Graduate Leila sees her work showcased at world-leading arts festival in Venice

A talented De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) graduate is being featured at arguably the world’s most prestigious arts festival in Venice.


Leila Houston, who graduated from DMU with a distinction in Fine Art MA in 2012 and was the university’s artist-in-residence in 2014, works with photography, sound and installations to create her innovative pieces.

The 39-year-old has seen her latest short-film project screened at the Venice Biennial, one of the oldest and most influential art festivals in the world.

With attendance at the biennial regularly reaching nearly half-a-million people across its six-month stretch, this will be Leila’s most high-profile event to date.

Her new video, entitled “Venice. Conversation Series III”, forms part of the “Empire II: A British Art 57th Venice Biennale Collateral Show” alongside 114 other short films from more than 100 UK artists, including Gavin Turk, Ann Grim and Sarah Sparkes. The films are programmed to play on a continuous loop throughout the exhibition.

Leila’s video forms part of a wider body of work funded by Arts Council England, focusing on the impact of mass human activity and tourism on Venice and its community. It continues Leila’s exploration of the relationships between people, place and history.

The exhibition was launched with a private viewing in Venice and is on display at Castello, Riva Dei Sette Martiri, Venice, until 26 November.


Speaking from Venice, Leila said: “I’ve seen about 20 of the other films displayed at Empire II so far – they are all breath-taking, funny, raw, gritty and atmospheric. It was so good to see all the variations the three-minute films could bring. I’m so glad I’m here for a while so I can go back and see them all.”

She collaborated with Leicester band Sepia Sun to create the ambient soundtrack for the Venice film, and often champions Leicester’s art scene and community.

Leila said: “I’ve been working in sound for 10 years and used my knowledge to create inside and outside sounds. I wanted to match the sound with video, letting it fill the darkness between visual images, so that the viewer has to imagine the scene through sound, creating space between what we see and hear.

“I commissioned Sepia Sun specifically for their brilliant ability to create a dream-like space, which matched the scratchy, spacious mood of my film.”

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The Venice Biennial – taking place every two years – was founded in 1895 with this year being the 57th edition. It regularly showcases several thousands of exhibits from around 100 different countries.

Her previous work in Leicester has been featured in spaces such as the Curve theatre, Phoenix Arts Centre, New Walk Museum, Hansom Hall, and the upper floors of The Queen of Bradgate pub. She also directed the Summer Art Trail contemporary art festival with artist collective Silver Vine Arts at the Leicester Creative Business (LCB) Depot last year and leads workshops at the city’s Attenborough Arts Centre.


She will be running a free clay workshop at the LCB Depot centred on her “Vulnerability and Anxiety Today” project as part of the City Festival from 12-28 August.

It will involve a consultation with economist Damon Gibbons and Leicester sculptor David Meredith to investigate the impact of financial pressures on the most vulnerable. A result of Arts Council England funding, people will be able to visit her studio space at the depot and take part in the work, culminating in the creation of a large, collectively-made sculpture that will be put on display.

She will be hosting a weekly blog throughout the duration of the six-month project to document the work and allow people to follow its journey.

In an additional DMU link, the public relations and marketing for Leila is being carried out by another DMU alumna – Natalie Beech.

Creative Writing and Journalism graduate (2014) Natalie, now a playwright, runs London-based theatre company Written Foundations alongside theatre director Brigitte Adela. She is also a freelance copywriter with press and marketing expertise. 

Natalie’s previous work in Leicestershire includes running former blog The Grade and acting as the deputy editor of Great Central magazine.

"I have written a lot about Leila's work in the past for local media, which is why Leila was interested in us working together for her project. Having written about her work over the years, it's so exciting to now see it go to Venice, and even more so to be a part of promoting and documenting it," Natalie added.

Posted on Tuesday 23 May 2017

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