March 8, 2018 - A renowned Canadian artist is creating what will become the largest public art piece in Calgary once completed.

Douglas Coupland’s “Northern Lights” will be featured on two facades of the 60-storey TELUS Sky tower being built in downtown above 7th Avenue and Centre Street. The 160,000-square-foot LED-based art installation will follow the shape of the curved building and will be programmable to change colour and sequence. Made up of 600 custom bulbs, the integrated LED lighting wraps around the window frames of the building to create ‘pixels,’ that together form patterns and colour displays.

The sequence of lights will coincide with the daily revolution of the Earth, beginning at sunset and playing for 11 minutes. Interspersed in the sequence will be one-minute patterns Coupland has created to highlight the seasons, special celebrations and events. Together, the 12-minute series will loop five times an hour.

“Northern Lights will draw in the public, in a similar way to a firework show. It has an amazing sense of real-time motion and energy, along with the buildup to a spectacular crescendo,” Coupland said in a release. He noted the building’s design, both symmetrical and curvilinear, was a “perfect canvas.”

“For me, it was a chance to create something very analogue on a system that is very digital. Like the building itself, there is an inherent contradiction, in that technology can be both a form of art as well as a tool for its creation.”

The artwork will also be user-friendly in that Coupland is creating a free downloadable app that eventually will allow users to see and read messages concealed in the colours.

To create the piece, Coupland is working with Montreal-based lighting firm SACO, which created the NASDAQ signage in New York, Barcelona’s colourful Torre Agbar skyscraper and concert lighting for musicians such as Madonna and Paul McCartney. Coupland and the project developer, Westbank, created a short film to document the creative and construction process behind Northern Lights.

The TELUS Sky building will be the city’s third largest when completed in early 2019.

“Unique, eye-catching and sure to enliven the city after dark, Northern Lights is a game-changer for Calgary,” said Ian Gillespie, president of Westbank. “I am confident it will enchant and intrigue to become a true icon of the city.”

Coupland has created other public art installation across Canada, including Vancouver’s Digital Orca, and Toronto’s Four Seasons. He’s shown his work in a number of galleries around the world and is also a prolific author of 13 novels.

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