Mythical libraries and VR immersive art collide in new exhibit by Robert Lepage

A new, immersive art exhibit by Robert Lepage called The Library at Night and based on Argentinian Canadian writer Alberto Manguel’s 2006 book allows guests to experience historic and mythical libraries, both in a physical space and through VR technology.

This event runs until April 18 at Toronto’s Lighthouse Artspace

Snapshot of the VR experience guests can have through the exhibit. (Ex Machina/Robert Lepage)

A new, immersive art exhibit that allows guests to experience historic and mythical libraries, both in a physical space and through VR technology, is now open at Toronto's Lighthouse Artspace.

The Library at Night, which is based on Argentinian-Canadian writer Alberto Manguel's 2006 book by the same name, consists of two specially built rooms.

In the first room, guests experience a nearly exact reproduction of Manguel's personal library, complete with dim lighting, rare books, and fake windows that show raindrops falling down the frosty glass. 

Then, they are brought to the second room through a secret revolving door that leads to a large, mythical representation of a forest. There, they are seated at library desks and surrounded by a soundscape and ripped pages of books at their feet.

"A library is an experience, not just a place where you go to borrow a book," creator of the exhibit and acclaimed Canadian theatre artist, Robert Lepage, said.

"It was important for us to create something that would immerse people into the idea of a library, and not just talk about it or explain it."

Library desk and books in the mythical forest room of the exhibit. (CBC News)

Once seated, the audience can put on the VR headset and headphones that are ready at their table. And with the help of the 360-degree technology, they are carried away into 10 reconstructed or fictional libraries.

"It's a very bewitching environment," Lepage said. "They put their helmet on and then they're transported into different parts of the world at different times."

Users can turn their heads from side to side, while a narrator immerses them further by describing the different scenes, including a Baroque library and one that is 2,000 years old. 

"The experience becomes really, really fun when you start looking all around and not to fixate on one place," Lepage said. "That's why we have these swivel chairs so that people can actually move around — so it's a very physical experience."

According to Lepage, people tend to perceive libraries as being very stiff places where someone goes to borrow a book or read, which is something he wants to change through the exhibit. 

"People will come out having a completely different view of what a library is about," Lepage said.

Robert Lepage, creator of The Library at Night immersive art exhibit. (CBC News)

The Library at Night closely follows other similar exhibits, all by Lighthouse Immersive, that also took place at 1 Yonge St. These events include a photography exhibit by Mikhail Baryshnikov, Immersive Nutcracker, and the ongoing Immersive Van Gogh and Immersive Klimt: Revolution. 

The new event, which toured internationally, is happening in association with Luminato Festival Toronto and Lepage's company called Ex Machina. 

In keeping with COVID-19 protocols, each session accepts a maximum of 20 people per time slot. Each surface and the VR headsets are also sanitized between uses. Tickets for the event, which is running from March 10 to April 18, are available at Lighthouse Immersive's website.