A bus and mobile observatory decorated in a celestial pattern in a field in front of a block of flats.
JMA photography
JMA photography
Press Release
Dazzling new artwork from Heather Peak and Ivan Morison: ‘Moon Palace’ embarks on an epic tour of Leeds

Dazzling new artwork that is a mobile observatory takes LEEDS 2023 to the stars and back: Heather Peak and Ivan Morison’s ‘Moon Palace’ embarks on an epic tour of the city, inspired by Leeds-born, Father of Civil Engineering, John Smeaton.

A new commission from leading artists Heather Peak and Ivan Morison has been revealed in Leeds before embarking on a 4-month tour of the city, as part of the LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture celebrations.

Images can be downloaded here.

‘Moon Palace’ is both a striking social sculpture and accessible mobile observatory, based on an original idea by East Leeds Project and inspired by the legacy of John Smeaton, and the observatory he had in East Leeds. Each element of the interior and exterior of ‘Moon Palace’, formerly a school bus, has been designed to spark audiences’ curiosity and stimulate their observational skills with a collision of creativity, art and science, inspiring visitors to look afresh at the world around them.


A bus decorated in a celestial pattern with people stood around it

Credit - Charles Emerson

Moon Palace’ and its tour also kickstarts Smeaton300, a programme of events by creative duo Foxglove that celebrate the life, legacy and influences of the man who coined the phrase Civil Engineering, John Smeaton, up to his 300th birthday in 2024. An East Leeds Project and LEEDS 2023 co-production, ‘Moon Palace’ has been commissioned by Foxglove and LEEDS 2023 for Smeaton300 and supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The work of collaborative artists Peak and Morison transcends divisions between art, architecture, theatre and activism. Together with East Leeds Project, Peak and Morison have assembled a team of artists and scientists to create ‘Moon Palace’, with support and expertise from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leeds and Leeds Astronomical Society. ‘Moon Palace’ will make an eye-catching arrival as it tours the city, with a dazzling exterior hand-airbrushed by artist Kiaran Davies and a sonic soundscape that will be created during the tour by Alex de Little.

Its interior is a fantastical, multi-sensory, tactile space evoking the surface of an imaginary planet, including: wood panelling using timber from Peak and Morison’s forest in west Wales; upcycled bus seating; printed silk screens; porcelain lunar lampshades; alien-looking mugs and a sculptural teapot will be put to use in the ‘kitchen zone’.

Four people inside a bus looking at various materials. One person looks through a telescope.

Credit - Charles Emerson

One huge and one small dome on the roof make way for a powerful telescope and a radio dish to enable ‘Moon Palace’ to function as an astronomical observatory. Audiences will be able to view the galaxy on a clear night and use the radio telescope built by students and staff from the School of Physics and Astronomy which will look at signals comings from different celestial objects from across the Universe.

Starting in East Leeds where life-long astronomer John Smeaton made the observations that continue to shape today’s world, including the oak trees that informed the design of the Eddystone Lighthouse, artists and scientists will lead audiences through daytime drop-in sessions and night-time galaxy-gazing events.

"With ‘Moon Palace’ we’re trying to reframe people's experiences of the world around them. When we make new connections, we gain new understandings of the places we live and people we live alongside, as well. That’s how we interpreted Smeaton’s ‘observatory’: we wanted to create a space where people could look at the stars and be amazed at the wonder of the universe, but you could also look very closely at the place they live.”
Ivan Morison
“Its’s an artwork that does all sorts of things, under the title of being an observatory. There are lots of moments that enable people to connect with ‘Moon Palace’ in lots of different ways. Some people are more visual, some people are more sonic, some people can appreciate things through touch. So, we’re trying to find all these different ways of creating different experiences for the audience.”
Heather Peak
Two people standing with a telescope

Ivan Morison and Heather Peak Credit - Charles Emerson

“Throughout LEEDS 2023 we have committed to revealing the hidden stories and heritage of our great city. We, therefore, could not let the phenomenal story and legacy of John Smeaton pass us by. While the Kaiser Chiefs make reference to John Smeaton in their famous anthem, ‘I Predict A Riot’, many people are unfamiliar with his ground-breaking creativity and the huge impact this East Leeds lad has had on the world. We are delighted to be able to showcase and celebrate his diverse range of his skills, thinking and pioneering practice, in the build-up through to Smeaton 300 next year. Spanning the worlds of science, technology, engineering, arts and maths, Smeaton was a true polymath and used creativity to solve some of the biggest challenges of the day for the public good. We hope that by sharing his story we can inspire others to go and reach for the stars!"
Kully Thiarai
Creative Director and CEO of LEEDS 2023
“It is incredibly exciting to see the city’s industrial heritage and the work of Leeds-born trailblazer John Smeaton, celebrated with the launch of the ‘Moon Palace’ that will offer a glimpse into the amazing night sky. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we’re able to support the creative and varied programme of Smeaton300 that will give local people the opportunity to learn more about his influence across the world and help to truly inspire the next generation of engineers.”
Helen Featherstone
Director, England, North at The National Lottery Heritage Fund
“Over the course of this year, we’ve already seen how LEEDS2023 has transformed the perception of culture in Leeds and made us think and feel differently about the city we know. “It’s incredible to now see an event literally encouraging the people of Leeds to reach for the stars as we celebrate the story of one of the city’s most influential scientific pioneers. “I’ve no doubt this experience will capture imaginations across the city and that Smeaton’s remarkable legacy will continue to inspire people to see and interact with the world around them in new and creative ways.”
Councillor Jonathan Pryor
Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member for economy, culture and education

Moon Palace is made possible by LEEDS 2023, Leeds City Council, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England, Bruntwood, Burberry, Scottish Power Foundation and First Bus.

For further information and interviews please contact Anita Morris Associates |  anita@anitamorrisassociates.co.uk / 07976 584592


‘MOON PALACE’ TOUR: August to November 2023

Friday 4th August | Fearnville Fields LS8 3LF | 12:00-18:00 | Free entry, drop in.

Saturday 5th August | Royal Armouries LS10 1LT | 12:00-18:00 | Free entry, drop in.

Sunday 6th August | Royal Armouries LS10 1LT | First session: 22:00-23:30, Second session: 00:00-01:30 | Tickets required.

Saturday 12th August | Seacroft Festiva LS14 | 11:00-17:00 | Free entry, drop in.

Saturday 24th August | Fearnville Fields LS14 6SL | First session: 22:00-23:30, Second session: 00:00-01:30 | Tickets required.

Saturday 9th September | Victoria Square LS1 3AA | 12:00-18:00 | Free entry, drop in.

Saturday 9th September | After Dark Sessions | Victoria Square LS1 3AA | First session: 21:00-22:30, Second session: 23:00-00:30 | Tickets required.

Saturday 30th September | White Rose Shopping Centre LS11 8LU |11:00-17:00 | Free entry, drop in.

Saturday 21st October | Orionid Meteor Shower Gazing at Potternewton Park LS7 4HA |18:00-21:00 | Free entry, drop in. Bring your own telescope.

Sunday 22nd October | Royal Armouries LS10 1LT | First session: 19:30-21:00 (Relaxed), Second session: 21:30-23:00 | Tickets required.

Tuesday 24th October | Leeds Society for Deaf and Blind People LS9 7DP | First Session: 19:30 - 21:00 (with BSL), Second Session: 21:30 - 23:00 (with Audio Described) | Tickets required.

Saturday 28th of October | Whinmoor Library LS14 2DF |12:00-18:00 | Free entry, drop in.

Tuesday 21st of November | University of Leeds LS2 9JT |13:00-17:00 | Free entry, drop in.


‘Moon Palace’ will also be visiting Otley, Farnley, Wetherby, Rothwell and other Leeds wards. Keep an eye on www.leeds2023.co.uk where more dates will be added.




LEEDS 2023 

LEEDS 2023's ambition is to deliver a transformational year of creative experiences connecting and benefiting people now and into the future. The planned programme will celebrate and transform the City’s identity locally, nationally and internationally – creating a lasting legacy of economic and social impact.  


LEEDS 2023 is run by the Leeds Culture Trust, an independent charity set up in 2019 by Leeds City Council as part of its Culture Strategy and as a response to the cancellation of the UK's participation in the European Capital of Culture competition.  


Leeds City Council recognises in a number of its key strategies the difference culture and creativity can make to a city and its citizens, and is the principal funder of LEEDS 2023. www.leeds2023.co.uk 


LEEDS 2023 is supported by Arts Council England and The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Thanks to National Lottery players for making this possible. 


Heather Peak and Ivan Morison

Artists Heather Peak and Ivan Morison have established an ambitious collaborative practice that transcends traditional divisions between art, architecture, theatre and activism.

Their work is often performance-based and site-specific, existing as one-off events, social projects, or large-scale installations and buildings in public spaces. In particular, they are known for their architectural structures that relate to ideas of escape, play, shelter and refuge, the transformation of the modern city, and the function of civic communities.

They categorise their work as a situated practice constructed from layers of social sculpture and sculptural space.

The East Leeds Project is a visual arts organisation based in Gipton and working with art as a social action.

Foxglove is Jane Earnshaw and Abby Dix-Mason, creators, commissioners and producers of arts projects for over 20 years. Jane and Abby have collaborated with artists and communities to produce work in parks, shopping centres, universities, swimming pools, museums, public spaces, bridges, castles, festivals, canals, playgrounds, libraries, schools, train stations and traditional arts venues.

Alex De Little is a sonic artist and researcher with bases in Leeds and London, UK. His practice encompasses installation, composition, performance and workshops; it is concerned with the interrogation of listening as a practice of world-making -a way of thinking into and through environments, notions of self, and social relations.

About The National Lottery Heritage Fund Using money raised by The National Lottery, we inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future.

Since The National Lottery began in 1994, National Lottery players have raised over £43 billion for projects and more than 635,000 grants have been awarded across the UK. More than £30 million raised each week goes to good causes across the UK.

School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leeds:

The School of Physics and Astronomy research activity covers the following main areas: Star and planetary system formation; Spintronics in condensed matter; Experimental biophysics and bio-nanoscience; Dynamics of polymers and complex fluids; and Quantum information theory and its applications. We are applying our collective expertise to the development of sustainable energy harvesting and storage, and towards translation into healthcare and medicine. Our research, with wider economic impact, includes the development of functionalised nano-materials for use in photo-voltaics and in the catalysis of methanol oxidation, the micro-bubble delivery of medication to cancerous tissue, and quantum sensing applications for medical imaging.

Leeds Astronomical Society: Astronomy is arguably the oldest science & it is accessible by all. Leeds Astronomical society was formed in 1859 and is the oldest surviving amateur Astronomy group in England with a membership of about 50 people.

John Smeaton. John Smeaton’s life begins and ends in Leeds yet reaches around the globe. A self-taught engineer, inventor and collaborator, Smeaton is recognised as the father of civil engineering in the UK. He was a modest character who didn’t like to boast but the truth remains that he stopped London Bridge from falling down, built the most iconic lighthouse in the world and is name checked on NASA’s website.

Smeaton300: The Art of Engineering

An original idea developed by Foxglove, enabled by Leeds City Council in partnership with LEEDS 2023, Smeaton 300 is a creative programme of events, talks and debates by artists, scientists, engineers, designers and anyone who wants to get playful with engineering. The programme begins in 2023, Leeds Year of Culture and completes during the tricentenary of John Smeaton’s birth in 2024.

The blueprint for lighthouses, waterwheels, bridges, ports, canals, observatories and windmills are all part of John Smeaton’s incredible legacy and he is acknowledged as the father of civil engineering in the UK.

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