The red on white sign was adopted by Zoë Sawyer, Curator at The Tetley and was displayed outside their building in Leeds for the whole of 2015. From September - December 2015 it also formed part of the ArtCop21 programme to coincide with the UN Climate Summit in Paris. On 11 November 2015, The Tetley hosted the Culture & Sustainability event co-ordinated by Julie’s Bicycle inviting Ellie Harrison to speak about the Early Warning Signs project. At the end of the year the sign returned to Scotland for the first time since 2012, to take up residence outside Edinburgh Printmakers for 2016.
We adopted Ellie’s sign in response to the call-out we’d seen online and after following Ellie’s art practice and activism for some years.
The Tetley inhabits the re-purposed Headquarter Offices of Tetley’s Brewery. Though a 5 min walk from the city centre our building stands slightly isolated on the site of the 200-year old Brewery, which is now a large car park. Our building is at the heart of the post-industrial area of the city being regenerated as Leeds’ ‘South bank’, an area earmarked for various greening initiatives such as ‘The Hunslet Stray’ working towards a much needed city centre park.
This context seemed a perfect setting for a work that quietly advertises the local and global discourse around environmental change and raises questions around development and sustainability.
Nestled at the front entrance of the building the thousands of visitors that passed through the building last year will have engaged with the work on some level, through a variety of weather conditions including unseasonal heat waves, torrential storms, floods and snow.
During a particularly wet weekend in the summer The Tetley’s courtyard area experienced flash-flooding and the area where the sign stood filled up with inches of rainwater. Seeing the sign in danger of being submerged in water caused by erratic weather conditions further activated the work by demonstrating the political concerns behind it.
Despite the crazy weather we experienced this year the sign didn’t always spin as vigorously as we anticipated it would have do, at five years old perhaps its ball-bearing are wearing down? Even when static the message still reads clear.
Staff followed the instructions in the handbook and oiled joints with WD40 to help it spin smoothly. The speed limiting bolt had to be eased and tightened according to the fluctuating wind speeds.
Visitor and staff feedback
Becoming a fixture of a busy gallery many visitors’ encounters with the work were no doubt purely subconscious, some won’t have noticed it at all however those that did take note were overwhelmingly positive.
• The artwork attracted most attention when it was operating during windy periods. It made a distinctive sound when rotating, sparking visitors’ inquisition and giving staff an opportunity to tell them more about the work. As there is an expansive flat plane surrounding the building, The Tetley’s green space and sun terrace experience particularly high volumes of wind, the perfect opportunity for the Early Warning Sign to operate.
• Visitors questioned whether the sign was acting like a wind turbine and storing energy to be used as electricity - Ruth Williamson, Programme Assistant
An information panel installed nearby the artwork may have prompted a stronger visitor reaction and generated higher levels of engagement with the wider project.
A public event with Ellie may also have helped raise awareness of the project with broader audiences in Leeds and the North.