Image of Brazil, Ahkohxet,Where Children Sleep by James Mollison
After closing its doors for major renovation almost two years ago, Side – the independent gallery straddling Newcastle’s Quayside – is finally set to re-open with the launch of new exhibition Childhoods running from Saturday 1st October until Sunday 27th November. The much-anticipated event follows Side’s Amber Collective’s retrospective exhibition, Forever Amber, which drew a staggering crowd of 60,000 to the Laing Art Gallery last summer.
For their latest exposition, Amber seek to reveal some of the often overlooked elements of children’s personal lives: riveting, emotional and complex, it stands as a starkly moving portrait of socialisation and diversity. Alongside a host of projects never before seen by the public eye, Childhoods draws on a number of collections from Side’s 40-year lifespan, with two in particular sure to create significant buzz.
Juvenile Jazz Bands (1979), from the lens of legendary late photographer Tish Murtha, explores a plethora of vividly imaginative worlds created by children from the socially deprived backdrop of 1970s Britain. With previous works such as Youth Unemployment, Murtha stands as a triumphant luminary of bleakly repetitive social realism, the scenery in which she never fails to locate an unmistakable spark of wholesome warmth and humanity.
In contrast, James Mollison’s 2010 collection Where Children Sleep depicts an incredibly transparent sense of diversity, even in the world of contemporary youth. His use of portrait and scenery juxtaposition unsheathes the previously secret lives of children around the world, as well as those from familiar backgrounds.
Childhoods is not just a fresh body of work. Exhibition curator Kerry Lowes also believes the exhibition to be the starting point for a whole new chapter in the Side saga. Until now, the institution had prioritised the documentation of social phenomena from behind a lens, rather than by way of the subjects themselves. “As well as exploring its themes, the exhibition is looking at where we are going over the next ten years,” She explains. “It opens up on the connections we are making, new ways of working with communities and audiences, new ways of showing work at Side.”
It’s all centred around the personal, cultural, and familial lives of youth across the world. Though Side may be smaller than the huge-scale grandeur of the nearby BALTIC, space was never an issue: across two wonderfully re-imagined spaces, a stock of almost 200 prints and moving image pieces line the walls, falling in perfect synchronicity. Subjects and themes differ wildly, from comradery and poverty to relationships, war and disability. Yet, each set of photographs prove utterly synonymous in the sense that they all provoke a strong sense of undeniable emotion in the beholder.
Though my own tour of the showcase was relatively swift, I thoroughly recommend investing at least one autumn afternoon here, glancing leisurely between the powerfully provocative studies (two in particular being Lesley Mcintyre’s beautiful The Time Of Her Life and the potently raw Syrian Collateral by Kai Wiedenhöfer). The exhibition is accessible to all and free of charge, though any support for the collective’s future endeavours is always welcome. Visitors are also encouraged to access the new resource centre on the ground floor, where opportunities to glimpse into the group’s ever-evolving work are available in what curator Kerry Lowes refers to as a ‘living archive’.
For the subjects on show, many of the notions depicted in Childhoods were life-changing and transformative -I heartily expect the experience of those who attend to be nothing less.