100,000 Shadow Plays Across Bristol

Posted on Mon 3 Nov 2014

Fri 31 Oct, marked the last day of Shadowing, the winner of this year’s Playable City Award. Over the previous six weeks, Bristol residents and visitors  hunted out the clandestine locations of eight ‘enchanted’ street lights, and played, danced and shaped their shadows over 100,000 times in all corners of the city. The Shadowing streetlights recorded the movements of pedestrians passing beneath and echoed them back as shadows to the next passerby.

Creators, Jonathan Chomko and Matthew Rosier, have been overwhelmed by the public response to the project. They said:

“Bristol’s reaction to Shadowing has demonstrated the wonder that can emerge from the most basic elements of our urban environment,” says Matthew. “Our starting point was simple, aiming to augment the presence of those with whom we share our city streets. To see this concept translate into genuine moments of discovery and interaction within entirely unexpected contexts has been an incredible experience and unbelievably rewarding.”

The design duo were clear from the outset that they wanted Shadowing to be a project 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 hidden away inside the city’s existing streetlights. This technology allowed them to capture the movements of pedestrians as they passed beneath the lights and then play them back as shadows to the next passer-by, leaving a glimpse of those who walked the same path moments before. If a visitor stepped out of the light to watch for a while, the lamp would begin to ‘dream’, recalling a procession of shadows from earlier visitors.

Bristolians have certainly enjoyed the experience of living with Shadowing and the feedback has been extraordinary – "This used to be a mugging area, but the light has brought people out to play. The muggers don’t come anymore,” said one woman, who was walking her dog through the streetlight. Jonathan and Matthew now look forward to touring Shadowing internationally to see what other cities make of their creation.  

Clare Reddington, Executive Producer of the Award says:

“Shadowing has offered us one of the best examples yet of what a Playable City could be – it is a subtle yet effective twist on the city's existing technology infrastructure but it has given people permission to change how they behave in public; from talking to strangers to staging impromptu dance-offs. We look forward to seeing how people react to Shadowing in cities around the world when it sets off on tour next year.”

We will be launching the third international Playable City Award in January, so watch this space!