Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything
To celebrate the life of Leonard Cohen one year after his death on Nov. 7, 2016, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) launched the first major exhibition dedicated to the singer-songwriter and poet’s work. The exhibition, Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything, features 20 multimedia works from 40 artists hailing from 10 different countries. Combining visual art, music, and virtual reality, the exhibition offers fans and newbies alike a new perspective on Cohen, who was born and raised in Montreal. “We were in full-on preparations for [the exhibition] when [Cohen] died, so what began as an ardent celebration of his work turned into something a little more commemorative,” says the MAC’s curator John Zeppetelli, who, along with co-curator Victor Schiffman, aimed to create an immersive environment that attracted people who wouldn’t normally visit contemporary art museums. Click through our round-up to see our favourite works from the show.
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1. The 360-Degree Concert Documentary
How do you begin to retrace a career as monumental as Leonard Cohen’s? Montreal-based artist George Fok found the solution: let archival footage from three distinct periods of the musician’s life play simultaneously on a huge 360-degree screen. His installation, Passing Through, pays tribute to Cohen’s inimitable music, persona and stage presence by juxtaposing video clips from his time as a bohemian folk singer in the 1960s, socially conscious voice in the 1980s, and elder statesman of rock in the 2000s. For fans that didn’t get the chance to see Cohen perform before his death, Passing Through is as close to a live concert experience as you’ll get.
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2. “Hallelujah” Meets Virtual Reality
With Hallelujah, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Zach Richter breathes new life into Leonard Cohen’s most famous composition with the help of virtual reality. Centred on a five-part a cappella performance by Bobby Halvorson (with each part sung in a different range), this hyper-realistic audio-visual work will make visitors fall in love with the classic song all over again. Put the VR helmet on, and you’ll find yourself in a dark space surrounded by five singing figures. At the climax of the track, a grand cathedral and choir suddenly appear. Who knew virtual reality and Leonard Cohen would make a match made in heaven?
3. Eighteen Men Singing I’m Your Man
Leonard Cohen’s 1988 album, I’m Your Man, is the closest the singer-songwriter came to releasing a hit record. To create this installation, Berlin-based artist Candice Breitz invited 18 men over the age of 65—all avowed fans of Cohen’s music—to perform and record their own individual version of the album in a professional studio in Montreal. Taking over for backing vocals is the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir from Cohen’s own Westmount congregation. I’m Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen) is a powerful reminder of how many lives the late poet and musician touched.
4. Do-It-Yourself Poetry
In a cavernous room at the MAC, you’ll find a vintage Wurlitzer organ from the 1950s surrounded by old speakers and gramophone horns. The Poetry Machine, created by British Columbia-based artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, is just as its title proclaims: press a key on the organ and you’ll hear Cohen’s unmistakable voice reading a line from a poem from his 2006 anthology, Book of Longing. Or, you can press several keys at once and create a wall of sound from Cohen’s voice.
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5. A Final Farewell to Leonard Cohen
If Leonard Cohen’s music had to be summed up in just one word, it would have to be “reflective.” That tone is beautifully crystallized in I Think I Will Follow You Very Soon, a creative installation by Montreal-based photographers Carlos and Jason Sanchez. Equal parts recreation and state-of-the-art video projection, visitors can enter a facsimile of a room from Cohen’s Los Angeles home. Outside of the window is a hologram of the poet overlooking the view beyond his abode.
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