Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Toronto Transit Commission won't use subway word-art installation over fear of hate speech

The Toronto Transit Commission has decided that "censored" is the eight-letter word it's most comfortable with.

As criticism mounts, the transit provider says that a $500,000 artwork it approved and paid for – one which allows the public to type short messages for display in a new station – cannot be made operational because of fear of hate speech and profanity.

It's a decision that raises questions about free speech and public space and whether the best way to handle offensive rhetoric is to block it or to challenge it.

"The TTC has an obligation and responsibility to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all," spokesman Brad Ross argued. "The installation has not yet been turned on and won't be until a solution is found."

However, an artist who has produced interactive works in numerous cities said the likelihood of misuse is tiny and easily countered by other members of the public. A consultant involved throughout the artistic process said that the TTC has long been fully aware of the work it was commissioning. And the station architect said he was "surprised" by the decision.

Will Alsop, who designed the Pioneer Village station into which the art was incorporated, said the installation was a way to "animate your wait" and "an important part of the experience of using the station."

For now, the installation dubbed LightSpell, which stretches nearly the whole length of a station on the new subway extension to Vaughan, remains dark. Terminals on the platform at which passers-by can input their thoughts – to a maximum of eight characters – are working. But the words people type aren't transmitted to the lights above.

"It's censorship," said Berlin artist Jan Edler, co-founder of realities:united, the studio behind the artwork. "I mean, how else would you call it?"


1 comment:

Paul Weber said...

Interesting... Censoring censoring.