(Published in the Guardian Culture section on 17 May 2012)
Quay Brothers to take over city centre with mysterious mixture of light, dance, music, film – and a boat in a tree
The Boat on Briggate: the free three-day event begins on Friday. Photograph: Yorkshire Dance
The Quay Brothers, acclaimed American artist filmmakers who live and work in England, will be transforming the city of Leeds this weekend as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
The free three-day OverWorlds & UnderWorlds event, which starts on Friday, will involve the identical 64-year-old twins Stephen and Timothy and other artists putting on a series of public performances and installations involving light, live music, dance and film.
Secrecy surrounds the exact content of the shows but a large clue appeared last weekend with the overnight arrival of a boat lodged in a tree in the Briggate shopping district. The installation is 14 metres wide and four metres tall.
Visitors will be invited to explore the city with fresh eyes, following a map that will lead them through the city centre, where they will encounter public performances involving water and music. Venues will include the County Arcades, which will be filled with the sound of children's voices and live music. The map will then lead visitors down into the subterranean Dark Arches, where they will encounter film and performers within the alcoves.
The Quay Brothers have been working in collaboration with eight of the city's arts organisations: Northern Ballet, the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Opera North, Yorkshire Dance, Phoenix Dance, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Leeds Met Studio Theatre and Leeds Art Gallery.
Asked for more details about the events, the Quay brothers, who have a habit of finishing each other's sentences, said:
You have to experience it. We have set all these things in motion that make it unpredictable and that's the whole point. The journey is the essence of this thing, to be in the middle of that journey and [to know] that being lost can be pleasurable.
The Quay Brothers are renowned as original filmmakers who usually work on a small scale, creating stop-motion animation films, often using puppets.
In contrast, the OverWorlds & UnderWorlds event will be on a large-scale, challenging the artists to translate their dreamlike style using puppets into a dreamlike world of dancers, film and public installations. The brothers are best known for the 1986 film Street of Crocodiles, adapted from a short story by Polish writer Bruno Schulz.
Light is also a motif of the artists' stories. In 2000 the Quay Brothers were commissioned by the BBC to make the film In Absentia in collaboration with the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. The film combines live action and animation, using relentlessly changing light to convey the thoughts of a woman repeatedly writing a letter.
The Quay Brothers have also created set designs for theatre and opera, which has informed how they approach the OverWorlds & UnderWorlds project. "It's the idea that with the little bit of theatre and opera work we have done, [we're] seeing the city as being a stage so you're staging a large installation piece.
We're hoping there will be a certain choreography of events but that things will overlap or intersect or happen. It is a thing we have to let go, we have to set the parameters, [we] have to wind it up and then off it goes.
The OverWorlds & UnderWorlds event is the first project by Leeds Canvas, an arts consortium, chosen three years ago as the Yorkshire region winner of a commission for Artists Taking the Lead. The commission is one of 12 across the UK celebrating the London Olympics and Paralympics.
When asked for their views on the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the Quay Brothers said: "It's too big for us, it's hysteria, we're not good at that. We're closer to rats that stay underground from all of that."