Arts

Every night this month a Canadian is making the sun rise over Times Square

Lorna Mills is taking over NYC with the most Canadian GIF ever

Midnight Moment Lorna Mills

Lorna Mills just dropped a tonne of Canadiana in the heart of New York. "Mountain Light/Time," a GIF by the Toronto-based artist, takes over the iconic signs in Times Square every night in March. (Ka-Man Tse/Times Square Arts)

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For the month of March, sunrise in New York City is expected every day at 11:57pm. If you want to witness it, you'll have to be in Times Square, where a Rocky Mountain dawn will beam down on chain stores and Broadway theatres and off-brand mascots. And this unnatural phenomenon is occurring all because of a Canadian — digital artist Lorna Mills.

The Saskatchewan-raised, Toronto-based Mills is the latest artist to feature in Midnight Moment, a public-art project that's showcased the work of luminaries including Björk, Laurie Anderson and JR since launching in 2012. The whole this is a little like an art-world Witching Hour. For three minutes each evening, just before midnight, the world's most famous cluster of billboards transforms into a temporary gallery as the iconic electric signs are hijacked by one work of art.

This month, a GIF collage created by Mills will shine from some 15 signs and 45 screens in Times Square. That's it below: "Mountain Light/Time."

Pay attention to your breathing while you watch it. Every loop of the GIF is meant to match the rhythm of a deep breath — like you're sucking in a lungful of clean, mountain O2, and not the sewer steam and hot-dog stink of Manhattan.

That bit of cognitive dissonance is a little LOL-worthy, but when CBC Arts reaches Mills in Toronto, she's laughing about something else. For Midnight Moment, Mills dropped the most Canadian thing ever in the heart of New York — and she didn't even mean to do it.

"I'm a Canadian artist and I've just put a mountain in Times Square? That kind of made me laugh," Mills tells CBC Arts, erupting with infectious laughter, appropriately enough. "We just never go wrong when we export charismatic landscapes."

But landscape, as Canadiana as it is, happens to be a new subject for Mills. "I've wanted to do the Times Square thing for a while," she says, but there's just one teensy thing: "so much of my work is full of gratuitous internet filth!" 

To create her GIF collages, "Mountain Light/Time" included, Mills mines everything from YouTube and Reddit, 4Chan and Porn Hub for footage. Puppies and kittens straight out of Cute Overload twitch and loop alongside flaming car wrecks and pornfails. It's a mix of all the violence and vulgarity — and web-junk defying classification — that the internet has to offer.  

"I knew what pieces of mine would not appear [in Times Square]. Not in a million years!" says Mills. "And I knew which works would work in a public space. I mean, I'm not really into assaulting the public," she laughs. "It's not that important that they see the same internet filth that I look at all day. If I do a talk at an institution or an art school or a university, which I've been doing recently, oh yeah, they get to see the porn!"

Lorna Mills Midnight Moment

(Ka-Man Tse/Times Square Arts)

Mills says "there wasn't any sense of self-censorship," though, when she submitted "Mountain Light/Time" for Midnight Moment's consideration. In March, the organization partners with New York's Moving Image Fair — an art show where Mills also exhibited "Mountain Light/Time" with Transfer. Since her last show at that gallery, October's At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Mills says she's been fascinated by landscapes and colour fields.

"It's just something, formally, I've started to explore. Before that my GIFs were like stationary works that I'd collage together and now I'm thinking about camera movement and that dynamic of adding that to the whole mess of motion that I've been exploring formally," she explains.

"Mountain Light/Time" is one of the products.

"The piece was created, well, the way I create everything," Mills laughs, "for online consumption!"

So when she saw her sun rise over Times Square for the first time, it was, she says, "just absolutely bewildering!"

Lorna Mills Midnight Moment Times Square

(Ka-Man Tse/Times Square Arts)

"You can't imagine seeing your work at that scale, first of all," rising above several city blocks and projected from "monitors absolutely amazing in their variety." Says Mills of the installation's enormity: "I still haven't seen every screen!"

The scope threw her on opening night, when she was in Times Square for an event celebrating its launch. "It's not the same as going into the gallery and setting up a show. It's just there!" Mills says, describing what it was like to see it for the first time. "It was kind of a major shock," she says. "But I went two days later and I was like 'Ohmigod! This is fabulous!"

"I was bouncing up and down, and of course, unlike the opening, nobody really knew that I was the artist."

Midnight Moment. Featuring Lorna Mills. To March 31 in Times Square, New York City. www.timessquarenyc.org

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