Mayfield, Manchester. A post-industrial behemoth hidden in plain sight, altering imperceptibly as the city accelerates around it. At the height of the Industrial Revolution, Mayfield was home to the Thomas Hoyle’s Print Works. Established in 1782, the calico printing and dyeing factory was a global attraction, its purples of international repute before being replaced by a railway station. This area became a forgotten island, out of sight and out of mind for decades, its various activities operating in the shadows, secretive if not illicit. Undisturbed, Mayfield quietly evolved its own patinas and atmospheres: remnants of previous eras of urban illumination and their sodium glows; tendrils of trees sprouting from the roofscape; lichen glistening down a wet wall; lost gardens and a culverted river keeping their secluded stories.
Life after Dusk. Nyx Island. Photo by author
Mayfield has been reactivated due to a major urban regeneration program. During the day, construction work digs and drills its way into the district, demolishing the boundaries between the site and the city beyond. As the sun sets and dusk stretches over the city, the area comes into life in a very different way. At night, Mayfield becomes Nyx Island. No longer dwelling in the shadowlands of the city’s imagination, the old railway station transforms into a palace of nocturnal delights that welcomes thousands of revelers into its underbelly. Nyx Island includes this temporary cathedral of pulsing sound, flashing lights, dancing bodies–an urban kaleidoscope of joy and release.
Outside, the surviving street names bring forth the ghosts of forbidden encounters and pursuits. Temperance Street and Dark Lane. Reminders of the squalid and dangerous character of this inner-city area before its industrial decline. Threading my way along the perimeter of the Mayfield area, the city beyond seems held back, its rivulets of renewal tentative before the flood. The outskirts of Nyx Island might be quieter, but they are not unoccupied. This part of the city still teems with life, much of it is non-human, going about its way in the cracks and niches of the buildings and viaducts, or along the edges of river and roads.
Dusk yields to darkness. In a junkyard, two figures swaddled in sleeping bags work through their late-evening rituals before dissolving into the gloom of an abandoned garage. The scrape of metal signals their temporary burial until tomorrow. Around a corner, a taxi driver slumbers on his reclined seat. A soft-focus, off-guard portrait through the fogged windscreen. The orange streetlamp nearby renders him frozen in amber, a fragment of the supply-and-demand service economy suspended in animation. The makeshift ecologies of respite and recuperation that harbor in Nyx Island are quickly disappearing as the bright beams of progress shed their light upon its surfaces and engulf its spaces.
Seconds. Minutes. Hours.
Such distinctions are meaningless in a place like this. Time in Nyx Island is elastic and fuzzy. The tones and tangs of its shifting sands are more reliable to locate and orientate oneself.
Down along a stretch of corrugated fencing, a disembodied cigarette hangs in the air glowing. Its wearer buried under the dark canopy of a tree. Distorted rhythms scuttle out a mobile phone as a brief glance from its owner acknowledges another. Overhead, a car blasts its way into the sky along the elevated motorway, its taillights disappearing into the concrete serpent.
A straggle of partygoers emerges from an exit, steadying themselves against a wall while they reconnect with the city. Faces lit by phones and gazes of wide-eyed dissonance as they recalibrate their bodies outside of the rave. In the gutter, the ephemera of the night before lie prone: shiny gas canisters emptied of their nitrous oxide, burst balloons limp, plastic whistles, having pierced the air with their shrills, silent.
Mayfield Depot. Nyx Island. Photo by author
This nocturnal shoreline is transformed during daylit hours as commuters ebb and flow across it. As an area in transition, Mayfield is being subsumed by the city that surrounds it. Cultural forays and construction work noisily erode its edges, their breakers relentlessly affecting change. Nyx Island represents a brief change in the enclave of the Mayfield district. Its transition after dusk is witness to a different temporal citizenry, enjoying the nights of rebirth as sporadic time-spaces before the island is eventually reclaimed by the sea of concrete.
Nick Dunn is Executive Director of Imagination, the design and architecture research lab at Lancaster University, UK, where he is also Chair of Urban Design.
Cite As: Dunn, Nick. 2023 “Nyx Island” In “Flash Ethnography: Dusk” Aaron Hames and Derek Pardue, eds., American Ethnologist website, June 20 2023 https://americanethnologist.org/online-content/collections/dusk-collection/nyx-islandby-nick-dunn/