Arc en Ciel Yorkdale Hayden

Michael Hayden's Arc en ciel might return to Yorkdale Station

Michael Hayden's wonderful light installation, Arc en ciel, which was completed in 1978 but subsequently dismantled in the mid 1990s, may once again grace the roof of Yorkdale Subway Station. I first learned of the potential resurrection of the piece after I published a mournful article about its disappearance late last week. In the comment thread, TTC-expert Steve Munro noted that "at the September TTC meeting, former Chair Howard Moscoe reported that as part of a deal involving the expansion of Yorkdale Mall, the developer will pay for the restoration of "Arc en ciel..."

That's exciting news, to say the least. In search of some concrete details, I contacted TTC Director of Corporate Communications, Brad Ross, who confirmed that the former TTC chair had indeed "made a deputation seeking approval to reinstate the artwork at no cost to the TTC, which was approved."

That approval is the first step in what might be the second coming of the much-loved installation. The second, and arguably more crucial one is securing the requisite funds from the developer, Oxford Properties. Although Ross notes that the TTC does not "have anything in writing yet from the developer confirming a financial commitment," there's room to be cautiously optimistic.

Reached by by phone in California, Hayden revealed that he's extremely enthusiastic about the possible resurrection of what is one of his favourite pieces. "I would love to get a contract signed and get started," he told me. Because the original piece was dismantled on account of the TTC's unwillingness to make what would have been cheap repairs to a number of water damaged transformers (each would have cost around $28 at the time), having a contract that secures the future maintenance of the artwork this time around is crucial for the artist.

It's just such an agreement, he notes, that "is the reason that Sky's the Limit [his iconic light installation at Chicago's O'Hare airport] looks as good as it does today." In addition to a maintenance contract, Hayden would also like to make sure that the piece, should the funding come together, is installed by a Toronto-based company. As the artist no longer resides in Toronto, it's important that those responsible for its upkeep are familiar with the "logic" of the work and how best to care for it.

Resurrecting the piece won't, however, be merely a matter of re-installation or restoration. The artist isn't even sure if the TTC has the original transformers and interfaces that once controlled the lights when trains arrived at the station. And beyond this, it's also been over 30 years since Arc en ciel was built, and there have obviously been many technological advancements since that time that he'd like to take advantage of.

The original work was crafted out of mercury vapor tubes, which were then painted different colours to create the rainbow effect referred to in the title of the piece. But with the advent of LED technology and RGB colour, it's no longer necessary to go through such a labourious process. Not only that, the use of LED lights would allow the artist to display a far wider range of colour in the new version of Arc en ciel.

But, referring to installation photographs of the original, Hayden says that the new version "will look strikingly similar to how it did in 1978."

I really hope this is the case. But more than that I hope that this will, indeed, all come together so that the artist can restore what was once a phenomenal public art installation. My fingers are firmly crossed that all of the participants understand what a great thing this could be for our city.

Photo by Michel Proulx.

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