The centrepiece of this year’s Light Night event in Leeds will be the projection of a giant clock on to the front of Leeds Civic Hall on millennium square. Chris Bond spoke to the brothers behind it.
LEEDS Civic Hall has witnessed plenty of impressive events over the years.
Huge crowds flocked here when King George V officially opened the building back in 1933, as they did for the visit of Nelson Mandela in 2001. But I doubt that it’s ever been turned into a giant mechanical clock before. Which is what will happen later this week when the building’s facade will be transformed into a temporary public artwork featuring more than 1,200 people.
Film footage gathered this summer at events across the city has been used to create clockwork figures by Iluminos artists Matt and Rob Vale. It’s part of a vast animated mechanical clock that will spring to life for three successive nights, starting on Thursday, and forms the centrepiece of this year’s annual Light Night event, Leeds Council’s celebration of the city’s creative talents.
The project, commissioned by Leeds Inspired, ties in with renowned Leeds clockmaker William Potts with the large scale projection - called Momentous - featuring an animated Potts clock at its heart. It’s a deliberate doff of the cap to the man whose clocks can be found all around the city, including a famous mechanical clock in the Grand Arcade dating back to 1898.
For brothers Matt and Rob, who specialise in creating dramatic artworks in unusual spaces, it’s meant a return to the area they used to knock around in during their student days - Rob having studied Fine Art at Leeds Metropolitan University, while Matt did a music degree down the road at Bretton Hall, near Wakefield.
“I’d always really liked and been fascinated by the Potts clocks and the idea that in that arcade at quarter hour intervals these little guys came out and chimed the bell. It’s a shared public moment in time,” says Rob. “I like that sense of theatre, the fact that people stop and wait for the figures to come out before getting on with their business, and we thought it would be interesting to see if we could create a modern Potts clock using the people of Leeds.”
That was the ambitious starting point and they’ve spent the last six months gathering hours of footage of local people, from nurses and rugby players to dancers and students, which they painstakingly edited into hundreds of 20 to 30 second loops of animation to create their visual spectacle.
Members of the public will be able to “wind” the magical, mechanical clock by hand through a series of large cogs which will sit in front of the building on Millennium Square. The Wi-Fi enabled cogs will trigger the weights and balances projected onto the columns of the Civic Hall, which will rise upward in preparation for the quarter hour chime.
“Every 15 minutes the cogs crank up and people start coming out of the projection if you like, through little doors,” explains Rob.
It’s been a long process taking months to design, film and finally edit. Leeds Inspired helped put them in contact with various groups and organisations and one of the things that impressed Matt and Rob was people’s willingness to get involved.
“We’ve filmed hundreds of people doing different actions. We’ve had go-karters travelling round a track, we’ve had skaters doing their bit and everyone from bell ringers to solicitors.
“It’s slightly mad. We’ve gone up to people asking them to be a kind of automaton in a clock and do a little move, but their response has been amazing.” Matt agrees. “In some places people might say ‘that’s interesting’ and then wonder off, but here they’re like ‘great, where do you want me?’”
The animated clock will come to life for three hours between 7.30 and 10.30pm each night and will be constantly changing. “What you’ll see is the building become a framework almost like a giant carriage clock and within that all these cogs and gears are turning and at the centre is a giant clock telling the right time.”
Although it’s taken them months to piece together, the seeds of its creation can actually be traced back to the brothers’ childhood. “We had Lego as kids,” says Rob. “I would always make everything as quickly as possible, like a car for instance, and move on to the next thing. But Matt would come along and quietly take it apart and make something that had steering and suspension,” he says, as they both chuckle at the memory. “This would emerge over a day and there’s still a bit of that going on now in that he’s interested in the process and I’m coming at it from the point of view of ‘let’s make a giant clock, let’s make it happen.”
It’s clear, though, that they both enjoy working directly with people as they have done on this project. “It’s lovely when you get a family from one day doing something and a family from another day, who’ve never met them, responding back. So suddenly you’ve created a little event that didn’t happen in reality but if they’re watching on the day and happen to see it then it becomes one of those shared moments,” says Rob.
And how do they hope people respond to their visual creation? “We often talk about the fact that everything we make doesn’t physically exist forever, we’re not sculptors or painters. We try and create a series of moments, an experience in a city that hopefully people will still be talking about after it’s finished.”
Light Night Leeds is on Friday, October 4. For more information log on to lightnightleeds.co.uk
An exhibition of memorabilia from the Potts family is on show at Armley Mills, from October 5 until September 2014. It will feature more than 25 original Potts pieces from around the globe.
You can also take a tour of working Potts Clocks in Leeds city centre thanks to a new “Walk-it” map which will be available from venues including the Town Hall, Leeds Visitor Centre and Leeds City Museum.
William Potts set up his own clockmaking business in 1833 in Pudsey, West Yorkshire. They began manufacturing turret clocks for churches and public buildings and moved to Leeds in 1862. A new turret clock factory was opened in Cookridge Street, and wall clocks for schools, offices and railways were made in the workshops in Butts Court. The inset picture shows the W Potts clock at Harrogate Grammar School which was installed in 1932 when the school was built. The former business of William Potts & Sons Limited was sold to John Smith & Son Limited of Derby in 1935 and has remained a subsidiary company and is still trading in Leeds to the present day.