Here’s how Luminato mounted a stunning eight-metre mirror ball inside an abandoned power plant
To make its 10th-anniversary edition (literally) shine, Luminato is resurrecting the star of its 2013 festival: the giant mirror ball that hung above David Pecaut Square. One Thousand Speculations, Montreal artist Michel de Broin’s is 7.9 metres tall and made from nearly 1,200 mirrors. A version of it first hung in Paris in 2009, and it will shimmer again at the Hearn Generating Station throughout the 17-day fest, unlit only during programming like the 11-hour James Plays or Rufus Wainwright’s restaging of Judy Garland’s Carnegie Hall concert. We asked the brains behind the disco ball to guide us through the 150-hour installation.
Lafontaine Iron Werks, the company tasked with the installation, worked with De Broin to construct the ball in such a way that it could be taken apart and shipped anywhere. When disassembled, the materials, most of which are shown here, occupy two full shipping containers.
“The ball is made up of 24 aluminum structural sections,” says Michael Bilyk, president of Lafontaine. “If we just hung the mirrors on the aluminum, it wouldn’t stand. So, in the centre, there is an aluminum truss that ties the top and the bottom together, as well as 24 pieces of aircraft cable strategically located within the mirror ball to support the weight.”
There are 1,184 mirrors on the ball, each one 40 by 40 centimetres. They were attached to the frames using high-strength bonding material, and then those frames were bolted to the main structure of the ball. Some sections (between 200 and 600 mirrors each) were completed at Lafontaine’s shop in Tiny, Ontario; others were assembled on-site. “Installing the mirrors is the longest part of the process because they’re each attached by all four corners,” Bilyk says. “If we made the ball out of glass, it would have weighed about 12,000 pounds. We ended up making it with acrylic mirror, which was just 6,000 pounds.”
“We broke a lot of mirrors,” Bilyk says. Because of the old myth that broken mirrors bring bad luck, his team didn’t even call them mirrors during assembly. “We called them reflective devices.”
During the 2013 installation, Bilyk and a team of two other workers had few space restrictions—they were installing in a wide-open park—but it rained every single day of the installation. The Hearn project had its own issues. “We had these huge concrete structures in there that we couldn’t move,” he says, “but at least weather didn’t bother us.”
The ball required 100 hours of planning and 150 hours to assemble onsite. Once it was put together, Bilyk’s team hooked it onto a crane. “Every time the ball is assembled, it gets a full engineer’s inspection,” Bilyk says. “It’s onerous.” After the inspection, they hoisted it up to the ceiling.
The ball hangs from steel beams in the northeast corner of the Hearn, and the area directly underneath it is off-limits during the fest (safety first!).
Lit from multiple angles, the ball sends rays of light to all ends of the building. “The Hearn is huge and has all these remains of the industrial age: electric wires, pipes and exposed beams,” says De Broin. “When the ball projects its light, it reveals details in the architecture and shows off the space. All of the mirrors are a little bent or a distorted, too, so each reflection looks like a sea animal, cloud, bacteria or some strange thing travelling through space.”