What a way to say thank you: Future City Festival lights up Salford’s skies

Susie Stubbs

Monumental public art ships in to The Quays – but can it compete with this former working dock’s titanic architecture?

Morse code, laser displays, kinetic sculpture and one man’s epic quest to walk the Greenwich Meridian Line: well, it’s not quite what you expect when you get the tram down to Media City, is it? And yet this is exactly what is in store over four weekends this spring, as the Future City Festival brings a series of large-scale, outdoor artworks to The Quays, the home of the BBC, The Lowry and IWM North.

Kicking off proceedings is artist Craig Morrison’s laser beam tribute to the mathematician and WW2 code-breaker, Alan Turing. The lasers, mounted onto the roof of The Lowry, will spell out “thank you” in Morse code (21-28 Mar, 5pm-11pm). “Turing was a genius in a number of fields, but the one thing that overshadows his life was his arrest,” says Morrison, referring to Turing’s 1952 prosecution for indecency; the scientist admitted to police his sexual relationship with another man – at that time, a criminal act. “We should be grateful to Turing for so many reasons, so I wanted to create something positive that would be associated with his name.”

All that open space could potentially distract from artworks that would dominate smaller spaces

After Morrison’s two mile-high accolade comes a series of other artworks, including Ray Lee’s giant, spinning sound sculpture, Chorus (3-5 Apr, from dusk), and Simon Faithfull’s 0°00 Navigation (24-26 Apr, from dusk), a black and white film shown on a screen outside The Lowry that depicts “one man’s deranged journey” along the Greenwich Meridian Line. The man, clutching a GPS device, emerges from the sea off England’s south coast and walks exactly along the meridian line – despite encountering obstacles en route – before eventually re-entering the North Sea, still obsessively following that longitudinal line.

The Quays, a former industrial dock, is a challenging space in which to present such a festival. The monumental architecture of Daniel Libeskind’s IWM North, the shifting, liquid ribbon of the Manchester Ship Canal, and the occasional fierce weather that whips through the open spaces here could all potentially distract from artworks that would otherwise dominate smaller spaces. Yet with new exhibitions opening at both IWM North and The Lowry, restaurants such as Damson, the brilliant Booths supermarket and the pop-up Dock Bar upping the food and drink ante, plus the ambition of a festival that ships in two of the world’s most powerful laser displays – well, we reckon Future City Festival may well pull it off.

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