INTERVIEW: Joanne Coates | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Who’s scared? Upper Dales, Middle Of Somewhere, 2023 © Joanne Coates

Visual artist Joanne Coates brings her new body of work, Middle Of Somewhere, to Baltic where you can experience it for the first time from Saturday 11th May to Sunday 17th November. The work follows on from Joanne’s previous photography series’ Daughters Of The Soil and Lie Of The Land which explore issues faced by women in the countryside, of which class is a central theme. Joanne considers why she chose to revisit these topics. “I wanted to explore the relationship between people and places – but specifically young women, in rural areas. There’s a statistic that states that around 57% of young people have to leave rural areas, and I really wanted to address what the factors that led to this were. I think housing or lack of social housing is certainly one of those reasons, but also a feeling of being trapped in this place with little access to services, other communities and other young people. Currently, access to affordable housing is bad for everyone, whether you’re in a city or in the countryside, and I think this work speaks to those wider issues too.”

Joanne’s work consists predominantly of photography, but Middle Of Somewhere also utilises installation and sound to enhance the experience. She describes what an important role these additions play. “When someone comes into an exhibition, I really want to create that experience of understanding for them. These additions alongside the gentle, intimate, quiet photography bring you into a different space, with little hints that will tell you about the current situation in those places. Using voice recordings and audio allowed me to raise important statistics or issues, whilst not compromising on showing the subjects in an empowered way.”

I hope it becomes clear that wherever we’re from, we all have something in common in terms of what we’re facing

Joanne elaborates on how topical concerns like climate change and the cost of living crisis are markedly intertwined and significant in this work. “Sometimes when we talk about climate, especially politically, we leave out certain groups – whether that’s people of colour, people who live in rural areas or working class people. However, for movements to progress and for change to happen we need these discussions to be inclusive, particularly of young people whose futures, often in relation to where they can live, are particularly informed by climate change and the cost of living crisis. These conditions are changing the course of what they had planned for their lives.”

The exhibition title plays on phrases often used to describe rural spaces like ‘the middle of nowhere’, or ‘the back of beyond’. Joanne explains her decision to confront that use of language. “I was thinking about the impact these phrases have on our identity, and the sense of worth and pride we feel about those places. What we’re saying when we use these phrases is that those places are unimportant or decentralised. Yet, they’ve always been important throughout the history of land and class politics and, crucially, they’re important because people that live there feel connected to them. I hope that people who come to see this work leave with questions about why these beautiful places are not taken seriously, and with a wider understanding of the challenges that are being encountered there. I hope it becomes clear that wherever we’re from, we all have something in common in terms of what we’re facing.”

Joanne Coates’ Middle Of Somewhere is exhibited at Baltic, Gateshead from Saturday 11th May to Sunday 17th November.

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