Smart Oxford Playable City

Star Light, Star Bright

An exciting new project created by Guerilla Dance Project and commissioned by Playable City will see an impressive installation light up the night’s sky in Oxford this winter. Winning piece Star Light, Star Bright will be on display across the city from January 2018.

The Smart Oxford Playable City Commission comes from cultural venue and producer Watershed, whose network of Playable City creations began in Bristol in 2012. Their wide-ranging projects in urban areas across the globe use sensory installations to connect playfully with the local infrastructure. Previous works awarded and supported by Playable City include the ‘urbanimals’ released in less-explored parts of Bristol, produced by Polish studio LAX. These strange creatures – a dolphin, beetle, rabbit, and kangaroo, created using projectors which were stimulated by human movement – were programmed to encourage people to stop and interact with them. Playable City was also responsible for lamp posts and post boxes installed in Tokyo, Bristol and Austin which communicated via text, asking people what they would do if they were mayor, what their earliest memories were, and other questions.

The work “creates an opportunity for serendipity, collaboration and spontaneity: each constellation needs more than one person to activate it to create the ultimate beam of light.”

This summer, cultural venue and producer Watershed and promotion network Smart Oxford collaborated for this exciting venture to bring something new to Oxford. A shortlist of works was released, those chosen from 82 applications made by creators from 28 countries in response to the theme ‘Shared City’. The final six included Knock, Knock, which aimed to link separate parts of the city via pairs of front doors . People could knock on one door and be heard and seen through video peepholes by people near the other door, who could respond by knocking back. Another shortlisted idea, Do not press, planned to engage with natural human curiosity, enticing people with labelled buttons that would involve them in experimental games or secret missions.

The winning work, Star Light, Star Bright will be created by Guerilla Dance Project, founded by architectural choreographer Laura Kriefman. It consists of touch-activated lights casting bright beams on to the beautiful architecture and streets of the city and projecting constellations of stars from the winter night sky. By pressing a Star Bright Beacon, passers-by can light up one part of a constellation, which can be combined with other beacons to make up an entire network of stars, whose names will be marked on the button. The aim of Star Light, Star Bright seems to be centred around collaboration and community – each time someone lights up another beam of a constellation, all the activated beacons will glow with more intensity as people work together to complete the whole set. Rather than focusing merely on central Oxford and tracing the tourist routes, the 29 constellations, eight featured stars and two planets will be scattered across the whole city to engage with all visitors and residents of Oxford.

As the website outlines, the work “creates an opportunity for serendipity, collaboration and spontaneity: each constellation needs more than one person to activate it to create the ultimate beam of light.” Francesca Perry, editor of website Thinking City and member of the judging panel for the entrants, praised the way that Star Light, Star Bright’s “participatory element really reflects the ‘shared city’ theme, as friends and strangers alike will make the constellations glow bright,” noting that “for me, its inclusivity was key: all ages, all abilities, all communities can engage and play with it.” The panel considered Star Light; Star Bright an apt piece for the city given its reputation for space exploration “from the Radcliffe Observatory to the European Space Agency at Harwell,” while the impressive architecture of the city will likely work well with a work of such cosmic proportions.

As Kriefman explained, “having been actively involved in the Playable City movement for years, it is great to be able to create a city-wide piece in the UK. Guerilla Dance Project can’t wait to make the stars shine bright, for all the citizens of the beautiful City of Oxford.” It will be exciting to see how this project is implemented and witness visitors working together to light up the sky over Oxford.