Michael Pinsky’s The City Speaks, is a commission for HULL 2017. A steel lectern located on the quayside of Humber Dock offers a platform for members of the public to broadcast their thoughts and feelings. A hidden microphone captures their words and sends them to a data processing cloud which transcribes their phases into a scrolling dot-matrix text ascending the tidal barrier. The plinth and the tidal barrier perfectly align at each end of Humber Street, allowing the speaker to see their own speech being emitted across Hull, not though the digital screens of telephones, tablets and computers, but as an embodiment of Hull’s architecture. The City Speaks functions as a 21st century Speakers’ Corner in which open-air public speaking takes on epic proportions as spoken words are translated to text and relayed on one of the towers supporting Hull’s tidal barrier.
The Hull surge tidal barrier plays a significant role in protecting Hull from flooding, as climate change increases the number of extremely high tides. Since its construction in 1980 the barrier has saved over a 100,000 homes. In many ways this barrier has become the gateway guarding the future of Hull, replacing Beverley Gate where, in 1642, Sir John Hotham refused Charles I entry to the city, an act of defiance widely acknowledged as the spark that ignited the English Civil War.
These principles of resistance and protection lie at the core of The City Speaks. This installation gives voice to the diverse range of ideas and opinions expressed by the people of Hull and in doing so celebrates the intellectual and political resilience of the Hullensians.
Hull, coincidentally has a history of poetry with Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), and Philip Larkin (1922-1985) as earlier residents of the city and contemporary Hull poet, Shane Rhodes, has written a ten-stanza poem The City Speaks, which reflects Hull’s history, and will be engraved in a section of paving in Queen Victoria Square.
The City Speaks plinth is located on the intersection of Humber Dock Street and Humber Street, Hull. It has been commissioned by HULL 2017 for Look Up and developed with The Light Lab and realised with the cooperation of the Environment Agency.
Michael Pinsky is a British artist whose work spans residencies, commissions and projects in galleries and public spaces that explore issues which shape and influence the use of our public realm. Taking the combined roles of artist, urban planner, activist, researcher, and resident, he starts without a specified agenda, working with local people and resources, allowing the physical, social and political environment to define his working methodology.