The Library at Night, created by Robert LePage and Ex Machina, lifts the cover on the inner sanctums of famous libraries — some existing in the confines of fiction or tragically lost to history, others in far-reaching parts of the globe — using Virtual Reality technology and an audio narrative to transport literary fanatics to treasure troves as vast as the books held within.
Consider that a private, personal library speaks to the heart and soul of its owner, each title not only bearing a story within its pages but a story as to how the owner came in possession of that particular book. The Library at Night begins with an in-depth look at the personal collection of Argentinian-Canadian author, editor and former director of the National Library of Argentina, Alberto Manguel. He also penned the book The Library at Night, to which this immersive experience is based upon.
In The Library at Night, Manguel wrote, “You enter a library like you enter a forest,” which is where the audience is lead to next — into a wide space dotted with work tables and trees bearing books as leaves. Armed with VR headsets and headphones, we settle into the journey.
Within this new reality, the audience is greeted with a series of symbols. Rest your gaze on a particular symbol to commence the journey. The libraries available to explore range from one that fictionally exists Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea with Captain Nemo’s library on board the Nautilus to the Great Library of Alexandria, the largest and most significant library of the ancient world, tragically lost to flame in 246 BC.
Libraries within grasp for audiences today include the Vasconcelos Library in Mexico, a space guarded over by the skeleton of a great whale that has become a modern meeting hub for all seeking conversation, memory, knowledge and dialogue.
The University Library of Copenhagen, a library where the books are dead — uncatalogued, unlisted, unclassified and therefore cannot be consulted. The books now serve an aesthetic purpose as well as to help muffle sound while students use the space with laptops to access the digital world.
Within closer reach for Canadians is the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, a collection housing mostly legal documents with a solemn statue of Queen Victoria presiding over. One unique and peculiar book housed here is the oversized The Birds of America by John James Audubon. A librarian turns the book’s massive pages, revealing the stunning illustrations within. With each turn, birds fill the space transforming this library into a true aviary.
This experience is remarkable. The virtual reality transports the viewer right inside the library; you are encompassed by this space, feeling as if you are living and breathing within it. The VR video brings the viewer up close and personal with the finer details held in these walls, from ceiling murals to spaces closed off to the general public, an encounter that an in-person visitor wouldn’t be able to have. Beyond the books housed in these libraries, the buildings themselves are a testament to the history of the country they’re in.
The Library at Night is an adventure for any book lover, for anyone dazzled by the prospects of travel or who has ever dreamed of visiting such locales. Let this experience be a sampling of destinations to add to a travel bucket list.
- The Library at Night is playing at the Lighthouse Artspace (1 Yonge St) until April 18, 2022.
- Performances run throughout the week at various times throughout the day and evening. See website for further details.
- Tickets are $40 and can be purchased online.
- Covid 19 Policy: Masks must be worn over the nose and mouth throughout the experience. Touchless hand sanitizer stations are situated throughout the venue. All VR headsets and headphones are thoroughly sanitized after each performance.
- Audience Advisory: Portions of this experience requires audience members to move around in the dark. Staff members will assist in guiding people with the aid of flashlights. The second portion of the experience requires audience members to wear VR headsets and headphones, staff are available to assist if this becomes a concern.
Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Immersive.