Off World


Off World is an exhibition part of the 2009 Contact Toronto Photography Festival.

It is a street-level public installation that runs 24/7 during the month of May.

The project is the result of a collaboration between filmmaker Mateo Guez, myself, Sanaz Mazinani’s curatorial efforts via the Stephen Bulger Gallery, and with funding from Motorola Canada.

The installation features 11 looped videos playing on cell phones, accompanied by an illuminated text panel. While watching the videos, images are sent directly to your cell phone, either via Bluetooth or email.

It was very important to me that the technology not get in the way of experience the work, but rather enhance the user experience and deepen the reading of the work. The presentation is, formally, designed to provide an intimate experience in video viewing – highlighting the personal connection that we have with our mobile devices. The arrangement of the screens brings people shoulder to shoulder, in turn drawing onlookers who, in the act of waiting are presented with affordances that encourage them to read instructions for, and engage with, the interactive component of the piece.

It’s not that often that a project I have in my mind materializes in the real world with such fidelity. I’m torn between thinking it’s either a testament to foresight and planning, or evidence of my hard-headedness. I certainly was dogged for an entire evening about this by Sanaz and Nick, as they were weeding out the small-ish vinyl lettering in the façade, but I feel the extra work in the end made for a much stronger installation. I think it looks particularly stunning at night.

The project faced many challenges. The most dramatic involved the vinyl application. The vinyl guys ordered special vinyl from the States that would be easier for us to remove later. It got held up at customs. Vinyl gets applied wet. I didn’t know this. You basically spray the stuff and window, apply, then squeegee out the water. There’s a kind of glue on the vinyl which cures. Ours didn’t. The new vinyl reacted chemically with the old solution and the window was all gross and streaky. We crossed our fingers, slept on it, but were forced to tear the whole thing down and apply traditional vinyl the next day. Drama.

Another really big blow was the wall we hit in developing an MMS application. I really wanted to keep the installation simple technically for users, and make it accessible to as wide a range of handsets and carriers as possible. MMS is like next generation SMS (text messaging) that supports attachments like ringtones, videos, or photos. The idea was: you call a number you get photos back. Simple – in theory.

We had a working MMS application, but had to pull it at the last minute. We couldn’t get it working across all carriers. Here’s what I think it comes down to: Candian carriers have discovered something else they can sell: picture messaging. Except, picture messaging exists only as a marketing construct. Really, it’s MMS. Everywhere else, you can receive an MMS for about $0.50, but here the tap is  off unless you buy a monthly package. If you have a data plan, you’re good, but I wanted something simple and accessible out of MMS. Ahh… mobile development in Canada…

I really hope you have a chance to check the installation out.

Find out more it here:


MAY 1 – 31
24-hour street-level installation

1028 Queen St W, Toronto   M6J 1H6
(416) 504-0575

installation shots:

Add to Yahoo Add to Google Save to Digg IT! Live Bookmarks!


This is the blog of Andrew Mallis, a Toronto-born, San Francisco-based polymedia artist. I work in new(er) media with code, photography and electronics, and in traditional media by writing, drawing & painting.