Transforming a 100-year-old elevator into art

Montreal artist Glen LeMesurier created a one-of-a-kind piece for Ubisoft from a decommissioned elevator.

Detail of “Teenage Wildlife,” a sculpture by Glen LeMesurier at Ubisoft headquarters. Photo by Lisa Sproull (scroll down to the bottom of the post for more)
Before artist Glen LeMesurier begins working on a new sculpture — which he creates from salvaged metal parts from retired machinery — he allows the components to tell him their stories. Sourced from origins as varied as farm equipment to the artefacts of Montreal’s once-mighty manufacturing sector, the parts carry with them the histories of their accumulated decades of work, and by extension those of the factory workers who were their operators and of the usines where they spent their useful lives.

“Most of my work from the last 10 years has been the recouping of the industrial revolution that has now kind of ended,” LeMesurier tells me. “Most of my machinery that I’ve collected is from 1890–1900, 1930’s–40’s, all in that area. I just find these big old machines speak to me very well and a lot of them want to be reintegrated back into culture.”

‘Teenage Wildlife’ by Glen LeMesurier at Ubisoft. Photo by Lisa Sproull

That’s exactly what LeMesurier has done with his most recent work, ‘Teenage Wildlife’—a massive sculpture created for Ubisoft over six weeks this spring and unveiled in June inside the game designer’s Montreal headquarters. The work was built using parts repurposed from a 100-year old elevator that was recently decommissioned while renovating a portion of the building, a former garment factory built in 1903. Seeking a way to reuse the antique gears, Ubisoft reached out to LeMesurier, whose Mile End studio is just a few blocks away from the Ubisoft building.

“One reason we wanted to have Glen is that he comes from Mile End, so it helps us to connect with the community and brings an added value to the project,” explains Ubisoft project manager Isabelle Déry, who coordinated the work. “We’ve been here for 18 years, so this building is not just a building for us, it’s really our home where we’ve grown up. There’s something special about the building so we wanted to create something that could talk about our history.”

Detail of ‘Teenage Wildlife’ by Glen LeMesurier at Ubisoft headquarters

The sculpture LeMesurier created incorporates the wheels and gears of the dismantled elevator — mixed with components pulled from the artist’s storage — of all shapes, sizes and colours and suspended onto a frame of wooden beams. Despite their original industrial purpose, many of the components were cast with decorative flourishes that underscore their Edwardian origins. Organic elements such as animal skulls and feathers connect the work to the earth. In a clever nod to Ubisoft’s creative output, including games like the upcoming medieval combat game For Honor, the whole thing rather resembles a catapult.

The work is impressive to behold, and even more so when you consider the Herculean effort it took to move the tonnes of giant iron machinery from Ubisoft to LeMesurier’s studio and back again, a task that the artist did with the help of his son and his souped-up Volvo. Once back at the studio, the components had to be cleaned of 100+ years of accumulated grease, a task LeMesurier did in the only way that made sense: He set the parts on fire in the clearing behind his studio, next to the train tracks.

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Artist Glen LeMesurier cleaning the components by fire behind his Mile End studio. Photo by Natacha Gysin

“We have a big tub out back by the tracks,” LeMesurier explains. “We soaked them in gas and burned all the grease off and they came out perfect. Everything goes into the fire, I’ve been doing that for years.”

Glen LeMesurier at work in his studio. Photo by Natacha Gysin.
Glen LeMesurier at work in his studio. Photo by Natacha Gysin.

Once the parts were ready to use, LeMesurier built a sculpture so large it would barely fit into his studio — so large that it had to be dismantled into 15 pieces and rebuilt onsite, where it now welcomes Ubisoft employees arriving through the building’s entryway off St-Dominique street.

For LeMesurier, it’s only fitting to give the century-old components a new life with a different purpose in the very same space they were originally installed, where the stories of 100 years of activity can provide a thread of continuity to new generations of residents, workers and other users of the neighbourhood.

“When I find things, I feel it and I can feel their history through them,” he says. “They speak to me on a level where they say, ‘Yes, we will be remembered.’” ■
Glen LeMesurier’s sculpture work can be seen in many areas around town, but a large number are collected in the artist’s Sculpture Garden located adjacent to his studio on Van Horne & St-Urbain. See more at
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