FEATURE: THE GREAT EXHIBITION OF THE NORTH – Art & Innovation | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: All We Have (Double Line), Tim Etchells, Neon 2016. Image Courtesy of Nicolas Mastoras

The Great Exhibition of the North will become a pivotal part of your summer. If you routinely visit art galleries, watch live music or go to museums it’s likely you’ll engage with the huge amount of commissioned work and events that form the programme from Friday 22nd June until Sunday 9th September.

The opening ceremony, taking place on Friday 22nd June, will feature a performance from Newcastle rock icons Maximo Park; the screening of a newly commissioned film uncovering the talents of the North; an appearance from poet Lemn Sissay, who will introduce his new work; plus a massive water sculpture which will be ceremoniously switched on (complete with light display and music commissioned by Maximo Park, Kate Rusby, Royal Northern Sinfonia and Darkstar. Tickets are free, but grab one quick smart.

We’ve trawled the huge range of events and activities to pick out the highlights; here’s our tips for the arts and innovation programme…



Words: Catharina Joubert

BALTIC is the festival’s artistic hub. The theme of innovation is captured in Ryan Gander’s To Give Light, which alludes to Northern England’s pioneering spirit through an oversized charm bracelet made up out of sculptures created from locally-developed materials depicting objects used for light emission, embedded in the history of the North and linked together by a mooring chain.

Celebrating the innovation of political thought, artist Phil Collins (not that one) explores the birth of communist theory in Manchester, where Frederich Engels lived and wrote The Condition of Working Class in England. Ceremony consists of a decommissioned statue of Engels, which was reclaimed by Collins and travelled to England from Ukraine, and a film linking the legacy of communism to Manchester and the impact it has had on our world.

Language is another predominant theme, as shown in exhibitions by Michael Dean and Tim Etchells. Dean uses inexpensive, everyday materials such as concrete and steel to unpick language, intimacy and struggles of existence in life-sized sculptural installations. Etchells’ With/Against investigates the ambiguity of communication in a site-specific work using innovative LED technology to cast a message from Gateshead Quays, juxtaposing a well-known colloquialism with an idiom that seems to read in opposition.

Over at Live Theatre’s Garden in an arresting exploration of what it means to be Northern within the new political landscape of Brexit, Jane and Louise Wilson unveil identities fluctuating within lost urban geography in a combination of film footage, animation, voice over narrative and sculptural work. Suspended Island questions identity and geography through the presence of absence. Inspired by the aged mariners of Trinity House, it intertwines an evangelic song into a series of interviews with refugees from various countries and structurally expresses suspended identities and a longing for well-defined borders of an island mentality through diving board platforms without the actual boards.


Words: Joe Fowler

Innovation hasn’t been restricted to the industrial revolution, but probably Newcastle’s greatest gift to the world (other than Gazza) was invented here, and you can see how the locomotive’s location has inspired today’s artists in the Stephenson Quarter, and as a bonus, you can see the actual Stephenson’s Rocket at the Discovery Museum. For fans of whistles (and who isn’t?) Steve Messam is installing the sound of steam engine whistles literally coming out of the walls all around the city centre.

The biggest exhibition is reserved for the Great North Museum: Hancock, where you can see John Lennon‘s piano, Helen Sharman’s space suit, a Hockney, a Hirst, and a book by Bronte among many many other miscellanea. Or, you can go to the Mining Institute and see a history of the North in Lego, a timeline of innovation. Maybe more incredible are the messages from 2066 you can have beamed directly on to your hands in a Brooker-esque dystopian future hindsight experiment entitled Multiverse Arcade.

It’s not all dystopia though, you can build your own utopia at Northern Stage as exhibitions, installations and performances imagine a creative and sustainable future, you can also have a deeks at the homes of the future at The Core. 

Finally, steer clear of drugs kids, but especially if you are planning to see the Deepframe exhibitions around the city, which will plunge you into an immersive world of mixed reality. 


Words: Claire Dupree

The North’s histories, communities and cultures are woven into the very fabric of The Needle Points North at St Mary’s Heritage Centre, Gateshead, as the Embroiderer’s Guild attempt to capture the essence of the region in stitched panels representing communities from Cumbria to Teesside.

Side Gallery’s tremendous history of documentary photography depicts a wealth of characters and communities from the 1970s and beyond, and Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s iconic mages provide a wonderful insight into the lives of people in the region. About The North: Imagined Dialogues at Side Gallery features work from 32 exceptional photographers and looks at how the people captured within Konttinen’s films and photography feel about their depictions.

Fifty Northern Icons is a collaborative project between the public and Sunderland-based artist Frank Styles, capturing our suggestions about the most iconic objects created in the North, which Styles divided into five zones portrayed on a wall opposite the Northern Design Centre.

Music plays a big part of the GETNorth programme, and it goes hand in hand with Sage Gateshead’s The North in 100 Songs exhibition, in which Manchester-based illustrator Stanley Chow will create a new series of portraits based on the North’s favourite songs. Stanley’s cartoon-like portraits have been highly praised, and his work for The White Stripes in 2008 saw him nominated for a Grammy award.

Artistic work across a variety of mediums will be on display at The Biscuit Factory in their design | innovate | craft exhibition, with accessible pieces of artwork specially selected for their use of innovative materials, method or application. Creative workshops, seminars and talks also take place throughout the summer.

Also at The Biscuit Factory (on Saturday 23rd-Sunday 24th June), the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair will see over 50 of the UK’s most talented artists and designer-makers congregate. Expect glass, ceramics, jewellery, textiles, fashion, print, furniture, lighting, accessories and much more besides.

Staying in the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle’s cultural hub will come alive with fantastical beings as celebrated children’s author David Almond weaves a street art trail through the Valley. Inspired by new flash fiction, Almond’s work will also serve to highlight and draw attention to the artists and designers based in the area with a series of murals, temporary sculptures and artworks. At Seven Stories, a major exhibition of David Almond’s work will be on display. Where Your Wings Were will see his dreamlike world come to life, featuring themes of love, loss and hope through characters like Skellig and tales including My Dad’s A Birdman, A Song For Ella Grey and The Savage.

Daughters of Fortune (Live Theatre, Times Square, Northern Stage) will explore learning difficulties and parenthood with a range of photographic exhibitions, films, theatre performances and public workshops.

There are lots of ways to participate too: hunt out interactive film stills featuring scenes from iconic movies shot in the region; Tweet your feelings using the hashtag TBC and see the ever-changing Periodic Table of Emotions, created by artist Aidan Moesby, light up at Eldon Square; and watch a poem generated in real-time made up of our everyday interactions, from weather, traffic and travel data, created by artist Naho Matsuda and displayed outside Theatre Royal.


Life In A Northern Town

Words: Sammy Sadler

Life In A Northern Town will encompass a series of three exhibitions and events featuring upcoming and early-stage artists living in the North of England. Developed by the NewBridge Project in partnership with other Northern artist-led organisations and studio collectives, Life In A Northern Town will explore the lives, identity and perceptions of those living in the North at their Gateshead-based gallery.

The first exhibition will kick off on Friday 22nd June and will feature work from artists Motsonian and Becky Peach. Originally from Estonia, Motsonian has remained in the North East after studying a BA Fine Art degree at Northumbria University. Her exhibition Conical Earth uses the culture surrounding that of the Kiviõli hillclimb in Estonia, a motocross spectacle on top of man-made hills, as a metaphor for the transformation of the North East of England. Liverpool-based artist Becky Peach has developed interactive artwork in a project that draws aspects of child’s play to create intimate sensory experiences that re-evaluate the familiar and provoke dissonance between space and action.

From Friday 20th July, artists Michaela Cullen and Declan Colquitt will showcase their collaborative work in Double Dropping On A Phantom Island, exploring ideas of recollection and the slippage of time through themes of Irish pilgrimage and Northern dance music across different media.

The final exhibition, from Saturday 18th August, will showcase work from artists Rene McBrearty and Jill McKnight. McBrearty, who has lived and worked in Newcastle for seven years, brings installation How To Remove A Single Strand Knot, a metaphor for removing micro-aggressions and practising self-care. The installation features the first of her moving image work alongside sculptures resembling blouse collars and bodily forms such as symbols of women’s work. Sunderland-born McKnight’s installation, The Many Limbed Machine Of Ancestral Makers, will consider unseen experiences of Northern working class women using an array of materials to reference manufacturing machinery and disembodied figurative elements.

The full programme of events will be announced over the coming weeks.




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