Enchanted Parks 2016; “Love me or hate me, both are in my favour!”

I can finally get down to writing a post about my visit to Enchanted Parks. For those of you, that don’t know what Enchanted Parks is, it can be summarised as NewcastleGateshead Initiative and Gateshead Council’s popular after-dark arts adventure in Saltwell Park, Gateshead. This year it made a welcome return from Tuesday 6 – Sunday 11 December.

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The theme and concept behind this year’s installations were inspired by the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, taking visitors and participants on an intriguing journey through Saltwell Park, where a hidden manuscript found inside the Towers unleashed a strange kind of magic, as ‘A Midwinter Night’s Tale’ slowly came to life.

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I visited several times across the week, with very young children, primary school groups, older adult community groups alongside a whole host of groups of friends, so I really experienced Enchanted Parks through the eyes of lots of different demographics of people. This is the first year, I’ve had the opportunity to do this and it really added to my own personal experience, seeing which pieces captivated particular people and the infectious excitement of viewing again and again, with individuals that hadn’t seen it before.

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St Joseph’s Primary viewing The Eternal Debate of the Unconscious Mind – Alise Stopina

Like many social media’aholics, I take an interest in what other people are saying about their cultural experiences, as part of the process of reflecting on my own. I was really shocked but also very interested to read the extent of negativity towards this year’s Enchanted Parks.

The whole reason Enchanted Parks has steadily grown from strength to strength, year after year, is that it’s something different, it invests into student artists alongside National and International artist commissions, it innovates, it takes risks and it creates an experience. It is not a commercial entity or a cash cow lights event; it is an art walk….the art is shockingly, I know…at the heart of that. Each piece has its own story to tell, has been specially commissioned and brought together within a curated experience.

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Enchanted Parks brings people who love art and culture like myself, alongside other people who may not engage as regularly with art, side by side to both enjoy and appreciate a magical experience. Whilst we each may take very different things away from it, for example I look at the glass piece thinking in complete awe knowing the processes behind it, whereas my mum, who is not particularly into art at all, simply thinks she’s had a lush night and thought the glass piece was ‘beautiful’.

One of the brilliant things about art and culture is the fact it provokes a reaction, an opinion. With an event that evolves, changes, transforms year after year, it is expected that certain years are considered “better” or more to a particular taste than others. It is also, perfectly acceptable for people to walk away and think – “that wasn’t really what I thought it was going to be” or “I didn’t really get it”. These opinions are completely valid and interesting in their own right – that’s what the artists want!

I remember having a chat with well-known Sculptor Colin Rose, and he was flicking through gallery book feedback during his exhibition at Gateshead Central Library. As always lots of positive comments, some colourful and several that just said “how is this art?”, “this is rubbish” etc. I obviously, apologised for those types of comment and was a bit embarrassed. However, Colin said it was these comments, he most enjoyed because if he was creating something that everyone thought was “good”, “nice” then what was the point!? It’s like a beige buffet – it’s ok, I’m not excited about it, I wouldn’t complain but I wouldn’t rave about it……..who on earth wants something they’ve created to be a “beige buffet”.

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You want to evoke something in someone and if the reaction you evoke, is that someone wants to express “it’s bad” or “disappointing” then that is great because firstly, it’s a reaction and secondly at the other end of the spectrum, many people will think it’s brilliant…..this year’s Enchanted Parks certainly did that and I think it’s a sign of a job well done. Different people from all walks of life, had entirely individualistic experiences.

This year’s Shakespeare theme was abstract and conceptual which allowed for visitors’ ideas and imaginations to run wild. I really enjoyed the storytelling through Shakespeare’s themes from the stories we all know (some better than others). I thought the thematic approach actually made it far more accessible to all ages and demographics, as you didn’t have to engage or follow a specific story or have a certain level of knowledge about Shakespeare. It wasn’t even linear story telling – again this suited me as I was really able to enjoy and appreciate the pieces for what they were, how they made me feel, making sense of them instead of trying to fit them into a pre-conceived narrative.

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Engagement is a two way process; this means you must be willing to be open minded, fluid in your expectations and interact with the exhibits and pieces. Enchanted Parks is not simply walking through the door with the perception of “right…..entertain me!”….. you have to be willing to create some of the magic yourself, spend some time appreciating the exhibits, buy into it, share your experience around with your party. It’s an immersive experience in which you let go and encourage others to do the same.

The first piece as you walked in, the projection on Saltwell Towers was called A Forgotten Treasure and was by Roma Yagnik and Chris Lavelle. It’s hard to capture a piece like this on a photo…..but I’ve tried….

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A Forgotten Treasure –  Roma Yagnik and Chris Lavelle.

A Forgotten Treasure set the scene for your enchanted Midwinter journey through Saltwell Park, starting with the discovery of Shakespeare’s diary, uncovering the existence of a long-lost work. This piece was a very traditional Enchanted Parks piece that we’ve all come to know and love. Lots of colour, 3D projection work and amazingly visuals.

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A Forgotten Treasure –  Roma Yagnik and Chris Lavelle.

This is unsurprising given that Roma is a Newcastle based composer of music for film, animation, television and theatre. She has a diverse client list including BBC, Sky, EMI, Universal, Unicef, Open Clasp and Tate Britain and has had music performed, recorded and broadcast internationally. Roma is part of 2016’s BAFTA crew. Roma worked with children from St Joseph’s primary school recording their voices and reactions which were layered onto the projection.

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A Forgotten Treasure –  Roma Yagnik and Chris Lavelle.

The second piece was called Ignis Fatuus – Faery Magic and was by ArtAV. This piece represented fairies (think Midsummer Night’s Dream) giggling and whispering in the trees, whilst running amok and mischievously darting from tree to tree, their brightly coloured fairy dust clear for all to see.

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Ignis Fatuus – Faery Magic – ArtAV

ArtAV are digital artists, producing complex multidisciplinary works involving interactive video, lighting and sound. They specialise in the fields of 3D projection mapping and pixel mapped video. This piece was a real crowd favourite, as whilst it was subtle in its appearance, it had the effect of enabling visitors to walk into a fairy world almost accidentally and suddenly being surrounded by the sights and sounds. It was extremely effective.

The third piece was Forever and a Day by Impossible Arts. Impossible Arts are known for creating intriguing digital arts works that capture the imagination with interactive and participatory elements. Their interactive piece at Enchanted enabled individuals to have their faces projected on to big screens whilst mouthing the words of famous Shakespearean lines.

Forever and a Day – Impossible Arts (St Joseph’s Primary School faces)

For most families and groups, this was a highlight – seeing their faces projected led to loads of giggles! The St Joseph’s group that I went with, although nervous at first to have a go, were soon at the front and absolutely howling with laughter at each other contorting their faces for specific vowel sounds and later seeing the finished projection. I thought this piece worked so well, full of interaction and it was lush to hear all the giggling.

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Follow your heart to Saltwell Towers and we did……..with the forth piece The Eternal Debate of the  Unconscious Mind by Alise Stopina. These pieces were subtle and complimented with beating heart sounds. To me, this explored the theme of love in Shakespeare both from a romanticised feeling sense, but also in the brutal, heart break and the realism of the hearts depicted something to me, which spoke of violence and humanism. Love sometimes feels like having your heart ripped out of your chest and exposed for all to see.

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The Eternal Debate of the Unconscious Mind –  Alise Stopina

Alise Stopina is a 2nd year student at the University of Sunderland, the Glass and Ceramics department and I think the quality of this piece, and other student pieces really evidenced loud and proud about creative and art’s students this year standing shoulder to shoulder in concept and visual quality with the National and International Artists. Her pieces were fantastic and the piece was one of my favourites!

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The Eternal Debate of the Unconscious Mind – Alise Stopina

The next piece viewed on the trail was the Enchanted Talking Posts by Shared Space and Light. On all occasions of visiting, I was able to stop off just before this point in the trail and purchase an obscenely big hot chocolate, covered in cream and mallows which made standing and taking in the pieces a little bit more brilliant.

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Amazing hot chocolate

The lamp posts with their discourse, banter and insults were very typical of Shakespearean comedy – frenemies one minute and sworn enemies the next. They evoked lots of giggles from the crowd and I loved their expressive faces – as someone with a very expressive face, I really embrace the inability to hide any sort of emotional feeling because my face contorts and speaks volumes.

The next piece was often I noticed slightly overlooked by passers-by……it wasn’t really hidden, but for whatever reason, people walked passed it. Not sure why – as it really stuck out to me! The piece was called The Song of Time and was by Natsumi Jones, another Sunderland University student.

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The Song of Time – Natsumi Jones

The colourful nightingales danced, twinkled and appeared in like a curtain format. It spoke to me about the fragility of people and love; slightly obscured by the trees made me think of something intangible that is so beautiful, that we can’t really quite understand or touch.

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The Song of Time – Natsumi Jones

Following on to Enchanted Echoes by Stuff and Things; this was an immersive sound scape at the top of the Dene draws audiences in, creating a sense of mystery and intrigue, magic and uncertainty. For some of the adults that I visited with, this was their favourite piece but it was also one of the ones that was quite negatively talked about on social media.

Enchanted Echoes – Stuff and Things

I found it beautiful, entirely innovative and something completely different from previous years. It was the true definition of an immersive, multi-sensory experience. As someone working on a Digital Arts project currently, I’m extremely interested in sound influencing experiences, perceptions and visuals. You can see the exact same images and visuals, but different sounds added can make things feel and seem very different. The soundscape was new to Enchanted Parks and I hope it is something that is weaved into future performances.

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Enchanted Echoes – Stuff and Things

This year Enchanted Parks welcomed back Steve Newby with a new piece Rough Magic under a new professional name Studio Vertigo . These flashes of lightning worked fantastically well alongside the Soundscape, drawing the audience further into the Dene and into a storm. The pieces together made me predominantly think of King Lear and the madness during the storm but also thematically about the conflict and emotional wars in McBeth and Richard III.

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The third piece in this mix was Storm by Output Arts; a collaboration between artists Andy D’Cruz, Jonathan Hogg and Hilary Sleiman who create artworks that are powerful, emotional and memorable working primarily, but not exclusively, with sound and light. This installation was like walking into the eye of the storm, under the storm clouds and then out the other side, with the storm and conflict left behind and dispersing. Again, I was drawn to think of the moment in King Lear where Lear is wandering the heath and the character Edgar who plays a mad man, is his company  – the storm whilst not the beginning or the end of the story, feels like some kind of conclusion so the story can move on and the characters can grown.

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Storm by Output Arts

The next installations were a collection of pieces and sculptures under the collective name These Words Take Wing by Richard Dawson. Lots of papercutting and sculpture was used to bring these magical manuscripts to life.

These Words Take Wing – Richard Dawson

Richard is an artist based in the North of England and works in various mediums especially three dimensional and sculptural pieces often with kinetic elements and created from recycled materials. His pieces were so diverse and different, that I assumed they were actually made by entirely different artists. Each piece was so delicate, beautiful and thematically different. To me, the pieces each spoke of story-telling by very different means; the books, the words, the stories, the characters all were brought to life, very cleverly.

These Words Take Wing – Richard Dawson

Feedback from one of the little boys from St Joseph’s primary was that “the art is good – I like it. But he’s very naughty for cutting up books – what if someone wanted to read that book, they can’t now!”. Hehe – still makes me laugh and is in fact a very good point.

Larger than life, the beautiful red and white roses lined the Cherry Tree Walk; a memory of the bloody battles of the War of the Roses. This installation was called A Rose By Any Other Name by Cristina Ottonello; a designer, educator and public artist, specialising in the construction of large scale and temporary installations for public spaces and events. These oversized flowers were a perfect photo opportunity and looked visually amazing. I read more into the piece, thinking about warring families and how from those troubled factions and difficult times, something beautiful can bloom.

A Rose By Any Other Name by Cristina Ottonello

Love, Rivalry and Magic! by Daniel Rollitt, a University of Sunderland student, was what Mary Berry might call the “showstopper” piece. It depicted a scene from one of Shakespeare’s most popular works, where love, rivalry and magic meet in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The layering of the glass, the colour and the fact that visually as you moved around the piece, it slightly changed and offered a real depth. I loved it.

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A Rose By Any Other Name by Cristina Ottonello

Again, my appreciation for this one, comes more from working with glass artists and knowing how bliddy hard it is to work with glass. I’ve got several coaster attempts on my desk at work which highlights this. I worked really hard on them, but they look like a five year old did them. The time, the skill, the patience behind this piece, is just mesmerising.

A piece I had the privilege of seeing stage by stage before the final installation was The Book of Shadows by Bethan Maddocks . Bethan worked with community arts groups, paper cutters and Oakfield school on elements of this piece.

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The Book of Shadows – Bethan Maddocks

Within the bandstand, sat a giant magical book, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be read. Its large pages were delicate paper-cuts of scenes frozen in time. Participants were encouraged to pick up a torch and shine onto the piece, which projected stories through shadows. There was a lot going on within this piece – hanging witch trials, animals in nature, floral scenes. Fantastic, entirely unique, beautiful and interactive.

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The Book of Shadows – Bethan Maddocks

The final piece, was also the last student piece; ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ by Jonny Michie, University of Sunderland. Take your leave exit stage right as directed by Shakespeare himself, pursued by a bear – a giant, glass bear. I wasn’t 100% sure of this pieces’ connection to the Shakespeare theme – but it was still one of my favourites and a warm way to end the show.

Exit, pursued by a bear – Jonny Michie

A roving piece was Nyx by Gijs van Bon. If you don’t know which piece this was – it was the robot writing glow in the dark quotes. Letter after letter the glowing text poured slowly out of the machine and made its way slowly around the park.

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Nyx – Gijs van Bon

Audiences were both transfixed on the quotes themselves, but also the robot and how it was operating. I could have happily watched it all day. Again, another really innovative, exciting and unexpected piece!

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Nyx – Gijs van Bon

So Enchanted Parks 2016 – you were a beauty and a really different experience. Please continue innovating, doing something different and creating a magical, unique and often unexpected experience for all. We are so lucky to have an event like this in the North and I’m buzzing for next year already!

If you loved it, like me –see you next year. If you didn’t like it this year….well keep an open mind because next year, it will be completely different again, a different experience, story and installations. Remember Art is supposed to make you think, question, reflect and feel – so if you came away doing any of those things, well Enchanted Parks smashed it out the park (literally).

Nobody wants a beige buffet.

All my love – The Culture Vulture.

 

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