Work in Progress: Project Space Leeds

As the old Carlsberg-Tetley Brewery gets a new lease of life as a contemporary art centre, photographer Stephen Iles documents the restoration process

Photography Stephen Iles

“This is my studio space,” photographer and artist Stephen Iles told me as we stood outside the former Carlsberg-Tetley Brewery headquarters on Hunslet Road in Leeds, which is currently being up-cycled to house Project Space Leeds, a new space for the contemporary art and culture organisation. The new gallery and learning space has acquired the Tetley namesake in remembrance of this robust heritage site. The Tetley will open this November as one of the few buildings remaining on the brewery site. Photographer Peter Mitchell described the structure as “Northern Sober”, fitting with the building’s dependable craftsmanship.

In 2011, conversations began talking place about turning the Carlsberg-Tetley headquarters into a new locus of independent contemporary art in Leeds. Carlsberg, who bought the Tetley building in 1993, ceased production mid-June of 2012. Following this, construction began at the site for Project Space Leeds’ new home, called simply The Tetley. After closing Project Space Leeds last year, directors Kerry Harker and Pippa Hale have been working closely with Simon Baker, manager of Chetwoods Architects’ Leeds office, to develop a gallery space, learning centre and a café and bar in the heritage site.

Photography Stephen Iles

With a focus on urban regeneration in the vein of predecessors such as Raven Row, Riflemaker and Project Space 176, Baker’s practice in this case looks towards allowing old buildings to breathe again without imposing a new structure on their interiors. He stressed that an architect “can’t manipulate the scene” in order to achieve “faith in the building.” Baker took a similar approach recreating the interior of the building to how Iles captured the structure using so-called straight photography as opposed to tableau.

Photography Stephen Iles

Iles’s interest lies in “examining the relationship between culture and nature, giving the gallery the opportunity to make an art of its own rather than exhibit the work of others.” Iles, who frequently captures art gallery spaces in transition, has been taking photographs of the 1931 building’s interior transformation since last autumn. For both photographer and architect, reinstating the integrity of a worn-out interior is crucial.

Photography Stephen Iles

According to Baker, the new Tetley will be left scarred and fatigued, “celebrating the levels of past occupation” rather than being a sanitised version of the original headquarters. Despite this, some major changes to the structure of the building’s frame are being made. The re-introduction of the atrium – which was filled in during the 50s – and the imposition of a canvas wall to “dramatically change the space in the same way that taking out the floors did” are transforming the space into an exhibition-friendly venue.

Along with Mexico Project Space, the Northern Art Prize and Woolgather Art Prize, the new Tetley demonstrates that despite the national funding cuts for the arts, there still is room for independent cultural enterprise to thrive in Leeds. “It’s a good illustration of the crossover between the private and public sectors,” Baker said of the Tetley project. Further, it presents an alternative to the White Cube approach that most galleries undertake and points towards the recent resurgence of contemporary art being exhibited within heritage locations. Co-director Harker added that “visiting artists are responding really positively” to the space. “We have been getting to know the headquarters building for a year now and already it feels like an old friend,” she remarked. The Tetley will accommodate new works of art within the context of this historical environment building upon existing partnerships, allowing for experimentation and alternative interpretations. Keeping with Project Space Leeds original approach back in 2006 towards reaching the widest audience possible through their curatorial vision, The Tetley promises to situate its visual arts programme within Leeds’ wider cultural landscape and DIY ethos.