Last chance to see what’s hiding in the light

Playable City Award winner, Shadowing, comes to an end on Halloween


This Friday, on 31October 2014, marks the last day of Shadowing, the brilliant winner of this year’s Playable City Award that’s given memory to Bristol’s city lights, allowing passers-by to record and engage with their own shadows and with those who’ve passed before.  At dusk, for the past six weeks, as the sun has gone down and the street lights come on, all over Bristol thousands of residents and visitors have been hunting out the secret locations of the eight ‘enchanted’ sites and playing with shadows in remote corners of the city.

The brainchild of designers Jonathan Chomko and Matthew Rosier, the duo were clear from the start that they wanted to create a piece that “lived in the city”, rather than added on more infrastructure. To this end, during their development period at Watershed, they focused on creating infrared sensor systems that could be attached to already existing streetlights. This technology allows them to record the movements of pedestrians who pass beneath the lights and then play them back as shadows to the next passer-by, echoing a trace of those who walked the same path moments before, appearing at times like ghostly time travellers and, at others more like a more playful Peter Pan.

And if a visitor remains under the lamp for a just a little longer, the lamp reaches further back in time, playing back the shadows of its previous visitors. Shadowing illustrates how technology can actively invite interaction and create a sense of connectedness between strangers, this could be as simple as walking together, or perhaps a wave, a hello, a hop, or a dance. As Jonathan and Matthew explained at the outset, “our goal is to create unexpected interactions between people who share an urban environment by placing pockets of memory throughout the city that remember those who have passed through, allowing citizens to interact through time”

By playing with shadows and space, Shadowing also questions the role of light in creating a city’s character and, in a society ever more dominated by CCTV, challenges us to consider the unseen data layers and surveillance culture that pervade our urban spaces. And for those with an adventurous spirit, searching for the street lights is an amazing opportunity to explore Bristol’s hidden nooks and crannies, with a map provided to direct you to the secret locations which were purposefully sited in the lesser travelled areas of the city.

It was way back in early June that Shadowing was announced as winner of the second Playable City Award, selected from 78 applications received from 29 countries around the work. Judge Tom Uglow said of Shadowing, “… it feels like it has the most promise to speak to what Playable City is - a programme that makes dumb objects smart, and by smart we mean witty, creating interactions for Bristolians that subvert the normal and enchant the everyday via technology.”

Having attended launch night, we can testify Shadowing is fantastic fun. As we tentatively approached the pool of light beneath the first ‘awakened’ street light in a tiny alleyway near the city centre, there were a few initial moments of mild arm-poking and side-shuffling, but they were swiftly followed by dancing, leg kicking and (progressively manic) twirling before the desire to see what could be created really took hold.  People started to play together, extraordinary multiple body shapes were formed, people who had never met before started co-operating to achieve ever more interesting outcomes. It was clever, unexpected, magical, idiosyncratic, and truly compulsive.

So, print out a copy of the map on the Shadowing website - - get down to Bristol and go play in the light. Could there be a better way to spend Halloween?

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