Inside the World of Public Installation Art in Toronto

On November 12, 2014 by aeman.ansari
Courtesy of Labspace Studio.

Courtesy of Labspace Studio.

Toronto is home to a long list of public installation art, work that both integrates with the environment of the bustling, diverse city and makes people stop in their tracks. Here is a map of 15 popular pieces that are located all over the city from Etobicoke to the Don Valley Parkway:



There are also groups and individuals creating more temporary, interactive pieces of installation art in the city like Labspace Studio, a sustainable arts enterprise founded by Laura Mendes and John Loerchner in 2007.They put together publicly engaged projects in Toronto that ask people to think deeply about life and the world around them. Free T.O See spoke with Laura about Labspace Studio and its contribution to public installation art in Toronto.



Laura Mendes and John Loerchner, co-creators and directors of Labspace Studio. (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)

Laura Mendes and John Loerchner, co-creators and directors of Labspace Studio. (Courtesy of Labspace Studio)


Free T.O See: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in installation art.

Laura Mendes: I have been running Labspace Studio for 8 years with my partner John Loerchner who I met while studying at the University of Toronto. I was running the student gallery and that’s where we started collaborating on projects. We graduated and moved on to different jobs in the arts world and on the side started running our own studio space that we called Labspace Studio. Eventually we made this our full-time job, but we decided to lose the physical studio space. It became administratively too time consuming and took away from the things we want to do as artists. That’s where we became interested in installation art because we didn’t have a physical studio space anymore. It allowed us to create public work and especially participatory work that really interested us.

Free T.O See: Tell me about your last project, Things We Lose. Where did the inspiration for this come from?

LM: I lose things all the time, it’s just my thing. I lose my keys every week, I left my laptop in the back of a cab, I almost lost my engagement ring in the TTC. I think it’s a quirk of mine but I also think it’s a thing people have living in an urban center. We are always in a rush and take for granted the moments in our lives.  We imagined this to be our third and last project in the installment of these types of projects we have been developing for the TTC. We knew we wanted to do something similar that involved interactions with the public.  When people are waiting for the TTC they are in a rush and all of a sudden they are confronted with a person revealing something really personal on the monitors. Right away they stop and are compelled to look because it’s not something they are used to seeing. People can identify with stories like David’s, a senior looking for his long lost love Gladys who he hasn’t seen since 1961. If we could help David find his long lost love it would be amazing but the project isn’t about that. It is about the process of letting go and the things we do to let go of the past.


Free T.O See: How financially viable is it to run an art house in Toronto?

LM: Labspace Studio has an agency side that is our revenue generating side where we help organizations work on their advertising and branding. That helps to support the art we do, as well as the fact that a lot of the public art installations are commissioned by organizations. Without the agency side our endeavor wouldn’t be financially viable at all. We would probably still do it, but we would  be doing our day jobs as well.

Free T.O See: What is the goal behind all of your pieces?

LM: When John and I first started Labspace Studio our vision was to create work that was interdisciplinary and that brought together different types of people; artists and non-artists, scientists and artists, environmentalists and artists. We just kind of kept doing our thing and saw what happened. A lot of our projects turn out to be what I like to call social experiments. We aren’t really sure what will happen when we put them out there. Just in the last couple of months we did a huge project for Nuit Blanche which was a large scale, outdoor, interactive piece called Between Doors. Each one of the twenty doors had a choice on it and was hooked up to a censor tracking through data the choices that everyone made. So as you walk through the installation and come to the very end you are actually able to visually look through real time data at your own choices and the collective’s choices. What we do know is that we are not interested in work that alienates people and are  excited to create work that is not just going to exist in a silo or a white wall gallery.


This is an edited excerpt of the interview.

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