La Princesse is a 15-metre (50-foot) mechanical spider designed and operated by French performance art company La Machine. The spider was showcased in Liverpool, England, as part of the 2008 European Capital of Culture celebrations, travelling around the city between 3-7 September. In 2009, it was on display in Yokohama, Japan, as part of Yokohama's 150th anniversary of its port opening.
On 3 September the spider appeared for the first time on the side of Concourse House, a derelict tower block in Lime Street, which had been designed by architect Richard Seifert and was scheduled for demolition. On the morning of 5 September, the spider moved to the Albert Dock, and it became active at lunchtime, moving in a small area and spraying the public with water. In the evening the spider travelled from the Albert Dock to the Cunard Building, via Salthouse Dock.
On 6 September the spider travelled through the streets of Liverpool, walking from the Cunard Building via Water Street, Castle St, Lord St, Parker St and Ranelagh Place back to Concourse House, passing many of Liverpool's iconic landmarks in the process. On 7 September, the spider went back to the Concourse House. A large crowd of spectators went to the Concourse House to see it as it proceeds to climb back down the building. The spider then crawls down the streets of Liverpool city centre, spraying the crowd with water. The spider then proceeds to make its way to the Queensway Tunnel. Watched by tens of thousands of people, it investigated the area outside the Queensway Tunnel's entrance, setting off huge water cannons and flames around the area, followed by hundreds of fireworks which detonated above the spider and the public. The spider backed into the tunnel's entrance, its last appearance in its "nest" city of Liverpool.
The spider was accompanied by musicians who played specially composed music by Dominique Malan, the special effects were designed by Thierry Loridant and the costumes were designed by Gaelle Choveau.
The spider was designed by La Machine's François Delarozière, who also designed the mechanical elephant and the giant girl for Royal de Luxe's performance of The Sultan's Elephant which visited London in May 2006. Both projects were brought to the UK by the company and charitable trust Artichoke. The spider was built in Nantes in France, using steel and poplar wood and complex hydraulics, and took an entire year to construct. It was shipped to Merseyside and assembled in a secret location, the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead. It weighs 37 tonnes, has 50 axes of movement and is operated by up to 12 people strapped to its body. When operated, it moves at 2 miles per hour; to move it around the streets requires 16 cranes, six forklift trucks, eight cherry pickers and 250 crew. The spider had seven different special effects: rain, flame, smoke, wind, snow, light and sound. Street lights and a roundabout outside the Queensway Tunnel entrance were removed to allow its progress.
The project, which was free to the public, cost between £1.8 and £1.9 million to stage, of which £1.5 million came from the Liverpool Culture Company (in turn funded by the city, the Arts Council and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport). The cost of the project has been defended by Phil Redmond, who is responsible for the performance as Liverpool Culture Company's artistic director. He said "At £1.5m I think it's actually cheaper than (booking) Macca (Sir Paul McCartney) and it has got us on the front of the South China Morning Post. So it's good value for money." However, the project has come in for criticism in some quarters: the UK mental health charity Anxiety has highlighted the potentially traumatic effect of the production upon those suffering with arachnophobia," and the TaxPayers' Alliance has called the artwork an "outrageous waste of taxpayers' money". The vast majority of the public response was positive, however, with most of the belief that "The Liverpool Princesse's" performance was the highlight of the city's Capital of Culture 2008 celebrations. On 8 September, BBC North West Tonight, a regional news programme, revealed that plans were afoot to secure La Princesse to stay permanently in Liverpool, and talks had already been held with La Machine.
Although the event was free to the public, there has been a shortfall of between £300,000 and £400,000 in funding for the project, exacerbated by the falling exchange rate with the Euro, the currency in which the French participants are paid. Artichoke has appealed for donations to help fund the project.
The performance artists of La Machine created a story about the spider. Fearing the spider was about to lay eggs, scientists removed it to Albert Dock to quarantine it and to perform experiments on it. A performance artist playing scientist Joseph Browning gave interviews to the press. Arts reviewer Lyn Gardner wrote in The Guardian "There were times when it seemed to be leading the entire population of the city on a merry dance, like some kind of arachnid pied piper."
- Sea Odyssey: Giant Spectacular, an event held in Liverpool in 2012
- Memories of August 1914, an event held in Liverpool in 2014
- Cultural depictions of spiders
- Booth, Jenny (2008-09-03). "Huge mechanical spider to attack Liverpool". London: The Times Online. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
- "La Machine invades Yokohama!". Retrieved 2009-09-10.
- "Giant spider arrives in Liverpool". Architects Journal. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
- "La Machine Home Introduction". La Machine. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
- "La Machine". Liverpool European Capital of Culture. Retrieved 2008-09-09.
- "Paul Hamlyn Foundation Artichoke Trust L'araignée by La Machine £50,000". Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
- "Liverpool 2008". Artichoke. Archived from the original on 2008-05-16. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
- Hogan, Phil (2008-09-07). "How Liverpool fell for a giant creepy-crawly". London: The Observer. Retrieved 2008-09-07.
- "Huge spider is latest arts event". BBC. 2008-09-03. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
- "Giant spider stalks city streets". BBC. 2008-09-06. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
- Gardner, Lyn (2008-09-06). "Liverpool spider 37 tonnes and a marvel of engineering. No, son, you can't take it home". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-09-06.
- "Revealed: The secrets of the 50ft robo-spider". Mail on Sunday. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
- "Farewell to £1.8m La Machine show as spider crawls away". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 2008-09-12.
- "Thousands watch spider 'wake up'". BBC. 2008-09-05. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
- "La Machine: Nightmare for all arachnophobics". Liverpool Daily Post. Retrieved 2008-09-06.
- "Help". La Machine. Retrieved 2008-09-11.
- "Artichoke Trust". Just Giving. Retrieved 2008-09-11.
- Gardner, Lyn (2008-09-08). "La Machine Liverpool City Centre". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to La Princesse.|
- La Machine's webpage on the event
- Liverpool City of European Culture webpage on the event
- Main BBC webpage (portal) about the event
- BBC Liverpool 08 portal with many videos
- BBC video about preparations for the event
- BBC webpage about the event
- BBC webpage about the event; Friday 5 September the spider wakes up
- BBC video about the event; Friday 5 September early morning
- BBC video about the event; Friday 5 September the spider wakes up
- BBC video about the event; Friday 5 September the spider performs
- Blog post containing videos of La Princesse
- Set of 23 Photos taken in Liverpool (Boston.com)
- Spider on the loose in Liverpool