This PHI Centre experience imagines the very first and very last moments of life

We spoke with artists Claire Bardainne and Adrien Mondot about their ambitious immersive installation Dernière Minute (Last Minute).

For Claire Bardainne and Adrien Mondot, the birth of their second child was an especially pivotal time – just a few weeks after the death of Bardainne’s father. 

As she and her family spread his ashes, she could feel the new life growing inside her, kicking at the confines of the womb. This was the catalyst that led them to consider a tricky question. 

As Mondot puts it: “What is the sensation of passing from not living to living, and from living to dying?” How is it experienced, at the most basic level of our being?

With Dernière minute, a piece they co-created that is showing now at PHI Centre, they attempt to answer that question. 

In a 30-minute work of film and sound, projected onto the walls and floor of a closed, inviting room, the piece invokes those sensations of our first and last moments alive, and serves as a reminder that our end isn’t really the end, in a sense. 

“It’s an experience, first and foremost, an experience that we lived through and that we wanted to share and transmit,” says Mondot. 

Mondot and Bardainne developed this installation through their company, Adrien M & Claire B, through which they collaborate with many others to accomplish projects like Dernière minute.

Viewers are free to move around the room as they please while the artwork is running, and it includes an interactive component as well — the piece reacts to the movement of the audience through the space. Walk, run, dance, sit, play; you are free to experience the moment in whichever way feels best. 

“We decided to bring the reactive component into the piece to say to the audience ‘Look, this piece is for you, you are a part of it,’” says Mondot. 

We as humans are made up of the same things as the earth, the plants, the air. We are a drop of rain, or the spark of a fire. The elements in their smallest, most primitive form feature prominently in the piece. They are what constitutes us, after all.

“I love when families come and bring their children. The parents are shy about the reactive component of the piece, but the kids just run with it. I think it’s more fun to watch the kids playing than to play yourself.”

While Bardainne is a visual artist, Mondot’s practice sits at an intersection between art and technological innovation. Some of the video we see in Dernière minute was recorded with a camera, and some of it was created artificially using computer-generated programs.

At the same time as the footage plays, a soundscape composed by Olivier Mellano plays. Working on the soundscape with Mellano informed the filmography and vice versa, Mondot explains. He and Bardainne wanted to reach a blending of the two, so the viewer can “see the music and hear the images.”

Mellano rose to the occasion and lived up to their “crazy intentions,” according to Mondot. 

As a piece that reflects on and celebrates life, families are welcome and encouraged to attend. For the holiday season, PHI is offering $10 entry for kids under 12. 

To bring another dimension to this piece, some showings are accompanied by a live performance within the space. There are three sessions per day on Dec. 3 and 17, Jan. 14 and Feb. 11 that will be enhanced by live performers dancing to the immersive piece. 

If the experience of Dernière minute fosters a sense of connection with the earth, with those of have passed and those yet to come, then Mondot and Bardainne will have accomplished their goal.

“What I hope sticks with people when they leave is how crazy it is that we are all living here in this world,” says Mondot. “That every single atom in our bodies existed before our lifetime, and they will continue to exist afterwards, in a different form. And that we came from the earth, yes, but before that, the atoms in our bodies are the remnants of distant stars, long since gone. 

“In this time where people are at war, and the end of humanity might not be that far away, we need to find reasons to say, ‘You know what? It was worth it to be here while we were.’” ■

For more on Dernière minute/Last Minute, on at PHI Centre (315 St-Paul) through March 5, please visit PHI’s website.

This article was originally published in the December 2022 issue of Cult MTL.

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