A Biennale Interview

The idea of interaction

Conversation with the curators of the Leeds pavilion

Jon Wakeman, Karen Watson and Megan Smith explain what they are presenting in the Amsterdam Biennale 2009.

The Leeds pavilion “I Am Leeds” opened Saturday 12 December together with Nicosia, Tehran, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. The Amsterdam Biennale is now COMPLETE and can be visited until January 3, 2010.


To Juggle with Leeds - The Leeds Pavilion, curators: East Street Arts. Dec 12 - Jan 3 2009/10, in the Amsterdam Biennale at Mediamatic. Raphael Rehbach

I heard it was a coincidence that you came here?
Jon Wakeman: ‘We were visiting Amsterdam and Rotterdam with members of our organisation East Street Arts (ESA). On our last day we visited Mediamatic, and it was just the beginning of the Travel-project.’ Karen Watson: ‘We just came out of a project called “United”, which was about trying to find a way of uniting the city of Leeds and the visual arts. We also thought about the question: “How do we sell Leeds to the rest of the world as a destination?”. Finding out what the Travel project was about, we wanted to get involved. We made contact and we were invited to be part of the Amsterdam Biennale.’

Can you tell something about East Street Arts?
Karen: ‘We didn't study in Leeds so when we moved to the city we found it hard to establish connections with other artists. That's why we set up this organization in 1993. We try to support artists to develop their careers and build a community and enlarge the profile of Leeds. We have studios, a project-space and we do a lot of networking and infrastructure development.’

Is it ‘typically Leeds’ what you are showing here?
Megan Smith: 'It is definitely more colorful than the North.’ (Laughs). Jon: ‘Our pavilion is about the things we would also show in our exhibition spaces. But none of the works particularly reflect on what is going on in the North of England.’ Karen: ‘New technology and performance are the disciplines we naturally lean towards at ESA. Megan, Gundun Kattke and Silvia Leibig are the kind of artists that we like to build a relationship with.’ Megan: ‘My piece was shipped over from Sheffield, but it has geo-located twitter feeds. Gundun and Silvia have lived in Leeds for several years and respond to the city in their works. The pavilion is not held back by political geography. Technology enables us to keep in touch with artist friends in other cities and countries.’ Karen: ‘We didn't sit around a table to have a long discussion about what we were going to do. We gave the artists a lot of freedom to do what they want.’

So what can we see in the pavilion?
Jon: ‘I serve the “bloody mary cocktails” as an artwork. We brought along 30 glasses from Leeds that people can take away. It revolves around the idea of interaction, the social side of art. With the table tennis we want people to get involved.’ Megan: ‘My work is called “psst”. It takes the geo-code of twitter and prints the top-tweeds of people who are tweeting in the Leeds-area. On Tuesday evening the tweets are really dull. Everyone is just at home and people talk about what tv-programme is on. But in the weekend the tweets are really funny. It's quiet during the week and it goes wild in the weekends. Leeds has a crazy nightlife.’

The Leeds pavilion “I Am Leeds” opened at the Standing Room Only Party on Saturday 12 December in Mediamatic Bank.