Exhibition review: Great Exhibition of the North. Part 1

This post is to tell you about some of the art and exhibitions you can see for free, summer-long across Newcastle-Gateshead as part of the Great Exhibition of the North, ‘in celebration of the North of England’s pioneering spirit.’

Why go and see ‘stuff’? 

(Well, seeing as you asked) as well as being a fun, interesting way to spend time with friends, family or on your own visiting exhibitions as an OCA student actually counts as work. You can be credited for the time you invest being inspired, stealing ideas and developing your critical awareness. This is ‘doing primary research’. You should evidence it with personal reflection in your learning log.

I encourage you to see work up close. First-hand (primary) research really helps develop critical awareness.  It is a completely different experience to looking online or in books. (secondary research).

What did I see in Newcastle?

Approaching Baltic over the swing bridge, Tim Etchells’ LED text sculpture With/Against is clearly visible. In the bright sun it looks very different to the Baltic website images showing the piece after dark. I know of Etchells work from his fabulous performances with Forced Entertainment. I was less familiar with his public text interventions.

Baltic says, ‘the work pairs two well-known phrases that seem to read in opposition: GO WITH THE FLOW / SWIM AGAINST THE TIDE. The ambiguous nature of this pairing and the resulting duality of meaning reflects the ebb and flow of the tidal river below.

Approaching Baltic, Etchells’ piece can be seen in conversation with Ryan Gander’s sculptures, To Give Light,

Gander’s commission of ten black concrete sculptures each depict objects originally intended to emit light.

I was intrigued that the sculptures seem a good height to sit on, yet a sign warns otherwise.


Entering Baltic galleries. The first exhibition I came to, on the ground floor, is Lubaina Himid’s Our Kisses Are Petals featuring movable flags.

I enjoyed the playful installation of paintings, suggesting a different use or role than a static painting framed on the wall. These are paintings that suggest movement and ‘use.’ The exhibition blurb reads, ‘The audience are invited to make their own statements by moving the works…’ So, I had a go moving the flags using the rope pulley. I discovered they were quite heavy and difficult to move. I enjoyed the idea that moving the flags could be a conversation to make new meanings. In practice, I had to grip tightly and use quite a bit of force to shift the flags. The order of each row couldn’t be changed. I asked the attendant if many people move them, ‘Mainly kids’.

Himid’s use of quoted affirmations by writers that had influenced her made for really viseral and personal imagery felt a provocative bringing together of personal and political ideas about bodies and human values.

I read that Himid has also produced a large flag for the roof of Baltic. A twelve-week programme of activities accompanies the exhibition, called Raising the Flag, on each of the Sundays throughout the Great Exhibition of the North. Each week there will be activity at 11.00.

I’ll blog more about this tomorrow…

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