Preview: Compass
Live Art Festival

A crayfish under cross-examination, a token of appreciation to the city’s pubs and questions to the public all form part of Leeds’s Compass Festival

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It’s the age-old question: how can art reach out to the public beyond the confines of art galleries? In Leeds, there’s a bi-annual attempt to tackle this issue when the Compass Festival brings free, bespoke live art, performance and installations direct to the city’s streets and buildings.

This year’s offerings include specially inscribed beer glasses being distributed to pubs along Kirkgate to celebrate their importance as places of social gathering.

In the marketplace shoppers will be asked to select which city centre buildings they’d gladly re-purpose or knock down. There’s also a boat ride down the Aire on which participants can listen to an audio description of the effect of water on the human body after death.

Meanwhile, in the Victorian courtroom of Leeds Town Hall, artist Jack Tan will present Four Legs Good, which revives the medieval tradition of animal trials. Throughout the week visitors will be able to explore a would-be working animal court before a final day of live hearings, complete with barristers, judge and jury.

Cases under examination will include a charge of harassment brought against a dog by a sheep and a crayfish appealing against a murder conviction. Tan says: “The work explores the legal framework which surrounds humans, animals and our shared environment, and it invites audiences to reconsider our understanding of the position of humans in relation to animals and the environment.”

Much of Tan’s work looks at blurring the boundaries between art and everyday life, which makes him a perfect match for Compass. “‘Art’ as we know it today in the West was invented in the 18th century,” Tan says. “Before that art objects or images existed in the everyday world as something you ate from, sat on, lived in, walked across, wore or worshipped, so I think taking art out from the gallery into the streets is to carry on a long tradition of what art always was.

“My interest in this kind of work also comes from a fascination with how the unusual creeps into or interrupts the ordinary.”

Every day during Compass, dotted throughout parks, pubs and shops of six Leeds neighbourhoods, locals will find voting boxes asking them to choose between three options to answer a different question. From dusk onwards the results will be shown on light-sensitive display boxes. This is Measures of Us, by artist Rob Hewitt of Redhawk Logistica.

Hewitt says: “It has a very direct relationship with people as they are integral to creating the work and via the display boards the collective results will also be visible for everybody to see. I hope it will create a kind of city-wide conversation focusing on some of the important things in life.”

One of the things that first inspired Hewitt to create projects for the public realm was his early involvement with an experimental theatre company.

“The work took place in settings where people came across it by chance, like clubs, festivals or even just in the street, rather than going to an art gallery to have a ‘cultural experience’. It was a very exciting approach that presented a whole different way of thinking about who art is for and how you can engage with it.

“You reach a whole new set of people who may never visit a formal art space, and there’s no substitute for that. If I’d come across something like Compass at that time, it would have definitely turned my head.”

Compass Live Art Festival 2018, various locations around Leeds, 16-25 November.

Read a blog by Annie Lloyd, co-director of Compass, in the Centre Stage section of

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