Public art preview: Speed of Light comes to The Quays this spring

Kevin Bourke
NVA's Speed of Light_copyright Amano Studio (Img 1)

“Human fireflies moving in choreographed patterns”: public art project Speed of Light descends on Salford.

Joggers along The Quays’ waterfront have long been a familiar sight; those Lycra-clad bodies a living, sweating part of the landscape at the former docklands turned cultural quarter. But it is unlikely that visitors will have seen anything quite like NVA’s Speed of Light there before. After successful outings in Scotland and Japan, this celebration of movement, light and sound, presented over three nights in March, will see hundreds of volunteer runners, each clad in a specially-designed light suit, animate the canal banks, bridges and public spaces around The Lowry, IWM North and MediaCityUK.

From 8pm until 9pm on Thursday 21, Friday 22 and Saturday 23 March, each runner will have a series of high-tech, remote-controlled LEDs attached to their joints, limbs and heads. These human fireflies will then move in choreographed patterns set to specially-commissioned sound and music. “It’s a unique combination of creativity, sport, activity and technology. We hope it will be a genuinely creative way to make visitors think about lifestyle and fitness,” says Lucy Dusgate of Quays Culture, a new arts programme based at The Quays.

It signals The Quays’ transformation from a place of industry to a modern, vibrant destination

“We’re inviting audiences to experience The Quays’ transformation from an historic place of industry to a modern, vibrant destination,” she says. “The performance has been adapted and reinterpreted from what was delivered in Edinburgh and Yokohama, using this area’s architecture and canal-side setting to create an experience that’s unique.” There can be no doubt that The Quays itself is a bit of a one-off. Manchester’s only real waterfront (and yes, we know it’s in Salford, nit-pickers) has suddenly come of age thanks not only to the Media City development but via new walkways and bridges, and, of course, the tram. It’s partly as a result of this that Quays Culture has been formed; a new arts organisation supported by a clutch of local government, cultural and media agencies whose remit is to create the sorts of international public artworks, festivals and events that will join the dots between the cultural monoliths that dominate this part of Salford.

“We expect the event to be popular with runners,” says Dusgate. “We had more than 700 applications to take part in our first week – but we want to see even more people enjoy the evening as spectators.” Indeed, registration for runners is now closed so your best bet to experience Speed of Light is just to turn up and enjoy. “We’re also hoping it will be something of a calling card for Quays Culture and that people will start feeding in projects for our year-round activities,” says Dusgate – which, to us, seems like a good way to begin an arts programme that promises to do much more than illuminate a few quayside nights in March. See you by the water.

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