Ellie Andrews and her partner Matt run Gallery Munro House and Cafe 164. In January 2016 they approached Leeds City Council’s Culture and Sport team with an interesting take on exploring the city’s culture, and City of Cake was born.
It’s a universionally acknowledged truth, that people love to eat cake, and that it is usually eaten to mark an occasion. Birthdays, a leaving do, a congratulations, a commiseration, to say sorry, to cheer someone up, or because its Friday. It almost always involves bringing people together, so they can share a moment of sugar-based enjoyment. People ‘break bread’ or in our case, cake, together. Usually goes well with a cup of tea (or a glas of gin if you prefer). It is time out from whatever you are doing, to stop, taste, enjoy, think and talk.
This is what I had in mind when forming the idea of the City of Cake. We had already succeeded in bringing people together to engage with and talk about art when we did the Edible Art Show last year in the lead up to Leeds hosting the British Art Show for the first time in 25 years.
This time, the occasion was to be our great city and its culture. We started by trying to answer the question of what is culture? Here’s our list:
All of these are the platforms through which the cultural activities of a city or place can happen, often becoming instrumental in defining the cultural identity of that particular place.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you try and picture something that represents each of these platforms? For me it was always a building that either facilitated or stood for that particular cultural strand of the city, and so came about the idea of pulling together a group of buildings that collectively embodied various elements of Leeds culture.
I wanted to create an experience that went beyond just ‘free cake’, and which encouraged people to think about their city – specifically this city: Leeds. I know from the work we do in the gallery, that it is often the more interactive and participatory shows that garner the interest, and which resonate with people.
The idea of the City of Cake as a walk through, site specific, immersive installation made of cake meant that we could engage with people on a large scale, with interactive, multi sensory elements, which would appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.
The site specific part meant that the details of the layout and design would be decided once the venue was confirmed – and once Trinity Leeds came on board, the location that made most sense for us was the bridge link between Rox and Next. We could properly realise our ‘walk through’ vision.
Obviously I wanted to do every single building in Leeds, but with limited time, and creeping budgets, we sensibly decided to keep it to six buildings. Working with the very talented and creative Tattooed Bakers we baked Leeds Corn Exchange, Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds Kirkgate Market, Broadcasting Tower, Victoria Gate, and towering over all them, the magnificent Leeds Town Hall. These were sculptures set on plinths, around 150cm tall, with the architectural details of each one moulded and shaped out of icing, with brightly coloured chocolate ganache drizzled over them. Nestling within each of these sculptures was a section made of different flavours of sponge cake. These were cut into and eaten by the public on Saturday 20, Sunday 21 and Monday 22 May at Trinity Leeds shopping centre. and once the cake parts were eaten, what was left was a beautifully detailed sculpture of these iconic and well loved buildings, all out of sugar paste icing.
On the most basic level, you could come and see a brilliant sculptural installation of edible buildings and have a complimentary piece of cake. Dig a bit deeper, and you are walking through some of the most iconic buildings of your city, reminded of the rich and vast heritage of Leeds, as it also sits alongside its future architectural landscape.
Between 13th – 20th May, nine thousand people visited City of Cake.
They walked around, marvelled at, touched, ate, tried to lick(!), talked about, filmed, took photos, face timed friends in other countries, questioned, wondered, laughed and enjoyed all six buildings at various points throughout the week of the installation.
As they walked around the installation our team of cake cutters spoke to them about Leeds, it’s new Culture Strategy, its bid for European Capital of Culture and what the word culture means to them. For many their list resembled our own, an eclectic mix of food, art, dance, music, family, religion, film and the people you care about the most. Most of the people we spoke to knew about the Culture Strategy and the bid for European Capital of Culture. People were genuinely excited to see the city’s unique attributes taking centre stage for a change and felt that the culture of the city is what marks it apart from other cities, who all have their own identity based on their own culture.
Everyone was thrilled that the occasion we were marking was Leeds. They had their cake, and I’m very happy to say, they enjoyed eating it.
Gallery Munro House is an independent gallery based at Munro House opposite Leeds Bus Station, running exhibitions and events year round, Ellie, Matt and the team are also independenct curators who create shows for other venues throguhout the city. City of Cake was part of the 2nd annual Leeds Indie Food Festival.