Robotic. Hearts made of concrete. These words are often used to describe Torontonians, but there are in fact 80 faceless, made-of-concrete “Lovebots” in this city. A half-metre tall, they stand resolute, with outstretched arms in unexpected places. If it weren’t for their red hearts, they’d blend in with the urban landscape.
The work of Matthew Del Degan, this project vaguely recalls the Moose in the City initiative. In 2000, then-mayor Mel Lastman commissioned local artists to pay tribute to Toronto by decorating 326 life-sized fibreglass sculptures. Some painted, others created photo collages; the Cultural Mosaic moose in front of First Canadian Place was covered in a relief made of broken ceramic. Criticized for the often-overt connections to consumerism, many of the moose were vandalized and subsequently removed.
Del Degan’s Love Invasion began in 2010 as a sticker project. He stuck his endearing, hand-drawn and vectored figure on buildings and spaces that he thought positively contributed to the city. In 2013, with a team of 20 volunteers, some 30,000 pounds of cement and some wooden moulds, he began making 3-D Lovebots and distributing them by the truckload. The fanfare was immediate: a robot in a concrete jungle is more relatable than a boreal forest mammal. And because Lovebot selflessly credits the people and places consistently showing Toronto some love, the initiative is more sincere.
In the Distillery District, a Lovebot honours Nikki Fotheringham, whose greenmoxie.com helps people live “happier and greener lives.” Another in North York salutes CHIRS, a volunteer-driven organization that rehabilitates those affected by brain injuries. Down at the Evergreen Brickworks, a Lovebot simply celebrates the beauty of the Don River.
Unlike Lastman’s moose, which left no meaningful trace, Del Degan’s army of Lovebots marks an active community. Perhaps concrete – and Torontonians – are lovable after all.