If you go down to the train station today, you’re in for a big surprise…
As always, the city will be lit up with traditional decorations this Christmas, but you’ll also find a host of cool, unusual and downright impressive installations popping up in the city’s landmarks – one of which is SPIRIT, a huge angel in flight that’s been suspended from the ceiling of Leeds Train Station.
It’s the work of New Substance, a Leeds based design studio that brings together creativity and engineering to create incredible show designs and performance structures. It’s the latter that best applies to SPIRIT, the huge work of art that will be on display in Leeds Train Station for the winter.
Specially designed for the space, it takes pride of place in the main hall, opposite McDonald’s and Starbucks. “We looked at that space, it’s such a huge cavernous volume in the city that’s never really being used – but it’s such an amazing open form. We looked at the aerial height in there, it’s 11 metres high and over 5 metres in length. So what we wanted to do was design a structure that responded to that space and provided a festive greeting to all the people that come through the city,” Creative Director, Patrick O’Mahony, told us.
That’s exactly what it’s going to do, and in impressive fashion – there’s no way you’re going to miss this, even if you’re rushing for the train. To us, it’s an angel, heralding in the festive season, but to you it might be something else, because SPIRIT is deliberately ambiguous, as Patrick explained, “It was important to us to design something that wasn’t just specific to one nationality or one race, it’s neither male nor female – we’ve designed this human form which is not tied to any race, neither male nor female. It’s 6 metres in length with internal lights within it, perforated with thousands of little holes so you get these little stars shining through to make a form.”
That form is suspended from the ceiling with 24 metres of woven strings that hark back to the city’s past in the textiles industry – but it’s not just the past that it’s concerned with. Patrick wanted to create a sculpture that would inspire and empower people, taking them into the new year with new hope – and of course, it also acts a welcome to the hundreds of thousands of people who will come into Leeds over the festive period to check out the third best shopping destination outside London.
It’s a sight to behold, and one that will have you wondering how the hell they did it – the answer is, with great difficulty. With so many people passing beneath it, the structure has to be really strong, so the figure itself is made with glass reinforced plastic, and it surrounds a steel frame that’s connected to four steel cables, all of which have to be attached to the roof of a Grade II listed building – you can imagine the hoops they had to jump through to pull that off.
But it doesn’t end there, because they then had to weave together 22,000 metres of string to create an intricate pattern of colours that almost looks like an optical illusion. “It looks like a really simple form, but technically, it was quite challenging,” Patrick told us. “We started 18 months ago with the original design, and then a back and forth with that and how it sits within the station, and a number of redesigns – we’ve probably been building for about five months now.” It may have been a lot of hard work, but it’s definitely worth it – and honestly, even if you’re not going anywhere, it’s worth stopping by Leeds Train Station just to see it.
So how did it come about? Well, SPIRIT is part of a larger project that will make Leeds an amazing place to visit this Christmas. It’s funded by Leeds BID, and will see 15 unique sculptures, light installations and attractions placed across the city, creating a festive trail that’s intricately entwined with Leeds. There’s a real focus on Leeds artists and institutions here, with the likes of Leeds College of Art, David Shearing, The Glass Cyphers, and of course, New Substance, coming together to make beautiful things that will make Christmas in Leeds an unforgettable experience.
It’s an incredibly ambitious project, and one that marks a turning point for the city, as Leeds BID continue in their mission to support the city’s businesses – not just by bringing more people into the city, but also by working with cool creative companies like New Substance to turn their ideas into a reality.
That’s something that has really resonated with Patrick – he’s grateful for the opportunity and really excited about what it means for the future of Leeds creatively, “For us, it’s the first time we’ve ever done anything in the city, and I think for Leeds BID to back something like this, a really brave piece of art, it’s a really ambitious project – and it shows how much the ambition of the city has moved in line with people like us. The fact that they’re actually engaging with us, I don’t think would happen like 5-10 years ago. And I think that’s a really positive step for other creatives in the city and people who want to work within our industry – that your own city actually backs you. I think it’s a positive statement for the city.”
So as well as being a incredible sight, SPIRIT is also a sign of great things to come – and as we move towards the new year, you can expect much more where this came from.