ILLUMINATIONS: human/nature

ILLUMINATIONS: human/nature was conceived for people like me! Billed as a participative art experience incorporating history and nature, I expected a mash-up of art and nature featuring tons of lights and projected images, triggered by walking or touching something while enjoying the great outdoors in Banff National Park. These are some of my favourite things!

While most of those elements were part of the experience, for me, this Canada 150 event fell short of the vision outlined on the Banff Centre event page and more fully described in the show notes distributed to ticket holders.

We reserved through Eventbrite for the first departure on the first evening of the three-day run in Banff National Park. Roughly 2000 tickets were available over the whole run (3 nights x 5 shows/night x 135 tickets/show), all free!

Ticket holders assembled at the CP/Rocky Mountaineer train station parking lot in Banff, where we boarded chartered buses and headed to Lake Minnewanka – an excellent location for this event. As soon as our bus merged onto the TransCanada, a light and sound show started – a taste of things to come. The light bar invoked Aurora Borealis and the spoken word/music audio tract provided a thorough introduction to the history portion of the installation, beginning with an acknowledgement that Banff National Park is on Treaty 7 lands and then running through a highly condensed geological history of the area.

illuminations-human-natureWe arrived at Lake Minnewanka shortly before dark. The plus side of daylight was that we were able to see the faces of the other people assigned to group 1, which meant we could match names to people as we took turns introducing ourselves to others in the group and then selected a group leader. The minor downside? The lights and smoke were not as impactful as they were later in the evening, but they still attracted lots of attention.


Once all 9 groups had disembarked from the buses and assembled along the road, we were off!

A short, recorded, multi-media briefing on what to expect for the next 45 minutes included instructions for each group member to select a tool from the tool bench. These were representative of things you’d expect to take on an overnight camping trip: a backpack, a lantern, flashlights and a paper map. All members of the group had to cooperate to make the most of the way stations en route to the final campfire.

Fully equipped, our group headed off to explore 5 way stations: Human Presence, Minnewanka Landing, the Return of the Buffalo, From the Ashes and Ghost Mine. Each interactive experience was activated by placing the group’s lantern on an illuminated pedestal.


Each way station provided a multi-media history lesson. The Return of the Buffalo was particularly effective, incorporating smell as well as images and sound.

Since our group started first, we finished first. We headed through a passageway representing glaciers to the location of the final campfire.


The picnic tables and log benches in the large clearing around the large campfire would have been a good place for people to talk about what they’d seen and experienced, to share opinions and stories about Banff National Park, history and culture. But most seemed to prefer looking out across the lake, to the illuminated trees on the islets and the stars above Mount Inglismaldie, and almost everyone started taking pictures.


I set up my camera on a tripod near the lake shore and, at one point, turned my lens towards the assembling group.


Almost as soon as the final group walked into the clearing, the final campfire story began, including more music, spoken history and laser projections onto the screen between the two groups of illuminated trees.


The final campfire story was quite brief, and after a short round of applause, we headed back to the buses, which were ready and waiting.

The lights and smoke were much more impressive in the dark.


The logistics were very well-organized and we were back at the train station in Banff shortly before 9 pm. On the return ride, Mr. GeoK and I agreed it was a good idea to use buses to limit the number of vehicles on the curving road to Lake Minnewanka after dark. Since the live event, I’ve been reading through the booklet of show notes and am grateful it includes all of the history lessons so I can take in the information more slowly and take some time to reflect on the key messages. And I really like the overall concept of a short-run, multi-media, site relevant art installation celebrating nature and Canada’s parks.

But there were a few shortfalls in execution. For example, our group experienced a couple of technical problems: most notably, our lantern and flashlights stopped illuminating between way stations. More significantly, the participative aspect fell short for me. Our group was primarily focused on doing what needed to be done to move on to the next way station and, ultimately, the final campfire. There wasn’t much discussion or sharing of perspectives that the group structure was meant to foster. And my Beakerhead bias came into play, because overall I found the event to be quite heavy in terms of history and somewhat disappointing in terms of the scale of the light show. I think I might have preferred more of an outdoor theatre, larger screen, more lights, multi-media experience presenting all the mini history lessons around a longer campfire session. And because we boarded the bus as soon as it was over and sat together for the ride, we didn’t have a chance to compare notes with others to hear their thoughts.

Overall, there’s a split vote in our household. I’m glad we took part in this unique experience while Mr. GeoK mainly appreciates that it was a date night for the two of us.

Did you go? What did you think?

A site-specific version of ILLUMINATIONS: human/nature will run for three days in Rouge Urban National Park (Greater Toronto Area) from October 19-21, 2017.


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