A Moon for all – Artist William Leach Builds a Moon for Prison Inmates

Most of our readers would probably agree that art can be a powerful tool. Art can touch people in innumerable ways; it can make people laugh and cry. It can make them think. It can stop them in their tracks and push them to action.

In the case of William Leach, it is not only the art itself that is powerful, but the mere fact that someone thought to create it. As inspiring as the work may be, I find the artist perhaps even more so.

I discovered William Leach through Facebook. Our mutual friend had just posted photos he’d taken of Will’s latest project. The post read: ‘My friend William Leach lives opposite HM Holloway Women’s Prison, with the wall literally in his garden, and supplying the view for the inmates’ cells. Will realised the inmates couldn’t see the moon from the North wing, so he decided to build them one (on his roof).’

Photo by Jake Elwes

As soon as I read those words I knew I had to speak to Will, and I am so honoured he agreed to this interview. Here is someone whose incredible work has reminded me how profoundly art and the artists behind it can make a difference.

ArtAttack: Would you say that living nearby a prison has made you more conscious of what it really means to be behind bars, or was this always something you were interested in/moved by?

William Leach: Before moving into Penderyn Way I had a pretty minimal interaction with the prison population. Living in the house though with the noise we hear (shouting, laughing, aggression, songs), 24 hour flood lighting, faces and bodies moving at the windows opposite our own, BBQ conversations from our garden and exchanges at my bedroom window, our neighbours inside have quickly became a significant feature of our 60s modernist/utopian terrace. These slim interactions have prompted thoughts about life over the wall, particularly in contrast to our stupid student who lives at no.81. 

AA: How/when did you come to realise that the women in the North wing could not see the moon? Going off of that, why the moon for this project? What was the inspiration for feeling the inmates needed one?

WL: I love the moon. It’s sick. I’ve taken over 1000 iPhone shots of it. To me it represents romance, ambition and an ever present reminder of the interstellar. I realised when moon-gazing from my room that the moon was always above the prison, and hence out of the sight of those opposite me. I had been thinking for a while of some sort of symbol or sign I could make for them, to help them through their boring and distressing time in jail, and the moon, that I like so much, seemed like the ideal choice. 

Since October I have been leaving the blind in my room open all of the time. I don’t perform or act in any particular way, but it occurred to me that whatever they can see of life outside, whatever their reaction, good or bad, it might help somebody to distract themselves from their predicament. The moon piece is a development of this idea. 

Photo by Jake Elwes

AA: Let’s talk logistics. How did you construct the piece and how long did it take you? Do you switch it on every night? How long do you intend to keep it up?

WL: The moon is constructed from steel, lycra and LED lights. The welding took me a few days. This is actually the second incarnation so it took a few months for me to decide to edit modify the first version, simplifying the design, and arriving at the piece currently on my roof. The piece had to be lifted up on ropes piece by piece and then was assembled by myself with assistance from my pal Jake on the roof. This was easier than I expected it would be, so we BBQ’d to celebrate. 

Photo by Jake Elwes

The moon is turned on every night, with a timer, from 9pm to about 5am, our contract expires in September so I guess we’ll take it down then, unless it falls off or I think of a better idea. 

AA: Have you been able to have any communication with the inmates or prison staff regarding the project. If so, what has been the reaction?

WL: I have had no specific interactions with the prisoners regarding the moon, and have not sought them at all. I see the moon sculpture as something of a gift, and am aware it could be received in a number of different ways. I don’t pursue opinions from those inside, nor do I think I will ever hear anything about it.

AA: How do you feel about the idea that art can help pull people through the most dire of situations? Do you intend to make more of this sort of art – art that helps people?

WL: I hope that the prisoners like the moon sculpture, but I wouldn’t be so grand as to hope or expect it to have an impact that large. I hope it provides a small lift for someone, and if nothing else, seeing the moon, facing towards their cell windows, clearly intended for their eyes, will let them know that somebody outside the prison is thinking of them. 

Photo by Jake Elwes

– India Irving


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