Interactive art exhibit ‘Loop’ takes over Pedestrian Mall in downtown Iowa City

The exhibit debuted in Montreal in 2016, although the version of the art currently shown in Iowa City is being displayed for the first time.


Jeff Sigmund

Jiselle Fernandez of Iowa City tries one of the loop devices on Friday, July, 7, 2021. Fernandez says she likes how they work and likes the music.

Meg Doster, News Reporter

The Iowa City Pedestrian Mall is staying in the loop with its latest exhibit, aptly titled, “Loop.”

The hand-drawn animations within “Loop” and the corresponding flashing lights and softly played music are powered by the person sitting on the bench within the structure, going only as fast as the contraption’s lever is moved.

Within the loops are cylinders that spin as their levers are pulled, and the still images inside the pod then come to life to tell a story. “Loop” is inspired by the 19th century ancestor of animation, the zoetrope – cylinders that have images inside the rim, and when spun, give the illusion of moving animation.

The interactive art installation, which can be used free of charge, consists of 12 zoetropes, each containing a different story.

The exhibit first appeared downtown on July 9 and will remain there until August 10. The goal of “Loop” is to welcome visitors and residents back to the Iowa City downtown area after the streets have been quiet for the past year, and to create an immersive artistic experience for the community.

Laura Farahzad Mayer is a graduate student at the University of Iowa studying graphic design. Farahzad Mayer said she doesn’t live in the downtown area, nor has any reason to travel there often, but she said the outdoor exhibit was more than worth the trip.

“It was refreshing to walk around downtown and to see a lot of people and walking around and exploring the art was really interesting,” Farahzad Mayer said. “… It’s similar to a stop-motion animation in the way that it functions as you’re viewing it and the image changes. So, it’s made up of a bunch of still images, and then as it moves as it switches between images, it looks like it’s moving.”

“Loop” was created by Olivier Girouard and Jonathan Villeneuve, and 24 French authors and illustrators were involved in the creative process for the latest iteration of the exhibit. The exhibit is on loan from the art agency, Creos. The names of the many artists and authors can be found on the Downtown Iowa City website.

Director of Creative Services for Downtown Iowa City Betsy Potter said the art piece will serve as a backdrop to festivities and events in the area throughout July and early August.

Potter anticipates the “Loop” will attract “thousands of visitors.”

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“It’s meant for visitors to try all 12 to really experience the full installation,” Potter said.

The “Loop” and the stories the exhibit tell first appeared in Montreal in 2016. Nick Pfeiffer, vice president of Marketing and Communications at Think Iowa – which helped bring “Loop” to Iowa City – said the exhibit is not new to the United States, but since it’s been updated, Iowa City is the first place in the country to host the installation.

“I had actually seen it at Navy Pier in Chicago a couple of years ago, and now it’s a different experience because there’s different imagery and different music to it,” Pfeiffer said.

“Loop” spent two years touring the U.S and Canada after it debuted in 2016. That iteration of the exhibit displayed widely known fairytales, including Alice in Wonderland and Pinocchio. The pods currently being displayed in Iowa City are out for the first time, using images inspired by French-Canadian artists.

So, for anyone who may have already seen “Loop” in previous years, it will be a new experience seeing it again this summer in Iowa City.

“What I liked about it was the way it engaged the viewer, and it was the discovery of it and being able to experience that on your own,” Farahzad Mayer said. “Even though it was public art, the private experience and discovery of it was really unique.”

Potter encouraged people to see “Loop” during both day and night, as it’s a “totally different experience” depending on time of day. But be aware, she said, there might be a wait to get into one of the zoetropes.

Potter said throughout the day, there is usually at least one person per zoetrope, seeing a story at their own pace.

“We will see what the feedback and success of the ‘Loop’ is for the summer, but we’re always looking for ways to get people out and about during the wintertime too, especially because we all know what Iowa winters are like,” Pfeiffer said. “But if there’s attractions that we can bring to downtown Iowa City, we’re definitely open to those. And based on early reaction, I would suspect that’s something we’ll be looking forward to doing.”