A work of art censored in the subway in Toronto

Photo: Source realities : united
“Lightspell” would have spelled the words using neon giant, installed in the metro station Pioneer Village, Toronto.

A work of art which is intended to give the word to the public in a new subway station of Toronto is muzzled by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) until further notice. The interactive installation, entitled Lightspell, has not been turned on since the opening of the new segment of the metro of the city of Toronto, inaugurated with great pomp in the company of Justin Trudeau on the 17th of December last.


Designed by German artists Tim and Jan Edler, of group realities:united, Lightspell has been created to illuminate the station, Pioneer Village, and to allow passers-by to sign the expression of eight letters of their choice, thanks to five keyboards available to the public. This registration would then be projected in giant letters, forty times around the station, about 130 metres of neon lights installed for this purpose. “We can write text, but also drawings,” said Jan Elder, joined by the Duty in Germany.


Already approved


The work, which has received the approval of a jury in 2011, at the time of the design of the station aims to be “an experience of open communication and interaction in the public space,” explain the artists. It ” transforms the traditional public space of the subway stations in a reflection of the public sphere digital “. However, it seems that the société de transport de Toronto does not approve this principle.


The artists have in effect learned on the eve of the inauguration of the station, on the 17th of December last, that their work would not be lit.


“We have learned that an employee came on the site while we were doing tests and that he took photographs that he has sent to the executive officer of the TTC, says Jan Edler. Then, the management has decided not to turn on the installation. “


The société de transport de Toronto said, in particular the fear of being held responsible for what people decide to write about the installation : profanity, threats, insults, etc, “We expect to get a legal opinion about it,” said Stewart Green, a spokesman for the TTC. The board of directors of the TTC, however, must meet on the 18th of January next to take the final decision on the subject. But, until further notice, if the artists do not change the installation, the work of art of Edler will remain off, ” said Mr. Green.


For their part, the artists have explained that any registration that is deemed offensive could be immediately replaced by another, as dictated by any individual. Jan Edler added that metro users will understand that it is a work of art and not of messages dictated by the TTC.


“The TTC is concerned that if someone wrote the word “bomb” for example, users believe that it is a warning of the TTC and that there is a panic effect, ” says Jan Edler.


Stewart Green added that the TTC is also concerned that the entries create tensions between users, which could escalate into disputes. “We are for freedom of expression but we are against hate speech “, he stressed. However, the solutions presented to date by the TTC are not suitable for artists.


“A little before Christmas, we received a call from the president and ceo of the TTC, who proposed the changes,” said Jan Edler. The TTC would then have proposed to establish a black list of words banned on the installation, a long white list of words allowed. The black list has been found to be difficult to achieve because the words can be referred to by various spellings. The white list, it “went completely against the spirit of the “installation,” Jan Edler. Lightspell had for objective to allow flexibility of the exchange between receiver and transmitter, and to open new spaces of interaction between individuals. “The intentions of the censorship of the TTC are in contradiction with the objectives of the heart of our work, which are to establish a balance between the new possibilities of personal expression, and the mechanisms are subtle in the control of public space,” write the artists in a press release entitled ” censorship in the place of the celebration.


The work has cost 500 000 dollars since its conception in 2011. She was then selected by a jury, but had not been formally approved by the TTC, ” said Mr. Green. It is the architect’s Will Alsop, who has designed the metro station Pioneer Village.