Shadowing, Playable Cities

Shadowing invites us to play in the light to re-animate the humanity of the city

Walk down the streets of Bristol, England after dark through the end of October 2014, you might find yourself sharing the illuminated circle of a city street light with someone else’s shadow. Shadows may walk alongside you from moments, days or weeks before, at times like ‘ghostly time travellers, at others more like a playful companion.’ Meanwhile, your own shadow may spirit away to greet the next person who walks under the light.

Shadowing was created by Canadian interaction designer Jonathan Chomko and British designer Matthew Rosier, as the winning submission of Watershed UK’s 2014 Playable City Award. Produced by Watershed and co-funded by a network of organizations interested in exploring the future of creativity, technology and citizenship in urban spaces, the award challenges creatives from around the world to produce future-facing artwork that engages cities as playable, socially vibrant, and idiosyncratic public spaces. The approach seeks to complement - and perhaps counter - the increasingly utilitarian data-driven approach of the ‘Smart City.’

While discussing their shared interests in compelling interactive experiences, architecture, and urbanism, Jonathan Chomko and Matthew Rosier knew they wanted to create a project that was embedded rather than an addition to the urban environment. “We started off by just thinking about the essence of the city, what it’s about—and people are what make a city relevant. We wanted to use human presence in some way and to augment that and then create further interaction,” said Matthew Rosier.

By inviting a wave hello, a hop, or a dance between strangers, Shadowing lends to a vision of cities that encourage interaction rather than isolation. To create this effect, the project ironically mimics the recording process of CCTV security cameras in public space. Each street light is quipped with a camera that uses the infrared spectrum and fancy image processing to capture movement underneath while avoiding the projection on the ground. It isolates that movement, which is stored on a computer and beamed downward with a projector attached to the light.

Watershed UK embraced this paradox, stating how “Shadowing offers an exploration of the disconnectedness that technology can create between strangers, the role of light in creating a city’s character, and the unseen data layers and surveillance culture that pervades our contemporary urban spaces.” By revealing the CCTV process, the installation turns established cultures of security and privacy upside down and reintroduces a curiously joyful and intimate time-lapse of humanity into the city streets.

Click here to learn more about Shadowing, and browse through the “Playable City Award" 2014 Short List, online at Watershed.co.uk