Why glowing, musical prisms have popped up near the Grand River

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids isn’t waiting for ArtPrize to add an illuminating installation along the Grand River.

Crews spent about seven hours Wednesday installing the 25 spinning prisms that comprise Prismatica.

“Basically, it is an interactive ice sculpture that reflects light and makes sound when you make the prisms move,” explained Kimberly Van Driel, director of public space management for Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. “It’s been all over Europe, all over Canada, all over the United States.”

Van Driel was among those who chiseled away ice on the former parking lot at 555 Monroe Ave. NW, which also hosts Movies on Monroe during summer. After that came the lifting, prying and drilling to place each piece in its new home for the next month.

Van Driel says West Michigan’s consistently inconsistent weather makes it difficult to plan events.

“So we were thinking, ‘What can we do that can activate a space and bring people downtown that isn’t weather dependent?’ And art installations through light is a trend that’s going all over the globe,” she explained.

A Jan. 15, 2020 photo shows Prismatica installed at the Monroe North lot in Grand Rapids.

PRISMATICA EXPLAINED

>>App users: Take an immersive 360-degree tour of Prismatica and hear from a co-creator here.

Prismatica was created in Canada but is well-traveled.

“It’s been in Switzerland, England, Israel. It’s been all over the U.S. and Canada, and I think for 2020 we have new bookings again back in Europe, so it’s really on a world tour,” said Pierre-Alexandre Le Lay of Toronto-based RAW Design.

Le Lay is one of three main designers of Prismatica. The piece was created over about six months in 2014 for Montreal’s Luminotherapie Competition of public installations focused on light.

The team’s secret to Prismatica’s reflective rainbow is 3M’s Dichroic film.

“We wanted to investigate how light can interact with Dichroic materials which is what gives Prismatica its dynamic color range,” Le Lay explained. “We wanted to create this range of colors and reflections and transparencies for everyone to enjoy.”

RAW Design tested different shapes created out of acrylic glass and determined a prism-like form was its best bet to “optimize how light could sort of spill onto the public realm,” according to Le Lay.

While the Grand Rapids installation is about 25 pivoting prisms, the original Prismatica is about double that size, determined by the installation’s costly key ingredient.

“Truth be told, that’s how much Dichroic film we could buy for the project,” Le Lay said. “It’s not cheap, but we were lucky enough to work with 3M and they sort of helped us along to develop the best possible solution for this project.”

Le Lay says no matter the season or environment, Prismatica adapts in size and is resilient, with few repairs needed so far.

The installation’s “immersive experience” has been well-documented on Instagram.

“We’re not able to visit every location that Prismatica is showcased in, but by seeing all photos that are on Instagram, it’s really cool to see how not only people take pictures of the prisms but how they take pictures through the prisms with the cityscape in the background. So again, to see this really cool dynamic color range of various cities, it’s just, it’s really interesting,” said Le Lay.

“We just really want people to have fun and you know, hopefully forget about the cold weather,” he added.

WORLD OF WINTER GROWS

The installation’s debut coincides with Grand Rapids’ World of Winter Festival, which organizers have expanded to a month.

“A lot of people, you know we were hearing that they couldn’t come down for a whole weekend, they would miss some of the events, they could only come down for one thing. So this is a way to expand the programming through a monthlong, so families can come out each weekend rather than try to cram a bunch of things into one day, which is really difficult when you have young kids. And we want to make sure that this is accessible and every event that we do is accessible an open and fun for everyone,” Van Driel said.

Some of the events will take place on the painted Monroe North lot, including “snowga” (outdoor yoga), dancing, a silent disco and world market and game day. Van Driel says visitors need not worry about vandalism to the installation or highway noise — both haven’t been a problem in the past.

A Jan. 15, 2020 photo shows the Prismatica art installation in Grand Rapids’ North Monroe lot at night.

“There’s such a bigger potential for this area for downtown improvement and this is one way of testing what could possibly be here in the future, to show that this is a great area and to activate it, and to get people to experience it,” said Van Driel.

Activities are also planned for the new piazza at Studio Park, Rosa Parks Circle and Ah-Nab-Awen Park, including the Human Hungry Hungry Hippo Tournament. Visitors can enjoy ice sculptures displayed throughout downtown during the last week of World of Winter.

Van Driel says World of Winter checks a lot of boxes normally empty this time of year: “Seeing your downtown, doing fun and family-friendly activities and getting your kids out of inside and away from their video games during the winter months.”

She says Prismatica’s presence in Grand Rapids is not connected to ArtPrize — the installation is paid for by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. through the Downtown Development Authority. She credits ArtPrize for creating a legacy in Grand Rapids, but says this is part of “a global movement of bringing art into downtowns.”

“We just want people to experience a different area in the downtown that they haven’t before, experience something that they haven’t experienced before. These (prisms) aren’t something that you run into every day, and I think that’s what is super impressive and exciting about them. That’s what creates placemaking, and that’s what creates a great downtown,” she said.

Prismatica will remain on display until Feb. 16.

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