to life.

Loop puts the person inside the zoetrope-inspired pod, seated on a see-saw-style bench. But the seat doesn’t move when the bar in the center of the pod is pushed and pulled, the images inside the pod do. If you move the bar fast enough, a soundtrack for the images begins to play. Each pod has its own imagery and sound.

The interior of a Loop pod. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Loop was created for the 2016 Luminothérapie, a major art exhibit held annually in Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles. Following its appearance at the festival, Loop spent the next two years touring cities in Canada and the United States, and even made a few stops in Europe.

“We knew early on that the Downtown District would need to go above and beyond to invite and welcome the community back downtown, and encourage visitors to reconnect with the city,” Nancy Bird, executive director of the Iowa City Downtown District (ICDD), said at the Friday morning ceremony in Black Hawk Mini Park, which officially opened the art display.

ICDD, along with the City of Iowa City and the local convention and visitors bureau, Think Iowa City, are sponsoring Loop. After making some brief remarks at the opening ceremony, Mayor Bruce Teague became one of the first to try the interactive art. He was soon joined by Iowa City Councilmember Janice Weiner in a pod.

Iowa City Councilmember Janice Weiner and Mayor Bruce Teague at Loop, July 9, 2021. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Loop is composed of 12 pods, six of which are in Black Hawk Mini Park. Two more are near the library, and the remaining four are on the Ped Mall as it approaches Clinton Street.

The version of Loop on Ped Mall is its latest iteration. The version introduced in 2016 used familiar images from fairy tales and well-known stories like Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland. But artists Olivier Girouard, Jonathan Villeneuve and their partners at Ottoblix, a multidisciplinary arts studio in Montreal, changed the images displayed when Loop was displayed again at Luminothérapie.

For the 2020-21 Luminothérapie, the artists chose images inspired by the work of such French Canadian writers as Joséphine Bacon, Dany Laferrière and Wajdi Mouawad. It’s those images the pods on the Ped Mall are displaying.

Loop pods on the Ped Mall near Clinton St. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Loop is probably best viewed at night, when its lighting aspect can fully be appreciated. The installation was really designed for a low-light setting. Luminothérapie takes place each year during the dead of winter — most recently from Dec. 3, 2020 to March 28, 2021 — when the days are short in Montreal and the nights are long. Luminothérapie, which mean light therapy in English, is a festival focused on interactive art works, all of which involve light displays, to brighten up the often harsh Quebec winter.

The sunlight of the long days of July shouldn’t discourage anyone from trying a pod, even if it lessens the impact of Loop’s lights. But there are posted precautions people should pay attention to before interacting with the display.

Loop at night. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Children under 8 should be accompanied by an adult, and parents should not hold babies or small kids between their knees while in a pod. Pregnant women are advised against pulling the bar to set the images in motion, and anyone with epilepsy “may be adversely affected by the strobe effect produced by the installation,” according to the posted guidance.

Bird said she expects Loop to be popular attraction, both on its own, and in conjunction with other ICDD events designed to bring people downtown, such as the Sidewalk Sales (July 15-18) and the Downtown Block Party (July 24).

“If this type of public art is well-received by the public, we will certainly look to repeat it, to do something maybe equally as robust in the winter,” Bird said.

Loop will be on the Ped Mall from July 9 through Aug. 10.

Loop in Black Hawk Mini Park, July 10, 2021. — Izabela Zaluska

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