FEATURE: MIDDLESBROUGH ART WEEKENDER | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Scott King

Middlesbrough Art Weekender is back for its fifth edition in September. The festival utilises a number of spaces throughout the town so, as well as The Auxiliary gallery space, it will also incorporate Commerce House and Zetland House in the old financial sector of town, as well as using a number of empty units in Hill Street Shopping Centre.

I asked organiser Liam Slevin about this year’s ‘power POWER’ theme, particularly the thinking behind the lowercase/uppercase styling. “When people talk about power, it’s often in relation to the powerful versus the powerless, which stops any action to change things, so it’s a kind of stutter. You have to say it twice and you have to say it quiet and loud, the praxis of addressing power, both quietly and indirectly, or directly and more forcefully. It’s a repetition.”

The line-up this year is as diverse as we have come to expect. Liam talked me through some of his favourite bits: “Rachel Maclean’s work is always impressive; Eimear Walshe is a brilliant Irish artist looking at land contestation under British rule in Ireland and its lasting negative legacy; Scott King, an ex-art and creative director with the likes of i-D and Sleazenation magazine, will be bringing his performance of the Debrist Manifesto to Middlesbrough…”

Event organisers are also working with Sound Art Brighton and commissioned them to create an audio piece that will broadcast through the CCTV system in Middlesbrough, some of which have speakers attached to the cameras. “The piece is called Levelling Up”, Liam told me. “But probably wouldn’t be supported by the Tory Party. We are also working with A/B Smith, another artist using CCTV and AI. It’s all very creepy, but it’s technology that a lot of us are opting into.”

When people talk about power, it’s often in relation to the powerful versus the powerless, which stops any action to change things

Middlesbrough Art Weekender has always sought to be inclusive in featuring local artists and this year is no different. “We’ve commissioned Bobby Benjamin to work with the Gordon Matta-Clark archive to create a new piece. The archive focusses on a project Matta-Clark did about real estate. He bought up small parcels of land in New York, like kerbs or alleys no wider than a fence post. The archive of this is some drawings, photos and all the absurd bureaucracy involved in owning these slivers of real estate. I’m very excited about seeing Bobby respond to these ideas. Stephen Irving, Bobby’s co-director at Pineapple Black, is also showing in North East Open Call.”

North East Open Call is another vital part of the festival and gives a bit more insight into how local artists are chosen among more established names. “For us it’s how a work relates to the festival thematic. We just talk and start populating a list. It then becomes how the works relate to each other. Hannah Cooke, a German artist, was a very late addition to the festival line-up. A past exhibiting artist, Karina Smigla Bobinski, posted about her work and it was perfect, becoming a linchpin in an exhibition that we didn’t realise we needed.”

The festival organisers have also added mini-MAW, aimed at young people, and Liam was enthusiastic about the newest addition. “This should have been with us from the start. The creative and critical thinking skills that art can develop is well documented and very much needed in the world that is developing around us. We need to be doing more, especially when the ‘arts’ are getting ripped out of formal education.”

Middlesbrough Art Weekender takes place across various venues from Thursday 22nd -Sunday 25th September.

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