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An interview with Playable City Award Winner Shadowing

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by Startacus Admin

Its hard to believe that we are over halfway through our Startup Bristol month, but its true! Incase you're wondering what the tommyrot we are talking about, Bristol startup month is a month-long feature in which we are showcasing the startups, exciting events, creative stirrings and general quirky goings on of the capital of the south west.

You might remember that just last week we announced that ‘Shadowing’ has been named as winner of the much coveted Playable City Award which takes place in the city each year.   The Playable City Awards asks artists and creatives from around the world to propose new ways for people to engage with the open and public spaces of the city.


This fabulous project will enable the street lights of the city to record and play back the shadows of people who have passed underneath them. The Playable City Awardsvideo shows (see bottom of article) rather well how it will work but essentially as you pass underneath you will see the shadow of the person who came before you projected on the ground. Your shadows movements are then recorded, becoming the shadow for the next visitor and so forth. The project hopes to create an innovative new way for people to interact with, not only the urban environment but each other as well.

Hugly intrigued by this idea, and keen to bring some artistic flair to our startup Bristol month, we have a chat with the brains behind this award winning project, Jonathan Chomko and Matthew Rosier!

So guys first off, lets set the scene.  Can you tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and how you came to be involved in Playable City ?  Did the idea for Shadowing come before you decided to enter the competition or afterwards?

I (Mathew) have a background in architecture/urbanism, and moved to the research center Fabrica in Italy last year to try and expand my approach to design, favouring a collaborative environment. When Jonathan first suggested entering Playable Cities, it felt like the perfect opportunity to express our shared interest of interaction within public space. Shadowing particularly expresses this cohesion between urbanist and interaction designer, where there has been a great deal of thought behind both the meaning and mechanisms of the proposal.

My background (Johnathan) is in Interaction Design, but have moved towards installation & experiential work, which is what drew me to Fabrica. While reading through the open call, I saw a kinship in Watershed’s attitude - their list of things they didn’t want resonated with me. So I understood that we had similar goals regarding what we wanted to see in an installation, which encouraged our proposal.

Playable CityWe developed Shadowing as a response to the Playable Cities open call. A broad topic like this is quite daunting, so we gave ourselves some guide-lines. The first was to hold to the idea that we live in cities for other people, for the density and the buzz. The second was that our proposal should be embedded in the city, not add on another piece of technology to the city. Based on these criteria, we thought through many different concepts. Shadows or body contours came up a few times, as this is a relatively ‘safe’ method for public space interaction, while still allowing for a large range of communication, yet it was a while until the streetlight idea came.

Where did the idea for Shadowing come from, I mean we can see obvious parallels with the Peter Pan story, was this intentional or just a happy coincidence?

We’re afraid to say that this is just a happy coincidence! (Jonathan hasn’t even read or seen Peter Pan...). However it is nice to see these fun parallels drawn. The initial vision for me was the idea of leaving a greeting or trace of your presence for those who follow after you through a quiet street, underpass or any other urban space.  The idea really came out of our shared goals, and attitude to technology.

What we really like about Shadowing is the way that it just unfolds with no conscious input from the participant, how Shadowing Playable Cityimportant would you say that seamlessness is for a piece like Shadowing?

In my experience, people are very hesitant to interact when they need to take the first move. Having an installation make the first move encourages interaction & shows visitors how the piece works.   As a playful response the smart city concept, it seems appropriate that the process is seamless. The technology is always working and responding to its environment, yet allows anyone to interact with it, whether consciously or not.

We can see the potential for a wide range of different reactions to Shadowing from the public- indeed the video demonstration shows how it could be be playful for one person and chilling for the next.  Was there a particular reaction that people would have when you first conceived the idea?

This is why we are so excited to see what happens in September. We always envisioned that reactions would vary completely from one person to the next, it will generate discussion and this is what cities should do. For example, some have questioned whether the piece is ‘creepy’, an understandable reaction. I find this idea of ‘creepy’ interesting within an urban context, as unlike CCTV, Shadowing operates a form of surveillance that is instantly fed back to the user visually, with no question over who it is observing you or why.

Surprise will always be prevalent, some may be scared for a brief moment until the mechanisms of the installation start to reveal themselves. After initial shock Shadowingor intrigue, we really hope many will start to test the boundaries of communication and performance via shadows. When developing this, we imagined that people could use these lamps as ‘pockets of memory’, where they could leave a message or a dance for the next person to walk by. We’re imagining that interactions become more interesting over time, as people get to know where in their neighbourhood these lamps are placed.

As you know, its Bristol Startup month on  Can we get a few thought from you on Bristol's creative/art scene?

(Mathew)  I think it is fantastic to see the creative opportunities that are so prevalent within Bristol, where a real value seems to be placed on the arts. Public and private funding of such initiatives go a long way in creating truly livable cities, rather than just promoting economic, commercial and residential opportunity. Besides this, I’ve always known Bristol as a city that holds a high reputation for pushing its contemporary art scene. I’m keen to explore it more.

(Jonathan) Bristol seems to have a good vibe - seems like a more sensible place than London, where there might be more time to produce thoughtful work, away from the meat grinder. But that’s just a projection, I’ll have updated my views after our trip next week!

Thanks for sharing your story with us guys and the very best of luck with the project as you bring it to full realisation.

Its been a jam-packed few weeks so far in our Bristol startup month so why not take a look at the stuff we have been talking about.

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Playable City Award Winner- Shadowing

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Published on: 18th June 2014

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