(Published in the Guardian Northerner on 17 May 2012)
Yorkshire's swishest shopping streets, and the mysterious Dark Arches, will turn into strange and different places for the next three days.
Leeds Canvas and the Quay Brothers. The Dark Arches are one of the most atmospheric corners of the city centre, hidden below the train station and above the river Aire Photograph: Tom Arber
Residents of Leeds have woken up to find a boat lodged in a tree in the middle of Briggate, the handsome pedestrian-only street at the heart of the city's shopping district. The unexpected shipwreck, 14 metres across and four tall, is the first major public installation to mark the beginning of the Overworlds and Underworlds event.
The internationally acclaimed artist filmmakers, the Quay Brothers, have designed this temporary installation as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Overworlds and Underworlds, happening from tomorrow, Friday 18 May until Sunday night, will see the pair, plus a group of carefully selected fellow-artists, using the city centre of Leeds as their canvas.
This 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 which are celebrating the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics.
Steve Dearden, associate producer for Leeds Canvas, explained:
Initially the arts council invited proposals for a large piece of public art in all the English regions. That's when the consortium came together and made a very basic invitation. We would say to an artist, here's our city, our people, our buildings, make a piece of art which explores and celebrates that.
The free event will include three days of public performances and installations involving light, live music, dance and film. However, specific details of the event are being kept secret until closer to the weekend. Dearden said:
What we want is for people to suddenly be surprised by happenings in their own city or visitors seeing things in the city that have never been seen before.
The Quay Brothers are working in collaboration with eight of the city's key 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.
Leeds Canvas said they chose the Quay Brothers because of their previous work in Leeds creating art installations for Leeds Art Gallery. They also knew that the brothers had always had a fascination for the Dark Arches under the city's main train station.
Dearden explained why Canvas is hosting a fleeting public art event rather than a lasting installation.
By choosing the Quay Brothers we always knew we weren't going to get a monumental sculpture. They work with light; they work in that ephemeral way. We knew it would be an amazing thing that came out of the city that would be there for a period and then disappear again. But hopefully it is one of those interventions where it is something that becomes part of peoples' memories or the way they talk about the city.
Overworlds and Underworlds will begin on Briggate in Leeds city centre, including the illustrious late 19th century arcades and leading down to the mysterious underworld of the Dark Arches. Dominic Gray, projects director at Opera North said:
The idea of Overworlds and Underworlds is that we've got these very mysterious atmospheric worlds, one underneath and one above.