Lovebot mural at 289 College Street. Maddison Thompson/THE VARSITY

In your travels around Toronto, you may have come across a small imprint, or a sticker, of a robot with the outline of a heart on its chest. Meet “Lovebot,” designed by graffiti artist Matthew Del Degan for a cold and unwelcoming city. “We are not robots in this concrete jungle,” he assures me. “We have the ability to love.”

In the laboratory

Del Degan recounts sitting in a streetcar, joking and laughing with another man whom he believed to be homeless when he noticed that the other passengers around them appeared like robots lost in their own digital worlds. Through Lovebot, he aimed to create a design that represented the joy we’re capable of.

“It’s been blood, sweat, and tears, many times for all three,” Del Degan tells me. He’d developed the design for a sculpture project in university, where he studied product design. It began as a clay sculpture of a robot with a heart, which soon turned into stickers, concrete robots, posters, toys, and more. Over the years the Lovebot has evolved from an art project to a large-scale movement.

Now, what started in the streets of Toronto has attracted international attention. On the occasions that Del Degan receives criticism for his art — which he notes happens from time to time — he is dismissive, saying, “We all just need a hug.” Despite the challenges, he has remained committed to his vision of expanding the Lovebot movement.

Learning to love

In 2013, there were 100 concrete Lovebots placed around the city. The locations were chosen aiming to monumentalize acts of kindness which had taken place in the corresponding location. The project also intends to acknowledge parts of the city that provide something good for the community, like food banks or homeless shelters.

“Each Lovebot has a story of love and kindness attached to it,” Del Degan says. One of the locations chosen, for example, is next to the A & C Games shop at Spadina and College. He chose the game shop because it offered people the opportunity to play games and interact with others in person, as opposed to simply buying a game and leaving. The community that the shop fosters, in Del Degan’s opinion, warrants a Lovebot. 

The various Lovebots seen around the city are captured and shared on the Instagram page, @lovebottherobot, or accumulated under the hashtag #loveinvasion. They vary from life-size renditions of the robot to smaller stickers that can be found outside restaurants or coffee shops.

The art is supported by volunteers and enthusiasts who work to place the robot around the city and to maintain the website. When new Lovebots are placed in Toronto, the website’s map is updated to show where each and every Lovebot is situated.

Next steps

Meanwhile, Degan is mapping out the next steps of his artistic career. “I’m working on many things,” he says. “New works of art, a massive spectacle or an art show…a shareable sticker package that my fans can use to share the love.” Next September he’ll be pursuing a masters in interdisciplinary media arts and design, but before that he’s headed to Japan to showcase his art. “Life is my playground,” he says emphatically. “I live that way until I’m done living… a lot of what’s built Lovebot is a way of life and philosophy.”

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