July 30, 2015
by Canadian Architect
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) recently unveiled Stuart Reid’s extraordinary glass mural entitled Zones of Immersion at Union Station, Toronto’s main public transportation hub. Over the past several months, TTC riders passing through the Union Station subway station have witnessed the installation of this art wall. Now complete, this large-scale artwork is a lasting contribution and marks an important milestone in the history of public art in Canada’s largest city.
Zones of Immersion is a massive 7’ x 500’ layered glass wall that runs the entire length of the Union Station subway platform, and portrays the people who ride the TTC every day. Eight years in the making, this translucent/transparent mural features silver-stained, enamelled, engraved and laminated glass with original imagery and poetic text and captures the blurred, throbbing rhythms of a city in transit. Describing what he strived for in the piece, the artist notes:
“Zones of Immersion is about being in the subway—being conscious of riding it, waiting for it, looking around at the people who surround you, and noticing the rhythm of the trains. I sketched the portraits while on the train and on the platform, and they are portraits of everyday commuters, showing a range of humour and pathos, quiet contentment and pensive reserve.
Reid won an international competition for the honour of creating a permanent art installation for the TTC’s new subway platform at Union Station with Zones of Immersion. He envisioned the project as environmental art—an experience the public is immersed in as they walk through the space. Simultaneously, it also provides a series of individual artworks spectators can contemplate while waiting for the train.
The artist says: “It is filmic, immersive—revealing itself relative to the viewers’ movements—how close they get, where they stand on the platform. Seeing themselves figuratively and literally mirrored in this subjective rendering of the very experience they are objectively part of at the moment of their viewing.”
Reid spent many hours over a period of several months riding the subway observing his fellow passengers, sketching people and writing poems about the commuter experience. These images and text, reworked onto 167 glass panels—most of which are 3.5 feet wide by 7 feet tall (with an average weight of 200 lbs)—reflect the people who use the subway and the experience of taking the TTC: the hustle and bustle, the excitement, the boredom and the quiet moments of introspection until the next stop. The artwork offers the artist’s personal perspective on the human experience of riding “the system.”
Every piece of the mural was worked on by hand but was made with a variety of processes that range from historic 13th-century stained glass techniques to 21st-century digital printing and laminating. The piece is a technical achievement, with masterful acid-etching and sandblasting, laminated panels designed to withstand wind loads in the subway tunnel and protective nano-coating to ward off the sooty brake dust from the trains.
Stuart Reid is a transdisciplinary artist and architectural designer whose work explores existential themes of human existence—dreams and memories, possibility and fate, connectedness and alienation. He holds a BA in Fine Arts (University of Guelph) and a Master of Architecture (UCLA). For more than 25 years, he has taught at OCAD University where he is a Professor of Environmental Design and recipient of the 2012 Price Award for teaching excellence. Reid is internationally renowned for his large-scale artwork in architectural glass. Major public commissions include Bloorview Kids Rehab (Toronto), Salzburg Congress (Salzburg, Austria), Intercontinental Toronto Centre (Azure Bar and Reception), Mississauga Living Arts Centre and Toronto’s St. James Cathedral where The Calling of St. James—his triptych of leaded stained glass windows for the narthex—was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II for the 200th anniversary of the cathedral in 1997.
To view a short documentary on the making of zones of immersion, please visit www.stuartreid.ca/zones-of-immersion-video/