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Mass Silo

Ben Mills, an experimental performance maker and live artist based in Leeds ventured to Rotterdam earlier this year with support of the Leeds 2023 Explore Fund, a new fund we’ve set up to support the city’s artists, creators and makers to explore new collaborations with international partners, as the city develops its bid for the European Capital of Culture title.

A Big Explorer puts me in mind of one of those great pioneers of adventure, Cook, Gagarin, Hilary breaking new ground as well as the acquisition of knowledge and the pushing of oneís limits. At a very basic level, it seems to me to be about taking a risk to satisfy a fundamental urge for betterment. Although of course, I couldnít put my name in the same sentence as those people above, I feel as though I can relate to that same urge when I travelled with the help of Leeds 2023 to Rotterdam for three months this spring.

Before receiving my Big Explorer fund I had secured an artistic residency in Rotterdam’s industrial south at a venue know as Pavilion Aahn Het Water, a former dockside canteen and office for a large shipping company. The residency was called “State of the City” and was open to international artists wanting to develop their specific practices in an unusual environment. The initial brief for the residency was to immerse oneself and then react to the immediate context of the urban environment.

Lost male in post industrial landscape

I am an emerging artist who was both born and bred in this fair city of Leeds and as much as Leeds was and still is a fantastic place in which to nurture my artistic endeavours, I often feel like I require fresh perspectives in order to grow. What better place to do that than Rotterdam, a former winner of the European Capital of Culture, this post industrial port city shows an insane variety of culture. From public sculpture and artist events to exquisite dimension bending architecture, I could not help but be immersed. Within weeks, I was co-working at an artist/ architecture group called “Observatorium”, enlisting the help of Rotterdam’s “mayor of the night” and being taken on private tours of the world’s former largest grain silo.

Image of State of the City exhibition at Paviljion Aahn Het Water 2

Still from Work – sit

Without having won the Big Explorer fund, I definitely would not have been able to dedicate as much time as I would have liked to the projects I created in response to the residency and I am sure I would not have developed as much as an artist had I not won it either.
By the end of my time in Rotterdam I had pushed a sofa around the city for a week, performed in the window of a landscape architect and re-purposed a political advertising board for use as a temporary shelter and stage. I also had spoken with over twenty organisations and artists about Leeds 2023. They came from all sectors of the cultural spectrum and in the end; I secured fifteen connections between the two countries and another residency for myself. My hope is that this trip and what I will be the start of a strong relationship between the two cities and its cultural inhabitants, after all it was clear to me that taking risks to learn from others has its rewards.

State of the City exhibition at Paviljion Aahn Het Water

See Ben’s work at