You’d be forgiven for having never heard of La Bohème, the abandoned nightclub looming in the depths of a city centre side street. Several people are to be seen peering in through darkened windows, double-checking their phones to make sure they have the correct address. It’s an unlikely setting for an interactive art event. But that’s what PROD is all about. Forget The Henry Moore Institute, forget Leeds City Art Gallery and The Tetley, this is art in motion, a new breed of exhibition focussing on you and your place in the art. Oh, and you can forget your phone too.
PROD is the first offering from student art collective Platform 3, the brainchild of Emma Bentley Fox, Lily Lavorato and Phine Mitchell, all currently studying art in Leeds. The event description is suitably ambiguous: “showcasing the best and wackiest of the Leeds art and music scene,” we are told to expect an event that is “immersive and conceptual”, fittingly leaving much to the imagination. Indeed, if PROD is tonight’s vehicle, imagination is certainly the fuel. Platform 3 have discussed their desire to engage the viewer more formally in a dialogue with both the art and the artist, a bold objective rooted in improving accessibility and communication within the arts. PROD goes some way to achieving this; entrance, for example, is free and the breadth of art on display is set to appeal to a range of tastes. As the warehouse-space that is La Bohème begins to buzz, one can’t help but sense that Platform 3 are tapping into something unique, with bags of potential in reserve.
The art itself is diverse, making the most of the sprawling space La Bohème has to offer. Indeed, the two main rooms at the heart of the venue are given over to such an array of exhibits that to summarise would be to diminish their effect. Particular highlights came from local artist Tilly Davies whose impressive canvas was accompanied by a table of paints, strings and other materials, inviting the viewer to add to the piece, transforming it as the night went on. A lot also has to be said for the visual artistry of Momo Takeuchi and Melt Trip, two artists whose immersive, captivating displays do much to transform the atmosphere. Yet it is in the darkened corridors, cramped rooms and abandoned stairways where the most enthralling art is to be found, spilling out around people who had arrived as spectators and become performers.
It is in one of these rooms that we find Seren Metcalfe, a conceptual artist from York currently studying at Leeds College of Art. You can hear her before you see her, a resonant thudding echoing down the corridor. The piece, Empathy for Inanimate Objects, sees Metcalfe interact with a block of concrete, dropping, cradling and kissing it in what is arguably the most engaging art of the evening. Speaking to me later, Metcalfe talks of her desire to depict a human’s “intimacy for an object”; are humans only capable of relationships with fellow humans, or is there a way we can tap into what the artist calls “concrete emotion”? It’s a beautiful, haunting piece and epitomises PROD’s ethic of a tangible engagement with art.
What Platform 3 have achieved with PROD is undeniably impressive: a collective, grassroots initiative pushing to improve accessibility to the arts without losing any integrity. That all of this has been conceived and developed by students is testament to Platform 3’s knack for seeking out this city’s most vital, important artwork. As the night draws to a close, one voice rises above the rest: “It’s thanks to nights like this that we can tell what is art and what’s just f*cking not.”
Image courtesy of Emma Bentley Fox