In the Air, Tonight

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By Natalia Balcerzak

As technology is changing the way we socialize with one another, it’s also introducing us to a unique way of interacting with architecture.

Up in the Air, Tonight, a new media exhibition created by artists Dave Colangelo and Patricio Davila, will be displayed on the LED screens of the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) starting Feb. 3 and running until March 5. The installation is programmed not only to visualize current wind speeds and direction, but to raise awareness about homelessness, using Twitter hashtags as the trigger.

“I don’t think any issue should be gloomy,” said Colangelo. “It will be a beautiful and ambient experience. Each tweet is contributing to a political act.”

Every tweet using the hashtag #homelessness will cause the reactive architecture installation to respond with a pulse of red light, in contrast to its usual blue.

“At first, we thought of it as a distress signal but the more that I think about it, it’s a reflection of people engaging with the topic,” said Colangelo, who has worked with homeless shelters before.

Colangelo and Davila, both Ryerson PhD students, first came together on a similar project in their 2010 Nuit Blanche exhibit, E-Tower.

They had great support from the school when moving their media art to campus, they said.

“Ryerson has the technical know-hows,” said Davila. “They’ve got the inventiveness to actually create a building with an addressable lighting system on its face.”

Ryerson lies on the contrast ground between the tourist-heavy Yonge and Dundas square and Toronto’s densest area of homeless shelters. With the number of drop-in centres increasing, awareness to this issue has remained relatively quiet.

The artists said they are changing that as they create new media to become more interactive.

“If we have a large stage to do something, we should use it to express something important,” said Davila.

A big influence in the idea for their project was nurse and activist Cathy Crowe, the pair said. Specializing in work with the homeless, Crowe granted them an insider’s look into a harsher reality. Guiding social justice tours throughout the city, the finale of her walks will end at the RIC exhibit.

With the engagement of different publics, both off and online, Colangelo and Davila’s goal it to bring people, politics, technology and the environment together. In the midst of Canada’s harsh winter, In the Air, Tonight amplifies an even stronger urgency of awareness as the cold has left many shelters overcrowded.

“We are a data society in a lot of ways, but we’re also flesh and bone,” said Colangelo. “We still bleed, we still shiver in the cold.”

To access the exhibit’s wind speed measures and to see the countdown of tweets until the pulse, visit or Twitter using the handle @itat2014.

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