After her debut at the Venice Biennale last year, local artist Leila Houston returns to this year’s City Festival with a brand new exhibition, straightening out the petals, exploring the darker side to the age-old Jack in a Box toy.

A selection of artworks will get their first outing at the gallery in Leicester’s historical Newarke Houses Museum, running Monday 18 August – Monday 27 August. The exhibition is the beginning of what are developing artworks, which will change and reshape based on audience feedback, resulting in another exhibition towards the end of the year.

Using an interactive sound and sculpture installation, photography exhibition and video work, Houston will be exploring the very human fascination with fear and our desire to feel it.

Houston has reappropriated the Jack in the Box to create a sculpture that can be wound and played. Only here, the box’s traditional tune is distorted into the dreamlike and nostalgic sound of family life, contrasted with sounds from overpopulated and industrially intense spaces, played through Jim Frize’s ‘Octohorn’ – a large horn that distorts sound played through it.

“This particular work developed from a Youtube clip shared on social media and research into the tune often played with Jack in the Box toys, ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’,” says Houston. “It’s fascinating; we give a child something that is initially attractive, yet has a sinister surprise. Is this preparation for the world to come, or can it also be seen as a representation of human struggle?”

There will be also an installation formed around a recording of children describing a bird bath they made, as Houston explains:

“The idea came from observing my niece and nephew in the garden and considering adulthood, play, imagination and being in the moment with natural materials. The artwork itself is bland in this work, the colour is in the sound.

“Whilst sat considering mindfulness amid daily stresses I turned to my young niece, who was super focused on a yellow flower. I asked her if she was studying it, but she said, ‘No, I’m straightening out the petals.’ She was just completely in the moment and connected visually with what she was doing.”

For those of you who are more art buyers than participants, a range of Houston’s large-scale photography will be on offer, depicting raging seascapes in an investigation of our relationship to water – a continuing theme in Houston’s work.

“If I were to say what the connection was with each work I’d say it’s exploring genuineness, perhaps even on a subconscious level, using age old items like clay, fire, water and toys.”

During the exhibition a range of materials will be on hand for visitors to create their own art inspired by the exhibition, as well as record their own sounds on the Octohorn.

Houston will also be hosting two workshops at Newarke Houses Museum; one in which all ages can create their own Jack in the Box (12-3pm, Sunday 19 August) using electronic sounds, as well as Sonic Adventures (1-3pm, Sunday 26 August) with artist Darren O’Brien, involving a trip to Leicester’s river bank to be inspired by the sounds of nature.

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Natalie Beech is a playwright, freelance journalist and Deputy Editor of Great Central.

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