Leeds Sculpture Workshop:
an on the waterfront production
Leeds Sculpture Workshop is on Sawmill Street in the heart of the area known locally as Water Lane/Globe Road. With its Leeds 11 postcode, in Monopoly terms, this is the Old Kent Road 'with potential'. Leeds Unitary Development, adopting the 'Quarters approach', situates Sawmill Street just on the periphery of two of these 'quarters', the 'Riverside Area' and a 'Prestige Development Area'. This positions the workshop as onlooker to the colonising effects such 'developments' can sometimes have. Promotional material has dubbed this the 'West Waterfront' in an effort to extend touristic interest to this area of Leeds which harbours some incredible architecture with a rich but not always proclaimed social subtext.
This summer Leeds Sculpture workshop hosted an event called Champion, which aimed to intervene in the city's process of renewal and regeneration in this area. As their accompanying leaflet to the show states "Artists working in the Waterfront district at Leeds Sculpture Workshop have witnessed the changes around them and this project, lead by the artists themselves, is their response." This piece is not about the actual show as I missed it, but is a response to interventions in this part of Leeds coupled with an interest in the production of art and specifically the physicality of sculpture and installation. I hope to write more about the specific work of artists at LSW in the future as work arises.
The workshop is housed in an old warehouse on Sawmill Street. Like its industry-based surroundings the workshop is a masculine space whose productive output has an investigative intent. The pieces on show seemed oriented to comment on how change is affecting a shared space. LSW is home to the following artists who all contributed these pieces to Champion:Charles Quick, a solar powered detector on the wall of Tower Works, Globe Road
Within 100 yards of LSW there is Temple Mill an Egyptian style fronted building once a massive flax spinning factory in the mid 19th century and now a warehouse for KayĖs catalogue company. Also nearby is Tower Works with its two campaniles, the Giotto tower and the Verona tower both Victorian replicas of 12th and 14th century Italian structures. Cut off from the city centre by the railway on one side and until recently the heavily trafficked Victoria Road on another, the area has been conducting business as usual for those workshops, factories and warehouses that are based there. In this context the mill and towers are seen not as packaged displays, but from out of the corner of your eye in the course of this business as usual. A tourists' guided walk book, expresses ambivalence to the functioning of the area (what I see as its 'masculinity'), describing parts of it as 'unsightly'. This is the trigger word for development corporation interventions intent on licking this and other 'industrial heritage' areas into shape with their programmes of improvement epitomised by grit-blasting and shiny new office blocks. Having witnessed earlier developments in the eastern area of Water Lane i.e. a massive ASDA office block, I am dubious about the 'cultural' benefits of this approach.
The intervention by the artists at Leeds Sculpture Workshop uncover issues which have long been pertinent to this complex landscape. In a late 18th century description of Water Lane, it was both rural idyll and site for increasingly industrialised textile production. This dialectic of beauty/ugliness continued in the 19th century with the dispute over whether Temple Mill was sited in an industrial or a rural setting. It is alive and well today when a skip of off-cuts from a PVC window company lie at the bottom of the Giotto Tower, presumably the ĪunsightlyĶ aspect of the unknown touristĖs saunter around the area. This dialectic is precisely what makes the landscape resistant to the naming and claiming game of development projects.
The social subtext to all of this intervention is also what 'development' may hope to affect with its clean-up job. In 1842 Water Lane was the site of large-scale Chartist riots met with considerable armed force by the local police and army. Mass industrial achievement has its consequences. The effect of productive interventions such as those by the Leeds Sculpture Workshop is to keep this dialectic alive and resist the (hung, drawn and) quartered approach of development bodies who want to turn complex landscapes into grazing land for their heritage husbandry.
I hope to be writing further pieces on the artists from LSW. The first of these will be about Rescue, Two For Joy the work of Glyn Davies Marshall who is showing Part 3 of his performance piece at Expo in Nottingham. This is part of NOWninety7 and is "an exciting and engaging showcase full of new ideas, discussions and contemporary art work". It is being held at various venues in Nottingham from 10-15 November. More details are available from the info hot line on: 0115 948 6554.Leeds Sculpture Workshop can be contacted as follows: