At night, the Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto is supposed to glow. Lightline, created by Michael Snow and Scottish architect and lighting designer Jonathan Speirs, doesn’t give any hint of that at the moment: The glass cylinder running from the ground all the way up the northwest corner of the 281-metre-tall skyscraper looks more like a very large pale-green test tube than it does the $1.2-million piece of LED-lit public art it actually is. But that’s because, for nearly a year now, nobody’s bothered to turn it on.
“This has never happened before on the other public things I’ve done,” says Michael Snow, now 83, whose prior public work includes the Eaton Centre’s geese and the Rogers Centre’s fans. “It is very strange. The owners [Talon International Development Inc., who purchased the land the tower's now on for $27.4 million back in 2003] just don’t really elucidate.” Snow hasn’t been able to get an answer from them for why Lightline‘s still off. “They just say, you know, ‘call again.’”
Last June, it all seemed like it was going as planned. For a week, Snow and Iain Ruxton from Jonathan Speirs’ firm Speirs + Major spent their nights testing Lightline, watching from a place high up enough and with a clear enough sightline to see nearly the full length of it: a corner suite at the nearby Sheraton Hotel. ”If you turn it all on, it’s a long, thin white line,” explains Ruxton, who programmed Lightline. “The technology can do colour, but that’s not the point—it wasn’t trying to be like the CN Tower or something.” Because every one of the piece’s 5,000-or-so two-inch-large pixels can be individually controlled, “the game then becomes what can you do with this line, given that you can switch any part of it on or off?” Over the course of the week, they watched as Lightline mimicked falling snow and rain, or traffic at an intersection, or a hammer knocking in a nail, or thumped a musical beat. “A lot of them are inspired by something in the urban world around it,” says Ruxton. “There’s a lot of different things in there, an awful lot … What the system does is it strings together lots of different programs through the evening”—all in a different order so that “it should always be interesting whenever you go past it.”
“It was really wonderful—I’m really quite proud of it,” adds Snow. ”It’s very visible … I know that some people told me that they were driving on the Gardiner and they saw this thing and wondered what it was.”
No one, though, is quite sure what happened next. “When we finished in June, we were done—we were happy with it,” says Ruxton. “There was nothing there that caused me any worry.” Back then, he says that Talon, the Trump Tower’s owners, “were talking about various possible dates to launch it,” though everyone assumed that would happen sooner rather than later. “That, literally, is the last thing I know. All I know at the moment is that it’s still not on.” Ruxton says he’s “asked now and again” about Lightline, “but we’ve never had any confirmation from Talon as to what their plan is, so I don’t know.”
Neither does Catherine Williams, one of the public-art consultants hired for the project. “Really, I am perplexed. I honestly don’t know,” she says. ”I have not been given an explanation as to why … I’d heard that there some technical glitches, but then it went silent, and I really haven’t heard or been able to get anything.” Williams says that Val Levitan, Talon’s president and CEO, told her a while back that “it’s very complicated and they were working very diligently on it,” but there’s been no sign of progress since. “The only thing I can think of is, you know, [Talon and Val Levitan are] very busy. There are many aspects to running a hotel and a condominium, and he may be working on other things. But this is a long time to be waiting.”
The City of Toronto is getting tired of the wait, too. Because Lightline is public art (even though it’s privately owned), the developers, and then the tower’s condo board, are legally obliged to get—and keep—it working. “I don’t know what their issue is,” says Al Rezoski, who oversees downtown-area development for the City of Toronto’s planning department. “We were being patient with them, because of the building itself not being completed. I think now that, as far as I can see, everything’s been completed on the project, that would be the point at which we would go after them.” It’s not an empty threat; the City could, among other things, go so far as to pursue litigation, something the Trump Tower is already seeing its fair share of.
It took a week of emails to Val Levitan before a spokesperson for Talon International Development Inc. finally answered The Grid’s questions about Lightline. (Levitan himself wouldn’t agree to a phone interview.) The spokesperson, Dorenda McNeil, wrote that, actually, “there is no reason for the delay on lighting the installation. Quite simply, we are taking our time to identify and plan for the right time—and event—to mark what we believe is a celebratory achievement.” In other words, nothing’s wrong with Lightline after all; it really is just a matter of flipping a switch. When we asked how much longer from now that would happen, given that Lightline finished testing last year and the building it’s attached to now appears done as well, McNeil replied that, ”from our perspective, the building is not yet fully complete. We will turn it on at the right opportunity.”
Until then, Lightline remains in the dark.
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