“When you shop in Kirkgate, you literally get more than you bargain for. It’s like being in a mix of social club and fairground attraction; a kind of whirlpool for the senses.” Katie Etheridge describes the unique experience of Leeds’ sprawling indoor market, where she and fellow artist Simon Persighetti are organising alternative guided tours as part of this year’s Compass Festival.
In Personal Shopper: Cornucopia!, the tour leaders, or ‘mis-guides’, are stall holders, regulars and Kirkgate aficionados. Each will share their idiosyncratic take on the market, and shed light on just a few of the riches, memories, narratives and rituals that Kirkgate is host to.
“We want the tours to do something different from the historical or municipal tour, and to give recognition to the many layers of sounds, stories, architectures and experiences offered by the market,” says Etheridge.
Taking place 11–20 November, all 18 events in the live art festival infiltrate and respond to Leeds’ public spaces. The projects invite audiences to step outside of the everyday and see – or hear, or feel – their city a little differently.
Annie Lloyd, co-director, explains the rationale behind this approach. “Having programmed a venue for experimental performance and live art for 19 years [the Studio Theatre at Leeds Met], I felt it was time to take the work out to where people are,” she explains. “Compass Festival is unique for placing durational, interactive work in public settings in Leeds. Most events are free. All are curated with enormous care and depth.”
This is the third edition of the festival, which began as a weekend symposium in 2011. Having grown to 18 events spanning 10 days, the festival is part of a larger piece of work that Lloyd and her colleagues at Compass Live Art are doing to develop the infrastructure for live art practices across the north of England.
Like Personal Shopper: Cornucopia!, walking is central to many of the projects, though Lloyd says this wasn’t a deliberate curatorial decision. “It happened that much of the work that excited us involved walking in some form. But if you examine each of the walking projects, you’ll see they’re really diverse.”
In Lone Twin’s Spiral, Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters will spend seven days attempting to walk a route derived from a spiral drawn on a map of Holbeck in south Leeds. The walk will take the pair to schools, shops, and even through walls and under doors. The challenging journey will be further cumbered as they collect objects gifted to them by people they meet along the way. The walk will culminate in a public sharing of their wares and anecdotes at Holbeck Underground Ballroom.
Hanging somewhere between the playful and the practical, Stephen Hodge’s Where to Build the Walls that Protect Us invites participants to reimagine Leeds by walking through the city with one of four experts. Each expert will provide a different perspective through which to consider the future of the city, including the environment, architecture, transport and commerce.
During his guided audio walks, Ambulation, Tim Shaw will collect live recordings, locational radio broadcasts and electromagnetic energy, and remix these into an improvised soundtrack, which he transmits live to 10 participants. Drawing on the Situationist International tradition of the derivé – where you drift or stroll with no route or destination in mind – Shaw’s walks serve to reveal and distort untapped and hidden sounds of the city.
“During the walk, you might get an insight into what it’s like for same sex couples to hold hands in a particular area,” explains Cade. “Or if you are with someone who has a disability, perhaps you’ll get a sense of how aspects of the city might be disabling for them.”
She describes how this is a deeply personal experience. “Sometimes it’s about love and care. Sometimes it’s about fear and hatred; sometimes people talk, sometimes they remain silent and connect through touch.”
Cade is also keen to challenge perceived permissible ways of looking and behaving in public through Walking: Holding. “In some ways, the performance is an act of activism and queer visibility. Across the days that it happens, the city is subtly infiltrated with a variety of queer couples,” she says.
As with Walking: Holding, Compass Festival is characterised by chance encounters. Says Lloyd: “We are expecting a high engagement both from people who may just come across the events in the street, shopping centre, market or museum, and arts attenders who know about the festival.”
Compass Festival traces a route through a shifting, subjective and multifaceted Leeds. This unpredictable context informs the interventions, which encourage participants to embrace the spontaneous, often with human interaction and collective experiences at their core. “We hope the performances are thoughtful and engaging – entertaining, certainly,” says Lloyd. “They offer a series of lenses through which to see the familiar in an unfamiliar light.”
Compass Festival, 11-20 November 2016, Leeds.
1-2. Personal Shopper, Katy Etheridge and Simon Persighetti
3. Ambulation, Tim Shaw
Lydia Ashman was one of five a-n members who participated in the inaugural a-n Writer Development Programme which ran from June 2015 to March 2016. For more information on the writer programme, and to read more of the writers’ work, visit the programme’s blog on a-n.co.uk or use the a-n writer development programme tag