Monday, November 8, 2010

Underwater art: an innovative gallery in Thetford Mines

Are you a diver in search of an original, out-of-the-ordinary dive? Do you enjoy art? Then you might want to go to Thetford Mines, Quebec, for a very innovative art gallery: the international Aquart festival. Every year, artists are challenged to make art for an underwater gallery, and you visit by putting on diving gear and swimming through the exhibit. All you need is a plane ticket, a travel insurance and your diving equipment, and you’re on to a new experience!


It happens every year, and only for the month of August, when hundreds of divers come in to practice not only their diving skills but also cultivate their taste in art. It is set in an old asbestos mine, which was flooded and turned into a diving lake. Some people had the idea to set works of art at the bottom, to attract divers who would otherwise be diving into sunken ships or other popular diving destinations.

Charlene Chouinard, a local artist and diver, started it all. After she put her idea to work, more than 40 artists responded to her call and provided works to her underwater gallery. While most works are in ordinary media and laminated in plastic in order to protect them from the water, some were made expressly for this setting. Every year, the works change; but the sun-shot waters remain the same, and divers come back, year after year, to see the new works of art at the bottom of the lake.

Some works float, while some are anchored; it’s a gallery without walls or ceiling, and divers can enjoy them without being constrained to a linear path. They can swim around, above and under the works of art as they will, and interact with them at a whole new level. Dive lights are useful for the works that are set deeper underwater, where the sunlight doesn’t reach so much; it makes the interaction so much more personal.

Another attraction is the live DJ (who’s outside of the water), who is spinning classical music and sound effects combined with visual effects. The music can be heard well underwater, and the multimedia experience becomes a totally new one when set underwater.

At the end of the month, the artworks are auctioned off and the profits go to good causes. The idea has been copied and taken over in different parts of the world such as Cancun and British Columbia; some of them even plan to become permanent exhibits. So pack your diving gear, get yourself a cheap travel insurance, and take your artistic side with you: you’re on for an amazing, extraordinary dive that you can get nowhere else.

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