Leeds company set to re-create the British weather for re-branded Brexit festival

THEY HAVE made a forest grow in a desert and recreated the 12 phases of the moon against the backdrop of Abu Dhabi’s skyscrapers, but their next trick is set to be even more ambitious - and may require visitors to bring a cagoule.

Patrick O'Mahony from Newsubstance is pictured outside the Leeds-based creative company's headquarters in Tower Works on Globe Road, Leeds. The firm has been selected to create a work for Festival UK 2022 with an installation themed around the British weather. (Picture: Simon Hulme.)

Leeds-based creative company Newsubstance has been selected as one of 10 organisations to stage work as part of Festival UK 2022 with an installation described somewhat obliquely as a ‘physical representation of the British weather and its coastline’.

With details of the project shrouded in secrecy, the team will not say where the installation will be sited, how long it will last or even what its official title is.

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What they will say is that it will inevitably include rain, it might feature the odd seagull and it is guaranteed to fit the definition of “spectacular”.

“The title would give the game away and we want to keep an element of surprise,” said Newsubstance founder Patrick O’Mahony.

“When the call for commissions came out last October we sat down as a team to run through ideas. Talking about the weather is what unites us as a country, so that was our jumping off point. Of course it will include rain, how could it not, but there will be lots more to it.”

Originally known as the Brexit Festival, the £120m event launched by Theresa May’s government as a way of bringing the country together in wake of the decision to leave Europe has attracted significant criticism.

However, under its creative director Martin Green, who successfully masterminded Hull’s UK City of Culture in 2017, the event now has the working title of UK Festival 2022 and has been rebranded as a celebration of the arts and science.

Mr O’Mahony, who launched Newsubstance in 2004, added: “We see it as a chance to celebrate a return to normality.

"The arts have been really badly hit by the pandemic. For us, in the space of three weeks a year’s work of commissions was cancelled or put on hold and while we have been kept busy with projects for next year and the one after, many people haven’t been so lucky.

“As well as being a great spectacle, this is also a chance to create jobs for our family of freelancers and show off their creative talent.”

While the UK Festival project will be the biggest Newsubstance has staged in this country, it has a track record of designing large scale events.

Three years ago, they engineered a forest of trees to spring up from the sands of Abu Dhabi and followed it up in 2019 by suspending 12 giant moons above the UAE’s largest sports stadium.

They also transported a seven-storey, spiral walkway from Leeds to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Colorado.

Mr O’Mahony, 39, said: “Our first ever commission was an aerial circus show for a casino launch in Macau, but over the years they have become increasingly complex.

"I am still in what I like to call the ‘pencil department’, but we have a great fabrication team who bring our ideas to life.”

Festival UK 2022 will feature 10 commissions designed by creative companies working in collaboration with science and technology experts.

As well as the Newsubstance project, the commissions include “an immersive experience exploring the wonder of the human mind”, “an experiment in astrophysics” and “the largest grow your own project of modern times”.

For more details go to festival2022.uk