Last updated on 25 October 2023
A new artwork sculpture titled “To leaf is to learn” has been commissioned and will be placed on the Esther Simpson Building in the coming months.
‘To leaf is to learn.’
These are the somewhat cryptic words emblazoned across an exciting new artwork poised to take centre stage in an equally impressive new gateway to campus when the Esther Simpson Building completes this summer.
Cryptic, that is, until an explanation from none other than the Poet Laureate himself shines light on their meaning.
It turns out our very own Professor of Poetry, Simon Armitage, is the creative mind behind the profound prose that will adorn the stunning sculpture.
Professor Armitage drew inspiration from the concept that the artwork represents notebook sheets – a common element in a student’s life.
He explained: “The words came in direct response to the artwork itself.
“The empty ‘pages’ seemed to invite text, and I tried to use the opportunity to encourage the act of reading and writing – both as an education and a pleasure – in terms of the excitement that comes from leafing through books and from making our marks on surfaces.
I think there’s also a message about growing up, the human mind ‘coming into leaf’, especially during those university years. And a subconscious message, too, about the environment – how our own growth and understanding is linked to the processes and systems of the natural world.”
Fashioned out of giant metal sheets by world-renowned Spanish sculptor, Juanjo Novella, the artwork is both pensive and poetic.
Novella, known for his imposing public works of art in major cities dotted across the globe, was commissioned to create what will become a striking addition to an impressive new entrance on the western campus.
And the commission started an exciting international collaboration between Novella and Professor Armitage – one that will come to form a fascinating addition to our public art trail, while at the same time serving to inspire staff and students in their academic and professional pursuits.
Novella praised Professor Armitage for the way in which he approached the task with such creative vision.
He said: “It was just wonderful. Simon showed great generosity, which is what adorns great men, since he adapted to my needs. I’m very happy because Simon’s collaboration works on many levels. It was a real pleasure – one I wouldn’t mind repeating in the future.”
Installation of the artwork will take place this summer, with the process being supervised by Novella himself, who’s excited to visit Leeds and see his creation become a part of campus life.
He added: “I want this sculpture to be a living element that adds a sense of identity to the place. It is a silent and active sculpture at the same time. I have to say that this work made me incredibly excited because it is a sculpture that will be displayed in the UK – a country that I admire a lot. I’ve been greatly inspired by [British] sculptors like Anthony Caro, Antony Gormley, Richard Long, Tony Cragg, Anish Kapoor and others.”
Innovative teaching centre
The sculpture will be located on the new Esther Simpson Building in Cloberry Street, which is due to open this autumn as part of the transformation programme for Leeds University Business School (LUBS) and the School of Law. Named after a former Leeds graduate, whose life-long vocation saw her help resettle scholars fleeing from totalitarian regimes across the world, the innovative teaching centre will provide world-class facilities that support participative learning and create an inspirational setting for staff and students – a fitting tribute to someone whose “tireless work reflects the values of the University”.
Professor Julia Bennell, Executive Dean of LUBS, said:
“This ambitious new building on the western campus will enhance our student experience; providing modern facilities and flexible teaching space. It’s important that we create an inspiring environment for staff, students and industry partners, and the artwork will be key to that experience.
On visiting the building, we hope the artwork speaks for the ambition and harmony the Business School aspires to with its surroundings, community and wider partnerships. We hope it will be a timeless inspiration for our students and staff, and will help welcome visitors to our innovative and inclusive space for education, research and collaboration.”
Another important aspect of the sculpture is the involvement of landscape architects and a lighting engineer to help create a true landmark – a physical link between the western campus and the central areas of the University.
It will become an extension of the Esther Simpson Building, visible from the building’s ground floor café and the teaching spaces above.
Professor Alastair Mullis, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, said: “The School of Law is incredibly excited about the opening of the Esther Simpson building, which will provide a transformative teaching space close to our Liberty Building home on western campus and allow us to further develop our student experience.
We aim to create a campus environment that is truly inspirational and that meets the standards that we set as one of the top ranked law schools in the UK. In the years ahead, this artwork project will help welcome generations of students and academics to the school.”
Raising the curtain
Following a competitive selection process, Novella was chosen to design the sculpture because of his unique approach to engaging with urban landscapes.
It will certainly stand out – at 20 metres long and three metres high, the artwork will certainly impose itself on its surroundings.
And the sculpture will also serve another important purpose, minimising the aesthetic impact of a nearby electrical substation – acting as a ‘curtain’ to hide this ‘industrial’ feature.
Novella said: “It is a curtain – a wall created with leaves of paper torn from a notebook. Its sinuous shape creates curves that modulate light and stimulate the urban landscape. I like to imagine people around my sculptures – touching them, leaning on them, children playing. I want this work to be a living element that adds a sense of identity to the place where it’s located.”
Public art trail Novella’s sculpture is another important addition to our impressive range of public artwork, which is celebrated with a public art trail that guides visitors, staff and students around the collection. It will join other sculptures on campus, including Liliane Lijn’s Converse Column, Hubert Dalwood’s relief, Simon Fujiwara’s A Spire and Dual Form by British sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The latter of these is on loan from Leeds Art Gallery, together with Henry Moore’s Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop, which is currently housed outside the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery in the Parkinson Building.