LEEDS : University of Leeds launch Public Art Audio Trail

Available for all to experience with no booking required, a new Audio Trail celebrates the University of Leeds’ collection of public art, a much-loved feature of campus life for the past century. Visitors can pick up a free map and activate QR codes in front of each of the 21 sculptures, friezes and installations across the University estate to hear insights from experts, academics and the artists themselves.

Beginning at one of the most recent commissions, Simon Fujiwara’s ‘A Spire’ on Woodhouse Lane, the Trail weaves through the entire University site. It takes in modernist landmarks by artists including Yorkshire’s own Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, an iconic bronze by Pop Art pioneer Eduardo Paolozzi, and Sue Lawty’s subtly carved paving stones, made in collaboration with poet Helen Mort and sculptor Dan Jones.

Liliane Lijn, who created one of the most visible works on the Trail, the rotating, illuminated ‘Converse Column’ on Woodhouse Lane, gives a first-hand account of the ideas that inspired it. Alongside the Edward Boyle Library, a bronze founder and friend of Paolozzi’s who cast his ‘Master of the Universe’ reflects on how the artist’s thoughts about science and art were embodied in the assembly of the sculpture.

There are some fascinating personal insights, too, such as the son of sculptor Austin Wright remembering his father’s “incessant” sketching on the beach during family holidays in Cornwall and Anglesey, the basis for the lead figures his sculpture ‘Limbo’ in the Baines Wing courtyard. Each short interview is introduced by poet, playwright and performer Rommi Smith.

In preparation for the launch of the Trail, Henry Moore’s ‘Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop’ (1963) has been moved from its temporary position inside Parkinson Court to a new outdoor home in Chancellor’s Court. It sits within a suite of Grade II-listed buildings designed by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon – the largest complex by the firm after another of its 1960s wonders, London’s Barbican. It’s an apt location in several respects, explains the University’s Curator Layla Bloom:

“These buildings were designed at exactly the same time as Moore created his sculpture. His distinctive bronze is now complemented both visually and historically by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon’s glass and cast concrete architecture. ‘Bridge Prop’ sits beneath one of the flying walkways linking the Roger Stevens and Irene Manton Buildings, which also resonates with Moore’s original inspiration for the work: the view underneath Waterloo Bridge from the Embankment, which he thought evoked the form of a figure.

“The architects’ vision reflected a wider postwar enthusiasm for reimagining spaces fit for a progressive new generation, opening the campus to a more diverse student body and to the city at large. The baby boomers were coming of age, Harold Wilson was making his famous ‘white heat’ speech, and Henry Moore was capturing and galvanising this optimistic, democratising spirit in his work. His high-profile commissions in this period included The Festival of Britain, the site of the world's first nuclear reactor at the University of Chicago, and the UNESCO Building.

“In this tradition, we hope that the Public Art Audio Trail will encourage people from Leeds and beyond onto our campus, to explore and interact with the incredible diversity of art and architecture here. For students, staff and visitors alike, we think the wonderful variety of interviews that we’ve assembled will open a fresh outlook on our University environment, provoke contemplation and offer a deeper understanding of our growing collection of Public Art.”

The University of Leeds Public Art Audio Trail is open to all, with no need to book in advance. Free physical maps of the Trail can be collected from The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery and The Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery, in the University’s Parkinson Building. Each interview can be activated using a mobile phone or tablet via a QR code on the label in front of each work, and the full playlist of interviews, plus Audio Description for each work, is available to listen to on the University of Leeds Library Galleries Soundcloud.