Counting the Space Between

Ozone Is a Living Installation

Photos Erin Sparks

On the seventh floor of the EV Building, around the corner from Café X, there’s a very special kind of laboratory. It lives and reacts to the people inside it, combining the technological, the ecological and the philosophical.

“The lab has students from many different disciplines and levels,” said Topological Media Lab director Dr. Sha Xin Wei. “Some of these students had been working in the arts. So I said to them a few years ago, ‘What does it mean to make art not by a human and not for a human?’

“Because artists usually think, ‘I am an artist, I create art for other people to see,’ that’s a conventional way of looking at art.”

The concept behind the Topological Media Lab aims to inspire a dialogue about the nature of space in art in a social context.

“With an ecological frame of mind, you have to be a bit broader than [conventional ideas of art]. It’s not about me, it’s not even about you, or us. It can’t be just that. So you have to think about a new kind of ethics and politics, so it’s a big challenge to everyone,” said Dr. Sha.

The lab is one big, multi-faceted installation entitled Ozone, and includes an interactive screen, lights, sounds, and a row of plants growing by a window, hooked up to sensors collecting data to manipulate.

“Sociologists talk about a place, as a space with social meaning. And what’s interesting, I think, is the move to the social,” said Dr. Sha.

“Here’s XYZ, here’s this spot on this planet with a longitude and latitude, but if it has a social element, it becomes a place. It’s this corner, my town, your town. We’re just trying to make that a little bit broader, about what we mean by social meaning, to include the living things in that space.”

The Media Lab is a place that also hosts seminars and readings done by the philosophy and humanities students who work there. It takes as little as sitting at a desk for the light sensors to notice you, to the plants to adjust to the humidity in the room. The lab lives on its own, and it lives through its inhabitants.

“We’re talking, we’re eating our lunches here, and things are active around us, so we can talk about theoretical stuff like we are now, but this system is already in place and working around us,” said Dr. Sha. “We can turn around and say, ‘Hey, what if we do this?’ and that’s why it’s a lab.”

Topological Media Lab Open House / Nov. 19 / 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. / EV Building (1515 Ste. Catherine St. W., EV-7.725)