Rushbond, the Leeds-based property company, commissioned Tim Etchells to create a permanent neon art installation for the new student apartment scheme at the Algernon Firth Building on Great George Road in the city centre.
The artwork, entitled “Where the heart is”, is a fragment of the well-known phrase home is where the heart is.
A reference to the building’s new life as residential accommodation, a place where students make their first independent home away from family, the piece also respects the building’s former use as the Institute of Pathology – a site of anatomical research and learning.
There is also reference to the ‘heart’ and philanthropic generosity of Sir Algernon Firth, renowned industrialist and philanthropist, chairman of the family carpet manufacturing business, T.F. Firth and Company, in establishing the Institute as well as the numerous contributions he made to other charitable projects in Leeds.
Tim Etchells’ work was selected following a competition for which artists were invited to submit proposals for this 1930s art-deco listed building, which is situated adjacent to the Leeds General Infirmary.
Working with Project Space Leeds, the team behind The Tetley – a new centre for contemporary art and learning in Leeds – the artist’s work adds to the overall contemporary public art offer of the city which is home to two major venues that form part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle.
Where the heart is is Etchells’ first public art installation in the North of England.
Jonathan Maud, managing director of Rushbond, said:
“We are thrilled to be working with an artist of Tim’s calibre and it is a fantastic opportunity for a Yorkshire artist to have his work placed on public display right here in Leeds city centre.
“We hope that a cool neon art installation will provide a source of inspiration and interest for our student residents and neighbours, as well as the wider city centre community and add to the growing status and role of Leeds as a focus for contemporary art and culture”.
Pippa Hale of Project Space Leeds said:
“Tim Etchells is a well established artist and writer based in Sheffield who has exhibited widely in the UK and abroad.
“His proposal to use neon is reflective of the building’s architecture and a medium that Tim has become internationally renowned for using.
“We have seen how his substantial body of work looks at using simple and intriguing phases to explore the contradictory aspects of language and poetry”.
Tim Etchells said:
“Neon sits really well with the building’s style and has a historic place in Leeds – the Headrow was awash with neon lighting from the 1930s.
“Gesturing to past and present uses of the building, the commission is a great opportunity for me to create a highly visible public-space work in Leeds, making what I hope is a playful and poetic addition to public art in the city”.
Peter Murray, founding and executive director of Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a key location in the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, said:
“We are greatly encouraged that Rushbond has enabled an artist of Tim’s calibre to create this important new work for the centre of Leeds.
“It continues to build the region’s international status as a centre for sculpture, building on its rich heritage and reputation.
“It is fitting that this and future generations of students be inspired on a daily basis by the experience of sculpture, echoing Yorkshire’s profoundly important and pioneering educational theorists including Sir Herbert Read and Sir Alec Clegg.’
Rushbond has been a strong supporter of the arts in the Yorkshire region for many years and has commissioned a number of public art works in Leeds, including Steeped Vessels and the Sheaf Tree at Brewery Wharf and the Walter Jack sculpture adjacent to BBC Leeds.
In partnership with Leeds Metropolitan University, the company founded The Rushbond Arts Scholarship which seeks to reward selected talented, first year and final year undergraduate students from the School of Art, Architecture & Design.
Dr Rebekka Kill, head of Art, Architecture and Design was one of the judges for this commission, said:
“The building was originally the Institute of Pathology and Etchells’ text references this, it’s new purpose as a student residence and I also love that the street will be flooded with red light.
“This is playful, poetic and genuinely important public art.”