The art of community in Leeds

ARTWORK: Amelia Crouchs Spectral Evidence, 2016. PIC: Jules Lister

ARTWORK: Amelia Crouchs Spectral Evidence, 2016. PIC: Jules Lister

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As Leeds contemporary art space The Tetley celebrates its third birthday this week, Yvette Huddleston speaks to creative director Bryony Bond.

As The Tetley, Leeds’s foremost contemporary art space, celebrates its third anniversary this week, creative director Bryony Bond reflects on her 11 months in post.

“It’s been really brilliant and I can’t believe how the time has sped past,” she says over a cuppa in The Tetley’s cafe-bar area. “The organisation has achieved such great things in three years – it’s testament to the people who founded it that their vision means we are where we are now.”

And where they are is in a very good place. The Tetley has built up its audience and community on Leeds’s South Bank – and beyond – so well that they have exceeded their original visitor figure targets by over 100,000 for the first three years. In that time there have been 330,000 people through the doors of the handsome former brewery building. And it has supported the work of more than 170 artists and artist collectives.

“We are developing all the time,” says Bond. “There are people who come to visit regularly now. Whether it’s to do a family art workshop, see an exhibition or just have a drink in the cafe. And that sense of community is key for us.”

She is too modest to say it, but a lot of this success is down to Bond’s intelligent and creative programming. She and her team have worked hard to make the venue family-friendly as well as artist-friendly. There has been an emphasis on free activities for all ages, on supporting emerging artists and on collaboration with other local arts organisations.

In the last month alone the Tetley has hosted events for Leeds International Film Festival, Yorkshire Dance’s Juncture Festival and talks and debates organised by Leeds Salon.

The current show The Scientific Method, which runs until mid-January, continues the cross artform and discipline theme. Subtitled Lecture, Dialogue, Demonstration, the exhibition showcases recent artists’ moving image works which question how we deal with and make sense of today’s information overload – from social media to post-truth politics and new advances in physics and neuroscience.

Bond co-curated the show with artist Amelia Crouch. “It’s always great working with an artist as a co-curator becuase you get a different take on ideas and artworks,” she says. “Amelia works with moving image and she came up with the idea of exploring the internet and the new ways of communicating information.”

Crouch’s new cmmission Spectral Evidence is about colour perception and colour language. It combines research in to the evolution of the eye and the physics of light and semiotics. Kate Liston’s Dasein and Casein considers human consiousness in a YouTube-style demonstration while other works – such as Liz Magic Laser’s Thought Leader, Patricia Esquvias’s Folklore II and Sian Robinson Davies’ Conversations – employ lecture or a conversational format.

The artists’ works play with the concept of communication, revealing how we sometimes just absorb knowledge without applying any critical thinking. “Humour figures in quite a few of the works,” says Bond. “It’s a good way of dealing with the complexities of life.”

Looking forward, 2017 promises to be an exciting new phase for The Tetley with the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation having recently pledged funding support for the next four years plus a major new partnership with the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, Liverpool Biennial and five South Asian biennials.

“It’s still early days for the organisation,” says Bond. “We are just scratching the surface, there is so much more that we can do.”

If the past three years are anything to go by, it will be exciting to watch.

The Scientific Method runs until January 15. www.thetetley.org

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