LightSpell. Courtesy: realities:united.

Toronto Backtracks on Art Installation over Concerns about Hate Speech

The launch of a public art installation conceived by the Berlin–based design studio realities:united has been canceled after officials raised concerns that the piece could be used to communicate hate speech, Ainslie Cruickshank of the Toronto Star reports. The piece was commissioned for the new Pioneer Village subway station and has been in the works since 2009.

Senior members of the Toronto Transit Commission fear that LightSpell—a participatory artwork that would allow commuters to type messages on interfaces located on the platform in order to project them on large displays—would be abused. “This isn’t about limiting free speech, but making sure people feel safe on the TTC,” transit spokesman Brad Ross told CTV News. “If somebody looks up and sees a racial slur that they think may be targeted at them, then we have failed them.”

Rather than abandon the $400,000 project, the TTC proposed using a list of safe words that users could choose from. However, Jan and Tim Edler, the brothers who own realities:united and spearheaded the controversial work, said this solution would undermine the purpose of the piece. Calling the safe list “completely crazy,” Tim Edler said that the idea “sounds more like North Korea than Canada.”

The Edlers are now working with the TTC to find a way to move forward with the opening of the work. Jan Edler said that the piece is “an experiment of the freedom of speech of the individual versus the influence of the group . . . You can not only enter text anonymously, but you can also override and erase text anonymously. The censoring of inappropriate content, if there is any, is not done through an automated system, but is being organized, or is supposed to be organized, by the group of people in the station.”