Calgary’s foremost science festival returns for it’s fourth year
By Alec Warkentin, Contributor
There’s nothing quite like Beakerhead.
Part science exhibit, part art installation, Calgary’s annual festival for all things ingenious and inventive takes place over various locations for a 5-day spread every September.
Now entering it’s fourth year, the reputation that the arts, science and engineering festival has acquired for inciting and celebrating creativity is unparalleled, and the festival is like nothing else found in Calgary’s growing repertoire of exhibitions.
Last year’s highlights included giant inflatable rabbits taking over Central Memorial Park. A 30-foot remake of that infernal “claw” game found at arcades and movie theatres. Also including flaming Skee Ball, among many other activities set up at various points throughout downtown Calgary, Inglewood, and Bridgeland.
With an estimated attendance of over 100,000 for the 2016 installation, the stakes were high and the anticipation was brimming to see if this year’s Beakerhead can live up to the expectations.
Scaffold Art on Memorial Drive
The winner of Calgary’s first ever scaffold design competition, a winged Pegasus constructed entirely out of metallic-grey scaffolding glinting majestically in the noontime sun was a fitting point to begin the Beaker-journey. The by-product of what, one can assume, was hours of painstaking work with less-than-ideal materials was surely a good omen and a promise of things to come. However, this mythical beast was confined to a solitary corner in the parking lot across from Julio’s Barrio, with a few onlookers at first looking around as if to wonder if there was more to the exhibit, and then taking turns snapping photos of each other, arms flung in the air, before shuffling off to some other unknown destination.
Message in a Bottle
From there, it was off to the Message In A Bottle maze put on by Alberta Beverage Container Recycling Corporation and Eau Claire Market. Constructed out of thousands of empty bottles, the exhibit’s statement on the value of recycled materials was paramount, and the maze lights up as one makes their way through. The only downside was the overwhelming presence of the best friends of the empty bottle – wasps.
A hit from last years Beakerhead, Australian artist Amanda Parer’s 2015 installation Intrude featured massive illuminated alabaster-white rabbits looming over Central Memorial Park. This year, Amanda Parer and the rabbits are back with Nibbles, but, much like Calgary’s economy, seem to have suffered an unfortunate downsizing. The smallest of Parer’s inflatable rabbit installations, this year’s bunnies made up for their lack of size with being exceedingly more colourful than the ones last year.
One of the more awe-inspiring and absurd installations of Beakerhead was done by UK “inflatable art” artists Filthy Luker and Pedro Estrellas, and featured great green octopus tentacles emerging from the windows of an Inglewood building. Many small pockets of people were stopped to admire this eerie encounter, and the sheer magnitude of the tentacles made for quite the spectacle, and a fitting place to end the journey.
NEST Dome by NEST Immersion
The most surprising of the exhibits was an unassuming white dome on 17th Ave looking like an un-meltable igloo in what was now the early afternoon. The dome, constructed and run by Quebec-based designers NEST Immersion, made it’s Beakerhead debut this year. As one enters the dome, they’re immersed into a wondrous world of 360 degree digital art and an electronic score as 3D images and vibrant fractals provide a truly remarkable experience.
Three projectors being run simultaneously work their way through 12 different videos. At the helm was Patrick Pomerleau, the Project Manager for the NEST Dome, who explained that it can take months to render the images needed to produce a single five-minute video. Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed in The Dome, so if you’re interested in seeing it for yourself you can check them out at www.nestimmersion.ca.
Though this was only a brief glimpse into a fraction of the exhibits offered by the Festival, Beakerhead is always worth checking out. Completely unlike any other festival that Calgary has to offer, Beakerhead’s combination of arts, science, and engineering make for an exceptional experience, and one that you’re not likely to get anywhere else.