The City Speaks | Michael-Pinsky © Tom Arran

Whether glued to their smartphones or dodging traffic, most people miss the dazzling spectacles waiting to be discovered above street level.

In honour of Hull’s status as UK City of Culture 2017, a host of site-specific artworks has sprung up in the town’s public spaces. The series, called Look Up, is designed to do exactly what the title suggests – to encourage people to look up, offering different perspectives and ways to experience the city.

Look Up was the first major series to be unveiled as part of Hull’s City of Culture programme, launching on New Year’s Day 2017. The organisers enlisted renowned institutions, including the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), as well as famous artists such as Tania Kovats and Bob and Roberta Smith. Explore highlights from the programme below and meet the artists who have made it happen.

Nayan Kulkarni: Blade

In early 2017 Hull’s Queen Victoria Square played host to Blade, a giant industrial rotor blade conceived by artist Nayan Kulkarni. Spanning an astonishing 75 metres, the installation became the largest single-cast product in the world. The structure – built out of fibreglass, balsa wood and resin – was designed to play with the flow of movement within the square and provide passers-by with a visual and physical obstacle, forcing them to engage more closely with the surrounding architecture. In the video below, follow the huge blade’s journey from the Siemens wind turbine factory to its place in the centre of the square.

Director Hull 2017 Martin Green said: "It's a structure we would normally expect out at sea, and it might remind you of a giant sea creature, which seems appropriate with Hull's maritime history. It's a magnificent start to our Look Up programme, which will see artists creating site-specific work throughout 2017 for locations around the city."

Michael Pinsky: The City Speaks

In The City Speaks, artist Michael Pinsky has created a modern-day Speakers’ Corner. The artwork takes the form of a steel lectern and microphone positioned on the quayside of Humber Dock Street, next to the city’s tidal surge barrier. Residents and visitors to the city are invited to stand on the lectern and speak about whatever is on their mind, while their words are transcribed by software and displayed on the barrier as scrolling text, as seen in the photograph above. The artist was interested in invoking Hull’s historic spirit of resistance and protest that dates back to 1642, when baronet and politician Sir John Hotham refused King Charles I entry to the city after the sovereign arrived demanding access to the city’s arsenal, a bold move that would lead to the first military action of the English Civil War.

Paper City | Jacqueline Poncelet Island Life © James Mulkeen

Paper City

The summer saw one of Hull’s oldest paper companies, GF Smith, partner with a selection of leading artists and makers to create Paper City. Co-curated by Hazel Colquhoun and Andrew Knight, the project comprised a series of installations spread across the city’s Fruit Market area, with each work made out of GF Smith’s specialist coloured paper. The result was a 10-day carnival of colour and creativity that ranged from Jacqueline Poncelet’s abstract cut-outs, which are pictured in the photograph below, to Bethan Laura Wood’s hanging seaweed kite sculptures. In the video above you can hear from Knight and some of the Paper City artists as they discuss their work in the lead-up to the project.

Claire Morgan: Elephant in the Room

As part of the Look Up series, artist Claire Morgan created a vast bowhead whale, which was installed in Hull’s Princes Quay shopping centre. The bowhead whale – historically known as the “right whale” by East Yorkshire whalers – was hunted extensively by the fleets that set sail from the Humber estuary. In the video above, the artist talks about the importance of the whaling industry to Hull’s heritage, and how today’s British society would squirm at the idea of hunting the animal. Made from paper, the installation has an airy playfulness that draws the viewer in, encouraging them to engage with the less-than-glorious aspects of the city’s past, rather than ignoring them.