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For The Elevation of Man by Michele Allen

May sees the second in a pair of exhibitions from North East artist Michele Allen at Sunderland’s NGCA, exploring the unwritten socio-political histories and stories within the North East, with this latest show using it as a lifting point to open up a discussion about both the State’s and our own collective role in what we label as ‘society’.

The title is taken from the inscription on a Victorian drinking fountain, donated by public subscription to celebrate a group of philanthropists who secured an area of parkland in Elswick for the public. The inscription on the fountain reads: “They saved this park for public use, for health, beauty and happiness, to elevate man and honour God.” The optimism expressed within seems almost anachronistic to us in a time where politicians hide money in offshore bank accounts whilst carving up public health organisations; such a statement feels more akin to the empty promises of an autocratic regime than it does a collective revolution. Rather than being cynical about it all however, Allen instead chooses to remain more thoughtful and contemplative. Primarily through her photography, Allen presents a wide array of spaces and artefacts accrued by the State, observing which are to be reordered or redistributed, trying to find a value that can be measured outside of cost alone. Are parks, museums and galleries all ‘gifts’ to society, or a necessity? Is their value something to be measured by the government, or should it be left in the hands of the people?

For The Elevation Of Man is at Northern Gallery For Contemporary Art, Sunderland from Saturday 14th May until Saturday 18th June.

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