This free exhibition of mind-bending art is taking over a Montreal warehouse all week

Chromatic Festival's free art expo is back! For all the first-timers out there, here's what you need to know.

Chromatic Festival's free art expo is back! For all the first-timers out there, here's what you need to know

Nonotak are among the 50 artists featured at Chromatic Expo, a sprawling free multidisciplinary art exhibition happening May 27 to June 1 in Montreal's Mile End. (Courtesy of Chromatic Festival)

Come for the DJs, stay for the paintings — and the VR and the mind-bending video installations. Montreal's Chromatic Festival is back for its eighth year, and while the programming includes everything from an off-site print sale (The Grande Print Art Fair), a fashion conference (FashionTech Festival) and an industry symposium for artists and business (Chromatic Pro), the centrepiece is Chromatic Expo, a sprawling free art show which runs May 27 to June 1.

"The heart of the festival, the core of the festival, is really this exhibition," says Phillipe Demers, Chromatic's president and co-founder. This year's theme is "All you can art" and this visual buffet of 80 works is broken into four zones at Studio L'Éloi, a two-floor production studio in Mile End. Some 50 artists are involved in the show — an international mix, but a group that largely represents Montreal talent. And each zone, or "room," has a different focus. The "Warehouse" is dedicated to VR and the "Dark Room" is all about luminous video and animated neon, for example. In "The Studio," the space gets totally transformed by site-specific installations created by artists including Madelyne Beckles and Patrick Lundeen.

Even if you're more likely to spend a typical weekend in Mile End shopping for bagels, not popping into galleries, the expo's designed to be an art show for everyone. The setting is laid-back, the art is accessible — and admission (save for a few special events) is free. But if you still don't know where to start, CBC Arts asked Demers to share his tips for a first-time visitor, plus a few Chromatic Expo highlights that you should definitely check out.

"In Search of Us" by Madelyne Beckles. The artist will create a site-specific installation for Chromatic Expo. (Alycia Kravitz/Courtesy of Chromatic Festival)

Nuit Chromatic

If you're a first-timer at Chromatic, Demers says the best possible intro would be grabbing a ticket to the festival's opening night party. It's a warehouse party and a rooftop party — and though it's a ticketed event, it'll give you first-look access to Chromatic Expo once you're inside. Tickets are $10 in advance (and if you have three more loonies to spend, $13 will get you into both that event and the closing night bash on June 1). The festival's Nuit Chromatic programming is all about Montreal music — fitting considering Mile End has the highest concentration of musicians of any neighbourhood in the entire country. Among those on deck Saturday night are Vincent Lemieux (house disco) and Tupi Collective (hip hop, tropical).

"Nuit Chromatic is like the festive way of celebrating the arts. It's something you really don't see in museums or galleries; it's an atmosphere that's really relaxed — where it's really OK to not know a lot about the art. The idea is to experience it in a casual way, with music, with your friends," says Demers. "We're trying to make people realize that visual art can be as cool as music or any other artistic expression. [...] We really want to shake that up and say that it's for everyone."

Nonotak Studio, "Zero Point Two"

Once you're inside Chromatic Expo, Nonotak should be first on your must-see list. It's one of Demers's "super sweet highlights" from this year's programming, and if you've ever experienced anything by this French duo, you'll understand why. "Zero Point Two" is the name of the piece they've brought to Chromatic this year. A light and sound installation, you'll find it in the Warehouse section of the building. The video below will give you a preview of what to expect — although nothing can prepare you for being swallowed by this minimalist magic in person.

Fvckrender, "Daily Render"

Chromatic Pro makes a point of mixing more established artists (Nonotak, for example) with emerging names. And when it comes to the "up and comers," Montreal's Fvckrender has Demers's attention. "I'm very excited to see this guy because he's been like a rocket launch," says Demers. The artist — whose pronounceable name is Frédéric Duquette — is a self-taught 3D designer, and to master the form, he started a one-a-day project on Instagram. Some 24,000 followers later, his futuristic graphics have appeared in Billboard and Rolling Stone — but at Chromatic Expo, he'll be trying something new. Using VR modelling tools, he'll be performing live on site in the Warehouse. "I'm very curious and can't wait to see him," says Demers.

Work by Montreal digital artist Fvckrender. (Courtesy of Chromatic Festival)

12 Galaxies x Sid Lee Collective, "Desert Glitch"

If you thrill over Fvckrender's performance in the Warehouse, this should be your next stop. A three-screen video installation, it was created by artists from Argentina, Australia, the United States and Canada — including that aforementioned Montreal artist. The collective calls themselves 12 Galaxies, and as they write on their website, "Desert Glitch" is meant to be "a creation myth for a new age." Whatever that means, preview images suggest this new age is going to look a whole lot like an '80s music video.

Still from "Desert Glitch" by 12 Galaxies and Sid Lee Collective. (Courtesy of Chromatic Festival)

Tyler Hurd, "Old Friend" and "Chocolate"

If you're taking a pass on Nuit Chromatic, maybe a solo dance party is more your jam. "Old Friend" by Tyler Hurd is a sort of next-level music video — an interactive VR dance game set to a track by Future Islands. Your objective: dance like nobody's watching — except, of course, they will be. That's totally OK, though, because if you follow the instructions in the video, you're guaranteed to kill it. Hurd actually has two VR films at Chromatic — both fun, both totally absurd. "Chocolate" is the second. It's another music video, and if we're not mistaken, we're pretty sure it lets you see the world through the eyes of...a benevolent robot god? One who bestows jiggly, big-eyed jewel cats to all those who live below? Yeah, that sounds about right. "I was honestly shocked by Tyler Hurd. This VR experience is a total absolute nonsense pleasure," says Demers. "You're in a super colourful weird world all over the universe. It's pretty epic."

Guided tours!

There's so much to see inside Studio L'Eloi, Demers says "you cannot really see it all in just one visit." So, you're just going to have to come back. Admission is free, after all. And if you're anxious you might miss something — or if you're just itching to get the most out of the experience — there are volunteers on site to be your cultural Sherpas. Join a guided tour May 28 – June 1. They run twice a day at 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. There's even a special tour designed just for young families — that one runs May 28 between 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. as part of the festival's Chromatic Kids offering. And if guided tours aren't your thing, just find one of the "public mediators" on site, who are there to answer any and all questions.

"We like when people are curious about the artists and ask questions," says Demers. The volunteers, he explains, "are here to explain what the intention of the art is, how the artist created that, what tools is he using. If he takes internships, things like that."

"The artists often jump in on the guided tours, so you can meet with them and pretty much all the artists are on site for [the opening and closing night parties] so it's great to come in directly and hang out with them."

Still from "Trevi" by Adrienne Crossman. (Courtesy of Chromatic Festival)
"Terrain Vague" by Annie Descoteaux. (Guy L'heureux/Courtesy of Chromatic Festival)
"RePose" by Virgil Baruchel. (Courtesy of Chromatic Festival)

Chromatic Expo. May 27 to June 1 at Studio L'Éloi, Montreal.