It’s difficult to put a finger on precisely what Lord Whitney accomplishes. On paper, the Leeds-based artist company has designed Nicki Minaj’s music video sets, art-directed promo material for The Voice, created a magical universe for Chambord liqueur, reproduced landscapes from successful Netflix programs, and turned the underbelly of Leeds Town Hall into a forest.
Its creators, Amy Lord and Rebekah Whitney, call themselves “connoisseurs of make-believe,” but that term is as ambiguous as our rambling Zoom talk, in which they describe reading children’s novels, picking the exact pitch for a piece of music, and ice skating in a stately mansion.
Perhaps it’s difficult to comprehend what they accomplish unless you walk inside one of the amazing realms they’ve created. However, a toe in the dusty half-light of an old gardener’s office at Harewood House, a touch of fading documentation peeling off crypt walls beneath Leeds city centre, and a breath of the cherry blossom fragrance wafting through Chatsworth’s Great Hall reveal the wonder of what Lord Whitney creates.
Even their studio, a refurbished mill in Leeds’ Meanwood neighborhood with a treehouse, an indoor greenhouse, and a cabinet of wonders, is a playground with a treehouse, an indoor greenhouse, and a museum of curiosity.
“It really does have a profound effect,” Whitney says of being immersed in their virtual worlds. “I find it incredibly moving to be in something that takes over all of your senses, even though I understand it all and my head is in it to the tiniest detail.”
She’s talking to their most recent assignment, Upon a Christmas Wish, which took place at Harewood House in West Yorkshire. Lord Whitney has eschewed the typical emphasis on festive aesthetics by teaming with poet Toby Thompson and sound designers Buffalo to immerse spectators in an imaginarium of cine film, interesting relics, and whispering walls.
Despite this, they insist it is authentic Lascelles family land. Lord notes, “It’s really rooted in the building; you couldn’t put it on anywhere else.” “In Harewood’s past, we began hunting for a germ of a tale. We uncovered all these small fragments of history once we began looking into the archive, and then we started weaving it in with all of our own allusions.”
After 13 years of collaboration and the (hopefully) end of the epidemic, the two are more convinced than ever of the significance of their work. The urge to calm us down and halt us in our tracks is built into their make-believe worlds, urging us to put down our phones, forget about the shopping list, and just feel the space that embraces us.
“Sitting down and practicing mindfulness is extremely difficult for me,” Whitney admits. “I can’t meditate because my mind is too occupied.” It permits your brain to turn out for a bit when you encounter immersive experiences — not just ours, but immersive experiences in general. That pause, I believe, is quite important.”
What makes anything valuable? Lord says, “Mental health.” “People forget that, as important as going to the gym and eating healthy foods are, allowing your mind to wander and play can also be therapeutic.
I believe there are very few chances in life to do so. We’re accustomed to sitting in front of the TV or going to the theater, but what we want to do is elevate it to the point where you’re walking into a whole other universe, and you really feel like you’ve gone on a trip.”
Whitney then discusses William Blake’s “mythic consciousness” and the liberating potential of perceiving the world with both rationality and innocence. Later, Lord sends me a quotation about it, which he got from a project looking into northern folklore and customs.
Lord Whitney works in this manner. Or, to be more precise, this is how Amy and Rebekah collaborate: they draw threads out of the imagined, invisible world and into the light. Their ability to work together is just as important as their skill to use a glue gun or a roll of gaffer tape.
They keep referring back to each other throughout our session, explaining how they overcome Lord’s lockup creative drought and Whitney’s post-maternity leave imposter syndrome by getting on Zoom and talking, talking, talking until fresh ideas poured out.
“I don’t think I realized how much Lord Whitney was needed.” “It’s not just a job; it’s a huge part of who I am,” Whitney explains. It’s easy to understand why, bathed in the glittering lights and dancing shadows of Harewood House, we may all need a little Lord Whitney.