Claude Cormier’s Brilliant 18 Shades of Gay in Montreal

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As Pride festivities ramp up worldwide, we’re celebrating with a look at Claude Cormier’s 18 Shades of Gay, a colourful installation in Montreal’s Gay Village.

Since 2011, Montreal’s Gay Village has been host to Claude Cormier‘s playful summer installation Pink Balls. Arriving each May and staying through September, the canopy of pink plastic orbs is strung up over a one-kilometre stretch of Sainte-Catherine Street East, transforming the strip into a whimsical pedestrian mall.

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Traditionally a part of the Aires Libres, a public art event, Pink Balls has evolved for 2017, as there is much to celebrate this year. In order to concurrently mark the 35th anniversary of the Village, the 10th edition of Aires Libres, the 1st edition of Pride Canada in Montréal, and the 375th anniversary of the City of Montreal, Cormier has taken the ball canopy to the next level.

Reimagined as 18 Shades of Gay, the installation replaces the pink with the six colours of the Rainbow Flag of the LGBTQI community, each broken into three distinct hues. Combined they form a brilliant chromatic ribbon that floats overhead, dipping through tree branches, linking the street’s natural foliage with a blast of artificial blossoms.

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Extra greenery, in the form of 150 potted weeping willows, has also been added to the streetscape for the duration of the summer. But because the intervention is, for the most part, overhead, with the ground left free and the streetscape unchanged, it maintains a sense of familiarity. Residents are able to feel as if they’re seeing their neighbourhood in a new light, rather than as if it’s been taken over.

“The reaction has been very positive,” says Cormier. “The colour really brings the notion of optimism and hope to the neighbourhood, and it really brings the village together. It’s encouraging people to get outside, they’re coming out of their houses every day just to walk up and down the streets. It’s really successful as a social catalyst.”

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Wildly popular on social media as well, the impact of the balls has been more than Cormier could have imagined – the first edition of Pink Balls was meant to be a one-time-only installation, but was so popular it returned for five more years. While nothing has been settled yet, Cormier hopes 18 Shades of Gay will be back next year, and if that’s the case, he’ll be ready.

Hung over nine days, in time for the May launch of Aires Libres, 18 Shades of Gay was actually the quickest installation of the canopy yet, despite the added complication of the carefully calibrated colour gradation and 10,000 balls added to the previous total of 170,000. “That first year almost killed me,” says Cormier. “That one took 24 days, but we have it down now.”

18 Shades of Gay is just one of Cormier’s summer installations in Montreal. Be sure to also check out Ballade Pour La Paix, on Sherbrook, and Tom IV at the Musée des beaux-arts. 

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