EVENT REVIEW: Middlesbrough Art Weekender @ Various Venues (30.09.21-03.10.21) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Tracy Hyman

Middlesbrough Art Weekender returned after a year’s enforced absence, and it was a triumphant but also reflective comeback. A Beating Heart bathed Middlesbrough in a pulsing red glow from the empty Church House tower block. This giant projection from artist Stuart Langley was a real show stopper but it personified a festival that seemed to be all about breathing new life into the town while also taking time out to think a bit more deeply about the fabric of the townscape around us.

New graduate Lois Harkin’s Walk, No I Wander invited us to slow down and reconnect with nature even in our urban cores. The street scene that constrained us during lockdown was transformed by a giant meteor strike on the Dorman Museum roof (by artist Mark Gubb), inside which is the Middlesbrough Meteorite that fell to earth nearby 130 years ago. Truly a wonder from outer space.

Inner spaces were explored by all those that dared to step into the industrial container of MdZ Estate, Jimmy Cauty’s post-apocalyptic tower block estate where you peer into models of wrecked flats with flickering TV sets and pagan stone circles but bereft of their inhabitants. Sounds as well as sights of devastation assail your senses.

The flicking lights of New Order ToTP’s Blue Monday backdrop were recreated by Alan Hathaway in a pop up exhibition about infrastructure, which also featured a Meccano-like construction built from spirit levels by Ben Long.

We were taken underground in the very bowels of buildings to feel the claustrophobic constraints of Boulby Potash Mine (by artist Fiona Crisp) or be voyeurs at Lydia Maclure’s macabre Victorian Alien Autopsy (at Base Camp).

The Auxiliary opened its cavernous warehouse to new artists, while upstairs studio doors were opened to the public. Gilkes Street artists also returned from lockdown to welcome the public into the secret spaces of their studios. Emma Bennett’s sculpted, brightly coloured, geometric forms now adorn the outside of the office building – one of several commissions that will enhance the townscape through the weekdays and weekends beyond MAW. Emma breathes humanity into brutalism and in a shopping unit in Hill Street Shopping Centre you could put on a headset and step into a 3-D virtual reality reconstruction of the recently demolished concrete Dorman Tower. You got a real idea of the size, power and possibilities of the tower brutally blasted from the earth just days before the Middesbrough Art Weekender began. Thanks to Iain Nicholls (assisted by Ste Bruce and Connor Clements).

The Dorman Long Tower was the poster image of the whole weekend, its fate divided the opinion of Teessiders. We have been all too often divided lately but hopefully MAW has brought us together again and instilled a much needed pride and confidence in the arts. I hope it allows us to be a bit more tolerant of other ideas and views and, after a year cooped up, open up our imaginations again.

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