The City as Canvas

Community participation in urban creativity

From architecture to street art, the city has long been used as a canvas for self expression. As the tools and methods available for creative expression grow, so the faces of our urban landscapes become more numerous and the scope for us to meaningfully interact with our environment becomes further amplified.

We've all felt that sense of wonderment and joy at stumbling upon something new, often hidden in plain sight. Something as simple and playful as a mosaic space invader, or as visually and technologically spectacular as projection mapping on a minster can allow us to interact with a familiar environment in unexpected and exciting ways. Similarly, short lived events like Park(ing) Day or Empire Drive-In cast a new light on how we view our environment, the things in it, and the roles they play in our lives.

What's great is that more and more cities have begun to embrace and welcome creative participation, inviting us to have a relationship with the space that we occupy. Manchester is a wonderful city in this respect, and so often there are new and exciting things to be seen or to get involved in; creative events, random happenings, interactive art installations…

One such event that really appeals to us is NVA's Speed of Light; a public art installation in which a group of runners (many of whom are local, voluntary participants), dressed in LED light suits charge the evening landscape with breathtaking patterns of colour and light (sounds amazing, right?). Our very own Ben Davies took part in the inaugural event during Edinburgh Festival in 2012, which then went on to internationally debut in Yokohama, Japan before coming to our neighbouring city of Salford for its third incarnation. The performance 'uses light, intentional movement and sound to change the way we see and feel about a chosen environment' and is a truly spectacular piece of work (as a quick search for 'Speed of Light' in Flickr will show you).

The motivation behind Speed of Light is to harness physical spaces as a vessel for a 'new visual language' that may perhaps allow us to reflect upon or cast new perspectives on the familiar settings we inhabit. It's a sentiment very interesting to us, and one that can be applied or articulated in so many different ways.

We're excited to see what 2014 holds for Manchester. Who knows, we might even get our own giant puppet parade!


Michelle Collier

Date published

04 February 2014