On the 45th floor of Au Sommet Place Ville Marie, the view beyond the glass windows comes to life with a series of 55 stories illustrating daily life in Montreal. We take a moment to sit down with Thomas Leblanc, Content Director on the project, who developed the storyline for interactive exhibition #MTLGO.
How did you develop the narrative angle for #MTLGO?
We had a clear vision for the floor located between the restaurant and the observatory. We wanted to create a digital exhibition that showcased local culture in real-time. From our very first brainstorming sessions, we focused on one central question: How do we define Montreal culture? From there, we dove straight into existing literature on the subject, from news reportings to local institution websites to government studies. What quickly became apparent was that Montrealers, more than just emblems and symbols, are what make Montreal such a unique city. That’s really what guided our decision to highlight the people of this city. Those who live here, of course, but also visitors who could become ambassadors for Montreal and the observatory.
The view itself was our greatest asset and we knew that it should serve as a guide in organizing the variety of subjects. Take for example the Saint-Lawrence River or Mount Royal; two geographic locations that are iconic for this city. It was clear that visitors should be able to look towards them as their stories are presented. Limited to a relatively confined space, we came up with the idea to create a 360° journey around the 45th floor. Screens placed on counters along the windows would allow visitors to discover 55 subjects across 11 themes.
The exhibition presents 55 video capsules. What were you looking to evoke through these documentary portraits?
We wanted to tell honest and humble stories rooted in iconic or significant locations around the city. Working in collaboration with Researcher Michael-Olivier Harding, we met with Montrealers that we felt truly incarnated the diversity that is Montreal. The team at Urbania, with whom we produced the videos, brought a documentary approach, working to tell stories that are human and filled with humour. The idea of rituals was a concept that came back time and again throughout the process of developing and producing the 55 films. Things like eating a poutine at La Banquise or cross-country skiing atop Mount Royal are just some of these rituals presented in the exhibition that, to us, are so representative of the city and its people.
What were the some of the challenges of developing an exhibition that would accurately reflect the local spirit of Montreal?
Temporality was a defining factor in the development of the exhibition. We wanted to create an experience that would be current and live in some way and that could be easily updated.
The technical solution created for #MTLGO is an exciting development in the way we produce and maintain exhibitions. We developed a content management system called Expo Manager, allowing us to store a database of archives and content that can be updated easily by curators as needed. The tool also allows us to pull images live from social media. All of this live content is then presented across the 55 screens according to relevant tags that can evolve over time. We could, for example, choose to showcase specific neighbourhoods, updating content as the seasons change.
How did you develop the missions inviting visitors to take their exploration to the streets of Montreal?
Throughout the exhibition, visitors can collect subjects and stories that interest them using a bracelet fitted with an RFID sensor. Interactive terminals equipped with printers then allow visitors to create their own route throughout the city, printing an itinerary on site (or receiving it by email if they so wish). For now, our system offers 55 missions directly or indirectly relevant to each of the subjects explored in the exhibition. Visitors can then take their discovery to the streets of Montreal, uncovering new facets of the city after their observatory visit is complete.
The exhibition was designed as a gathering space where it's possible to jump from one spot to another, or to go back in time for an overview of the city’s many stories. To me, it’s really a perfect representation of the spirit of Montreal - that je-ne-sais-quoi that makes this city so unique and always such a pleasure to rediscover.