Moth Studios: a studio putting taxidermy and entomology at the heart of the creative community in the North East!

It’s been a while since I blogged….I’ve missed it. I’ve missed seeking out new things, people and places to tell you about. It’s not that I didn’t seek them out – of course I did, it’s what I do and my notebook is as always, full of scribbles, names, ideas and things I’m looking forward to exploring in the coming months. It was more, I just didn’t have the time or the energy to do anything……

Those who really know me, know I’ve worked my socks off for the past 6months – I’m a prolific workaholic and an addicted culture vulture……but this year has just been something else – life in the fast lane, times a million. I don’t even know how it’s September or how I got through that workload, but it is and I did and I’ve worked on some fantastic projects so far and many more to come…..

I’m desperately trying to stand still and look back and reflect – but my head is just buzzing with all the ideas I’ve put on the backburner, collaborative opportunities I’m just itching to explore and new beautiful projects, that are at this point all mine to run free with…..

So even though I’ve had my head down to the ground, I’ve been watching, taking things in and for some, as creepy as it sounds (and I’m pretty good at being creepy), I’ve been admiring from a far. And if during this period of living amongst tornados of colliding priorities and projects, you have made me sit up and take notice of what you’re doing…….well you’re obviously doing something right.

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Have you ever had love at first sight moment? You get butterflies, you’re consumed, confused, overwhelmed and the world really does stop and skip a beat….. I had a moment like that when I stumbled upon Moth Studios in Ampersand Inventions earlier this year. Their studio wasn’t even open but I was peaking through the glass (told you I was good at creeping!) and it looked like the most interesting, weird, bizarre and absolutely captivating studio to work in. From the work space, it screamed that something really exciting and different was going on – a very different creative offering………

It was a bright space, full of animal and insect touches – think Tim Burton-esque meets very talented taxidermy. Of course, I’ve always been fascinated by taxidermy and entomology– the practice, the art of it and how it has gradually moved from quite a niche thing to infusing other types of art forms – especially stop-motion animation but I’ve not really had that much exposure to it. However, their studio managed, whilst being full of dead things, to feel absolutely full of life and energy…..

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My Ampersand tour guide at the time was all round megababe Melanie Kyles, who told me, that Moth Studios offer workshops and taxidermy sessions…… This peaked my interest absolutely and the more I thought about, the more it made absolute sense that this studio enabling people to experience taxidermy and entomology should sit right at the heart of this creative community.

As you know, the Culture Vulture is allllll about new things, different things and even bizarre things and Moth Studios is providing an offering that is so different and an experience like no other – so this is right up my street. And it’s not just me who thinks so – through-out this busy period my social media has been full of people from the North East championing their work and attending their workshops – from tiny skull sessions, to butterfly pining, to taxidermy…. I’m certainly not the only one fascinated and intrigued by this artist studio and exactly what goes on inside its doors……..

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But for this Culture Vulture – it’s the processes behind the finished items that really interests me and the symbolic nature of the pieces, their silhouettes and the slightly gothic nature of the materials being worked with…….and so my love at first sight with Moth Studios started – at first of course, from a distance and now, well I’m head over heels and I just had to find out more so I caught up with Founder, Sherene Scott who started this adventure in 2014…..

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So hello Sherene! Tell me about Moth Studios? Who are you? What is it all about?

I’m Sherene Scott, director and owner of Moth Studios. We are a contemporary ethical taxidermy studio located inside Newcastle city centre.

What was the inspiration behind starting it all?

I am an artist and taxidermist; I’ve had formal training, from Newcastle University and around the UK. The inspiration for Moth began in 2010 whilst I was still a student; I began training in taxidermy and I had an amazing interest for death and preservation; as strange as that may seem. My passion came to light when I realised it was a dying art form, the skill involved and particularly that it is a male dominated field of work.

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How did you end up residing in Ampersand Inventions? I’ve peaked through the doors of your studio when I visited and holy moly, it’s a beautiful space!

I joined the Ampersand ‘team’ before the space was even erected, as I had friends that were resident artists and directors of the spaces. So you could say I was there from birth and build!

“Birth and build” – I really like that! Here in Ampersand you’re surrounded by other creatives and artists and the building as a whole, all with different backgrounds and practices etc; how does that influence you?

It’s a warm yet very professional feeling working so closely with other artists, designers and small businesses. We all have each other’s backs and we’re never short of giving and receiving ideas, advice and networking whilst we are “living together”.

Do you think taxidermy is making a real come back – it seems quite fashionable at the moment and gathering interest?

I think in the last few years, there has been a complete revival and resurgence in taxidermy. It’s an amazing feeling to see people interacting, enjoying and educating themselves with the idea of AND physically getting involved with life, death and anatomy.

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There also feels like there has been a big shift from people seeing it as a technical process but something not often openly talked about or featured in a “cabinet of curiosities” to now being much more mainstream, with greater interest in both the process but also in it as an art form? Do you feel that too?

There has indeed been a shift in the way people see taxidermy… I.e. no longer only in museum displays, curiosity cabinets and dusty old traditional taxidermy with complicated dioramas.

Now because we have so many taxidermy laws and there are no longer illegal ‘trophy rooms’ for silly status value; I would like to think we no longer see taxidermy as a bad practice, but seen as beautiful, artistic and ethical pieces of natural beauty, with the dioramas now being your own home, space or a unique 21st century touch.

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Tell me about some of your upcoming workshops – they are really unique and interesting? And how can people book onto them?

Moth Studios hosts many workshops and classes alongside their own work and online shop. We have beginner’s taxidermy and entomology (insect pinning) classes throughout the whole year!

Autumn/winter season is very popular for Moth… We have classes ranging from bugs to mice to squirrel, skull decorating, birds and even our specialised workshops themed around Halloween and Christmas, where we will be having bauble and wreath gift making evenings!

All of our up and coming classes are posted on our Facebook events page and I can be contacted directly via email contact@mothstudios.co.uk to get booked onto a session.

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Where do you source your materials from?

All of Moth Studios specimens and skulls come from responsibly sourced donations and finds from various different people, rangers, aviaries, farms and so on.

Do you take commissions?

Moth Studios does take commissions and projects; mainly specimens that have been found or that Moth already has. However, I do not commission pets…….

Do you have any new projects on the horizon and what’s next for Moth?

We have many exciting projects on the horizon and 2018 will see a whole new class list, new works and entire new collection in our shop. We will also be touring Moth Studios classes to exciting external locations in the North East and down south!

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Well that sounds massively exciting, thank you Sherene and if like me, you want to check out one of their classes – well why not come along with me and be my date…..I really fancy something Halloweeny or a Christmas wreath….get in touch and let’s do it.

Keep in touch with Moth via; Instagram: moth_studios , Facebook: Moth-Studios , Email: contact@mothstudios.co.uk , Website: mothstudios.co.uk or No: 07958658009.

Until next time Culture Vultures…..

 

 

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GemArts Masala Festival 2017; a South Asian cultural infusion of a festival……

Working in Culture within the North East is possibly the best sector in the entire world to work in; it’s just mint! The ideas, the events, the projects, the people and beyond. As a none people loving people person, I really finding my little space in the world, with such brilliant people.

The Cultural sector in our region is just so diverse – I’ve never experienced anything like it. The cross fertilisation of ideas, partnerships and collaborations and the ever emerging willingness to work together culminates to ensure an exciting bubbling richness of lush things and people.

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GemArts and Sunderland Stages present Gods & Mortals at Sunderland Minster

The sector is also very close knit – you can attend any event really and see a smattering of friendly creative faces smiling, championing you and your projects and attending the things you do. It’s a like a secret club of lushness…… the people you work alongside or attend their things and champion, very easily move from project partner or such and such from that organisation….and become friends. Real friends and people who you celebrate every cultural moment with.

Sinead from Gem Arts is one of those people (and in fact really the whole Gem Arts team….but Sinead really likes cats and is quite ridiculous like me, so she’s my favourite). I’ve known of Gem Arts for some time and championed them for as long as I have worked in the cultural sector….. their Mini Mela was my induction into working with a large scale cultural children’s event.

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GemArts is a dynamic arts development organisation presenting South Asian arts. They produce and programme new and exciting culturally diverse arts, by creating and developing high quality concerts, events, festivals, workshops and commissions with regional, national and international artists. Every event I’ve attended has been a cultural hot pot and celebration of South Asian diversity and learning about respective cultures.

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Last year they launched Masala Festival and I had the pleasure of championing it as part of Gateshead Arts Team and of course, as Sinead’s mate Horts. So as we are literally about to jump into the second Malasa Festival (deep breaths Sinead and team – it’s going to be mint!), I thought I’d take the opportunity to catch up with her and find out what this year has in store for the region alongside digitally championing to my fellow Culture Vultures what a cracking week this is going to be…..

Well hello Sinead, so first up; what is Masala Festival?

Masala Festival is the North East’s very own, award winning, South Asian Arts Festival, bringing a mix and blend of the finest art and artists to the region for 7 days in July starting on 17th July.

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How many years has it been running and what kicked it all off?

GemArts launched Masala Festival in July 2016, offering a truly eclectic programme, spanning traditional and contemporary arts. After 16+ years presenting diverse arts in the North East, we decided it was time to put our expertise to good use, and create a brand new Summer Festival, showcasing artists from the UK, South Asia and beyond.

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This year the Masala Festival programme explores partition, migration, globalisation, identity, heritage, tradition and modernity, and marks the 70th anniversary of Independence for both India and Pakistan, something we were already starting to think about in 2016.

You won a Culture award for last year- tell me what that was like?

Recognition is the icing on the cake, alongside the incredible support we continue to receive from participants, audiences, trustees, volunteers, sponsors, partners and local communities, to whom we are hugely grateful and celebrates the creative talents of artists from the region, across the UK, South Asia and beyond.

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It was a joy to collaborate, connect and celebrate with thousands of people from across the region at our first Masala Festival, and we can’t wait to do it all again.

Receiving an award for something your team is truly passionate about is a dream come true, and has given everyone an even stronger drive to continue championing creativity and diversity at every level, supporting young and emerging artists, and offering people from all backgrounds and ages, community groups and schools, engaging opportunities to take part in our culturally rich and diverse arts offer.

So… now 2017; what’s coming up for Masala?

This year’s Festival (17th-23rd July) will ramp things up, building on our award success we’ve been even more ambitious, and added exciting collaborations and takeovers to last years list.

GemArts has commissioned work from celebrated companies and artists  and the programme is packed; award winning poetry readings (Daljit Nagra: Heritage and Identity), specially curated short film programmes (Changes), celebrations of Sikh soldier’s music tradition and contributions to the First World War (Sacred Sounds), leading choirs from India (Gandharva Choir), two nights of powerful theatre (No Dogs, No Indians), Masala Festival takeovers and collaborations (Q Festival, Trinity Square and Dabbawal), Mini Mela family fun days, Indian storytelling shows (Henna),  talented musicians fusing jazz, electronic and Indian classical music (Sarathy Korwar), folk music and dance (Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band),  film screenings (The Jungle Book, Ghandi), exhibitions (AURORA by Jayamini de Silva), food events (Biryani Club), fantastic workshops (Bollywood dance, Meditation and Yoga), talks and demos (including GBBO contestant Chetna Makan) and lots more……

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What should I not miss out on?

We think you should attend everything, but there probably aren’t enough hours in one person’s day. Three events we know the Culture Vulture will really enjoy would be;

SACRED SOUNDS – A national project called Sacred Sounds, which tells some of the largely forgotten stories of British India’s role in the First World War. Using archive footage, letters, photos, music and poetry, SACRED SOUNDS is a multi-art form performance which explores Sikh musical heritage and traditions, which soldiers took with them to the battlefield.

HENNA INDIAN STORYTELLING SHOW – As part of our Q Festival takeover we’ve invited international storytellers Peter and Gorg Chand to tell a very special story. On the eve of a wedding a young bride-to-be is having henna applied to her hands. As the patterns emerge, the stories begin to unfold… love, loss, betrayal and Bollywood! Plus GemArts Henna artists will be on hand to create beautiful designs for any of our audience who want them.

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NO DOGS NO INDIANS – A powerful new play from Siddhartha Bose. Three intertwining stories, spanning decades, explore the effects and legacy of the British in India in a powerful new play to mark the 70th anniversary of independence.

I’m always up for trying something new and out my comfort zone- do you have any recommendations?

CHANGES: stories on the edge will certainly make audiences ask some serious questions, and think long and hard about the world they live in and the resilience of people. Following last year’s successful ALIVE film programme, we’ve teamed up with creative producer Bobby Tiwana again, who has curated a stunning line up of short films for CHANGES; a programme of lives on the edge – personal and political conflicts test human resolve.

My little mini Culture Vulture Beck (one of my best pals little boys) – he’s really into trains, stamping his feet, stairs and exploring- anything for him and his lush fam?

There is plenty for mini Culture Vultures and their adults to get involved in during Masala Festival. We’re starting our Q Festival takeover with Bollywood dance classes for ages 2+ from 9am, and then from 11am we’ve Stories from the Punjab and Beyond for ages 5+ , a fun, interactive, and lively session of Indian tales.

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Part of our Movies at Masala programme with the Jam Jar Cinema, shows The Jungle Book at 11am on Saturday morning.

Sunday sees the return of our popular Masala Festival Mini Mela, which last year welcomed more than 500 people throughout the day. Like all GemArts Mini Melas the day includes a range of drop in arts workshops, from Rangoli, Kite making and Silk painting to Bollywood Dance and Dhol drumming, plus we’ve invited an amazing group of musicians to really bring the space to life, as the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band will perform throughout the day.

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Heard about the curry night at Arch 16 which obvs I’m all over that…..I like my curry to be an experience…..

BIRIYANI CLUB AT ARCH 16 – We love working with our friends and neighbours, and when we read about Arch 16’s curry clubs with Ashiyana Café we knew we had to chat Masala Festival with them. A tasty curry for less than £10, and GemArts DJs spinning the best bhangra hits, what’s not to like?!

CHETNA MAKAN CHAI, CHAAT AND CHUTNEY – As big fans of food shows, food cooking and food in general, we were over the moon when former Great British Bake Off contestant Chetna Makan was available to deliver a cooking demonstration during Masala Festival. Chetna will share stories from her travels around India for new cookbook, Chai Chaat and Chutney, and attendees will get to taste a selection of delicious street food recipes created before their very eyes!

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Well that’s all a little bit amazing isn’t it – so make sure you check out GemArts Masala Festival next week…..you’ll see instantly why  it won a Culture Award and how fantastic it is – every night a brand new experience of diverse lushness – so much to see, do and of course Culture Vultures, EAT!

So bye for now Culture Vultures and Sinead, well I’ll see you on the other side of Masala Festival…..

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The Culture Vulture xx

Creative Start-up Shepherd Illustration…

The heart and soul of Culture Vulture is my passion for culture and arts in the North East……I’m on a cultural adventure to seek out and discover as many things and creative people as possible. I’ve built a business based around seeking the unfound and going out and about in the region…..literally my dream.

My starting point with artists and creatives is them as individuals; teasing out their story and perspective. I don’t just want to see an arts piece or performance; I want to experience it, understand it, question it and learn from in. I am fantastically lucky that in my day job and as The Culture Vulture, I get to meet an array of creatives and artists. I really get to know them and they become a part of the Culture Vulture network and family. I look out for them and champion everything they do……..what is so brilliant about meeting so many people and hearing their stories, is the different journey people have often taken to become an artist, a creative, a creative business, practitioner, a performer, designer….however, an individual sees themselves. And this is why I do blog interviews….to learn more , explore but also for you lovely lot………

So pleased to meet you Lauren Shepherd, lush creative business and recent start up – you will be able to meet her at the after-party at Newcastle Start-up Week……….

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Hi L, Tell me about Shepherd Illustration?

Shepherd illustration was born out of my accidental habit of drawing. Each art course, I have ever taken, be it fine art, spatial design or animation, I have always found myself focusing on drawing. Many art forms need so much equipment, where as to draw you just need a scrap of paper and a pen.

I like being quiet (this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows me as I talk…. Too much) but when I am on my own, I just love to be quiet; drawing offers me that sanctuary. I ended up with a bunch of drawings and wanted to do something with them; at first I found it really hard to focus on creating a product and still now, I realise I have gaps in my product range and I don’t focus on creating a card for every occasion. I like to give the customer chance to think for themselves and to become a part of the creative process. I’m still learning and I enjoy meeting people on this journey of turning my passion into a business.

Tell me about your journey setting up a creative business?

At first it was very exciting and still is; but it’s hard receiving knockbacks especially when I still work full time and come home after a long week to receive emails saying “no”.

It’s long hours and hard; sometimes you can’t see friends or fit in going to the gym. It’s really hard when you feel like no one sees your work and you spend more on products than you make. But then all of a sudden someone says “yes” and I get to do something extraordinary. For example I love to ski and approached Chalet Rosiere as I had heard they offer places to artists; they emailed back and were actually interested in commissioning me to do some work for them! I was totally overwhelmed but I grabbed the chance and spent the next 2 weeks creating 8 new pieces of work for the chalet which I honestly think are my best to date. 1 month later I was skiing in the Alps hosted by the wonderful owners of Chalet Rosiere.

Also if you’re creative you just can’t help it, you have to make!

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I really love your branding – what was the inspiration behind that?

My branding comes directly from my illustration. I wanted to create a brand rather than just a collection of drawings; I try and keep everything as stylized as I can. When I first started drawing everything was very macabre. But at that point, I was a young singleton drinking too much gin; I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the happier and more secure I have become in my life, the more romantic and positive my illustrations have become.

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Do you have an inspiration behind your style of work?

I am hugely inspired by botanical illustrations and Thomas Bewicks’ engraving. I feel my drawings are a modern interpretation of his engravings and share the same love of the countryside. This could be why I unintentionally draw solely in black ink. But I also feel again that it is the simplicity of only needing one sheet of paper and a pen to be able to start work. I often look at painters and feel a pang of jealousy when they are sat amidst huge boxes of paints and turps, paintbrushes, easels and canvases but then I remember that’s not where I currently am artistically.

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What about your love of dogs?

I love dogs! I am a dog person. My miniature dachshund isn’t my baby; but O truly think she’s a part of me. I got her when she was 10 weeks old and I was only 19. She has travelled the length of the country with me and looked after me much more than I have her. This year we have been together for 10 years and I can’t thank her enough for getting me through some very hard times. I’m very lucky to have a great team at YourFilm and my boss’s even let me sneak her into work so she can snooze beneath my desk.

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What was your journey into animation? You work for Your Film?

I came to study animation at Northumbria University and completed my degree in Motion graphics & animation BA. I was not necessarily the best person on my course and often felt I wouldn’t be able to find a job in the field, especially in Newcastle; a city I fell in love with and didn’t want to leave.  Through hard work I found some really great projects to work on even before graduating; this gave me enough experience and confidence to apply for my job at Yourfilm.

A few people applied from my course and I honestly didn’t know how the interview had gone, but only a few hours later Matthew rang me to ask me when I could start. I couldn’t believe it and screamed down the phone…. In hindsight I wish I had played this cooler. Fast forward nearly 4 years and I am still with the company. It is a fantastic place to work and being part of a small team means I have full control over the projects I work on and am constantly learning.

What’s next for you? Next project?

I currently only sell through a few independent retailers but would love to move into more shops and get my products noticed by a larger audience. Fingers crossed I will have some exciting news on the horizon soon. I have also been asked to be part of a new exhibition in York and am working hard on a new product range for the Thought Foundation.

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Creative, artist, animator, all round absolutely lush megababe gin lover Lauren Shepherd………..you can see more of her at Newcastle Start-Up Week………

February 17 Artist of the Month; Chris Folwell

New month, new projects and new artists to showcase…….so February’s artist of the Month is an artist, I’ve only quite recently had the pleasure of getting to know but in a variety of forms. I met him as an aspiring artist at The Late Shows so many moons ago….the exact year is hazy, as are so many of the Late Shows weekends when you meet so many wonderful people and do many lovely things. I saw his work as part of The Book Art project in 2012 and then our paths crossed again at last year’s Anime Attacks where he ran a flip book animation drop in workshop and again as one of the brilliant artists selected to join the 2016 Gateshead cohort of Make Art Happen.

Who is this artist you ask – well it’s Chris Folwell of course! Chris has been one of those artists that I’ve only ever met at events, or through their participatory work and collaborative larger scale projects. I’ve have quite been able to place him – he has just sprang up to me doing something fantastically creative.

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Chris Folwell

Through his involvement on MAH, I got to know more about him, his practice, his background and his ambitions. I remember reading his application for MAH and I just loved it – full of creative project ideas, lots of passion and most importantly, real legs and capacity to get it off the ground.

So when I found out he was one of the Digital Makings Fore-edge artists and running some activity as part of the Gateshead Live programme – I was thrilled. So here he is in all his glory as The Culture Vulture’s February Artist of the Month…….

How did you get into “the Arts”?

I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people just fall into the arts and it was the same for me: I studied graphic design and hated how cold and removed it was, then animation and loved the hands on side but didn’t want to work at a computer doing CG.

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My tutor there introduced me to printmaking and I got hooked – I did a top up year in fine art pretty much purely to play in the print room, then I bought a second hand press and barely went in to university afterwards! I had grand visions of graduating and becoming a full time illustrator and printer making work that sells out in an hour like some of the big names in the US. That never happened, but for a time I did make decent money selling my work at craft markets and I think that visibility served me well, though it eventually left me a little jaded with the arts and craft market scene.

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A lot of the early ‘proper’ art work I did was through people who’d approached me at a market, then been surprised to discover that I had fingers in lots of pies outside of printmaking; I make a lot of objects out of cardboard just for fun: automata, zoetropes, small sculptures, and that’s lead to some interesting commissions (a 1:25th scale rocket and a life size polar bear). My animation degree has helped too, that led to artist Anton Hecht hiring me for one of his projects and he’s been a real patron of mine ever since, he taught me a lot about working in the arts professionally and spurred me on to pursue participatory art independently, something which has become the core of my practice.

Mostly I think it’s just interest in how things are made and what makes them work though that led me to being a full time artist; the first thing I do when I walk into a gallery is try and figure out how the artist made it and if it doesn’t impress me technically as well as visually then I feel cheated somehow. So that’s something I always tried to put into my work, seeing that look of wonder on people’s faces at the audacity of building a 30 foot tall rocket purely from cardboard is worth every second, especially when it’s a kid or a teenager: it takes more than you’d think to impress children!

How would you describe your practice?

Most of my practice now revolves around participatory art, though I still do make and sell prints, working with the public has become my focus. It starts with an idea for something I would really like to make or an issue I’m interested in, then I spend time figuring out how to involve people that would make the work more worthwhile.

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For instance I’m currently collaborating with ceramics artist Judith Davies on the Out of the Box project, we’re exploring housing and community: how people would like to live given the freedom to choose. It’s my first real collaboration, and it’s the biggest project I’ve ever worked on but at it’s roots it just sprang out of our mutual interest in homes. At this stage it’s a pilot working with a handful of Gateshead youth groups to design homes and communities and build ceramic maquettes we’ll be exhibiting in Gateshead town centre, but we’re hoping to grow the project and commission other artists, I suppose the dream would be to use our findings to influence local housing development for the better.

Outside of big projects l do plenty of workshops, I started off doing simple arts and crafts workshops but that’s gradually evolved until now they’re usually as much about engineering as art.

What inspires you?

Science and science fiction has been a big influencer, in both my printmaking and participatory practice, I guess that’s the inquisitive part of me wanting to know how the world goes together. I read a lot, and listen to podcasts on a myriad of subjects but sociology is a particular favourite: it fits in beautifully with participatory art.

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Otherwise I’m drawn to all sorts of things, I collect hobbies then discard them after a few months, I obsess over constructing imaginary homes, I’ve been building a boat on and off for 3 years. I suppose I find objects more interesting than people most of the time, and I love planning new projects, especially when I can go on a good walk and think them through.

Tell me a bit about your experience on Make Art Happen?

I think it was honestly the single most transformative period of my arts career. If you’re not familiar with Make Art Happen it’s a project designed by Helix Arts supported by Gateshead Culture Team to teach people how to deliver participatory arts programmes; it’s changed my whole outlook. My first involvement was through a commission; Bensham & Teams art, the group who hired me, came about through the MAH scheme then following that I was invited to apply for the next reiteration of the programme that would this time be aimed specifically at artists in Gateshead who wanted to expand their practice to include participatory art. It was hugely informative, they walked us through every aspect you could imagine and the support they gave us has been amazing. I met Judith Davies on the course and the Out of the Box project was a direct result of MAH, but more importantly it pushed me to examine the work I’d done so far and decide what a really wanted to do.

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Until that point the route my career had taken was determined almost entirely by hunting paid work, which is fine but then you realise one day that you’ve had very little creative control over what you’ve been doing. That little push from Helix and the support allowed me to start a project entirely from scratch, and since then I’ve been planning projects until the cows come home – I’m sure some of them will never see the light of day, but if only a fraction of the things I want to do come to pass then I will feel like I’ve really achieved something!

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If I could recommend one thing to anyone who thinks participatory art is something they want to add to their practice, even in a small way, it would be to email Helix Arts and tell them you would be interested in a Make Art Happen programme in your area.

Tell me about the Fore-edge exhibition? What is it?

Fore-edge paintings are a painting or drawing on the page edge of a book that’s hidden beneath gold leaf, if you twist the spine and fan the pages then it reveals this secret image underneath. It’s a medieval technique really, but the disappearing illustrations we’ve been working on started popping up around the 1600s and there have been a few small revivals but as far as I know there’s only one other person in the world still producing them. This was a chance to get a collection of artists together and produce a fresh take on an ancient technique, and the restrictions of the medium make for some really interesting results. Alongside the more traditional fore edge illustrations there’ll be a more modern twist on the hidden image, this time using augmented reality to display a secret visual in the books.

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How did the project idea come about?

The fore-edge exhibition is one of Anton Hecht’s projects, he produces a lot of interactive art and pursues that in the projects he manages too, we’d previously done a project together illustrating books to turn them into flip books so when he stumbled across this technique it seemed like a natural development.

Tell me about your Fore-edge book Necronomicon? Did you select it?

I did yes, Lovecraft is just one of those writers that jumps out at you, he produced such a huge volume of work and was such a founding father of the horror genre it’s impossible to ignore him. It seemed a perfect fit for a work revolving around hidden imagery and mystery, I’m sure Lovecraft would have been interested in the technique. There is a little joke in there at his expense though, the man had a terrible habit of never actually describing the monsters in his stories.. since so many of his creatures are “indescribable” there’s only a hint of lurking beasties in my own illustration.

Tell me about the process you went through making your piece?

It’s quite a complicated process to prepare the books for a fore edge illustration, and an even more long winded process to gold leaf them, but that was the aspect that most appealed to me when Anton approached me. I think I went through 12 books testing different approaches and fine tuning techniques to get it just right!

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If you reduce it to simple terms then you need to prepare the edge you’re going to decorate by sanding it smooth, then we twist the spine so the pages are fanned at least 45degrees and clamp it in a specially made press, similar to book binding press. Once it’s in there you can get painting or drawing but you need to be sure you don’t leave a residue on the surface, so acrylics are out but watercolour and markers work well. After that we pop the book back to normal and clamp it again then stain the edge with a red pigment called Armenian bole, which we can buff to a shiny finish with stiff brush. Lastly we apply a thinned down PVA glue and the gold leaf then you’re done! As part of the exhibition I’ll be running a workshop running through the full technique so please do come along and try it.

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Have you seen any of the other works? Any favourites?

Yes, I ended up applying the gold finish to the majority of them so I’ve had a sneak peak. I think Mandeep Chohan’s book was my personal favourite, she was someone I was really keen to get involved in the project from the get-go; she makes fabulous collages so it was quite a challenge translating that technique to a fore edge illustration. We ended up using acetone to transfer images from photocopies, but that has formed the basis of the approach I’ll be teaching in the workshops.

What would you like people to take away from the exhibition?

Mostly just a little bit of wonder, this is something people have been doing for hundreds of years on some of the most beautiful books in history, so this is your chance to see some modern examples made by some of the North East’s finest artists!

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What’s next for you in 2017 onwards?

More of the same if I’m lucky; 2016 was a great year for my practice so I’m looking forward to all of the planning I started back then finally paying off. I’m working on a community arts festival for Bensham, Teams and Racecourse estates, I’ve got a fibreglass knight on horseback to paint celebrating the Battle of Lincoln, a wedding to plan, and you never know I might even finish that boat!

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So fellow Culture Vultures have until 1st April to come and see the Fore-edge Book Trail at Gateshead Central Library…..make sure you do! Looking at the books and the detail, it makes me wonder when exactly was the moment we stopped, as a society, decorating our books to the extreme. There is just something SO magical about a leather bound book; with gorgeous illustrations and touches…..absolute works of art in their own right.

Peace and love. x

Outside of the Cultural Comfort Zone and into: The Thought Foundation

What is your New Year’s Resolution? I used to be all about less eating, more exercise, more this and less that – however, I gave up many moons ago as I just never kept them. I’m more about lifestyle changes ongoing than setting impossible unrealistic challenges – plus it’s highly unlikely, I’m ever going to be super model thin or run a marathon so pretending that “could” happen, is both hilarious and pointless.

Right, so my New Year’s Resolution is: “to go outside my comfort zone as much as possible”. I’m all for trying new things, doing things that terrify me, living by my gut instinct and striving for personal development and growth; I intend to do more of that this year but like most, I fall into routines! I go to the same restaurants, same galleries, check out the same cultural programmes, same same same! Now that’s wonderful in a way – I love those places, I’m fiercely loyal and they keep providing me with reasons to come back. But it also means, I’m in a cultural bubble of comfort……there is a whole world outside of that, venues, creative spaces, performances, pop up stuff, events etc, that I’m just missing out on.

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Leanne Pearce – Breastfeed

I’m also aware that so many culture vultures (including me!), focus too much on Central NewcastleGateshead……. In short, my cultural sphere is too small, I need to break out, adventure, seek pastures new, visit new venues, see new exhibitions and performances by companies I haven’t engaged with….. I’m excited to do so!

The first place on my *must* visit list is the new Thought Foundation!  It’s a new Community Interest Company (a CIC) in development in Birtley, Gateshead.

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It is the brainchild of three very proactive and entrepreneurial creatives Leanne Billinghurst, Gareth Billinghurst and Hayley Rodgets (and Leanne and Gareth’s two little girls Josephine and Boadicea). As a collective they are on a mission, a mission the Culture Vulture can really get on board with!

  • Firstly, to keep creative talent up in the North East – yes yes yessss! You don’t need to run off anywhere else, there are oodles of creative opportunities bubbling here!
  • Secondly, to make art accessible and to evidence that Arts and Culture really is for all! Anyone and everyone has it within them to be creative and to enjoy creative engagement.
  • Thirdly, creativity, innovation, business, arts, making, doing etc – they all have things in common and can be used to overcome today and tomorrow’s problems.

We love this agenda and we think we will love Thought Foundation – so what is it? Basically it’s is a new thoughtful arts space and cultural organisation with big creative ambitions; to inspire, promote and support creatives and the local community. They have self-funded and crowd funded the major renovation project, as previously the building was used to house a vehicle repair shop. Visually imagine a transformation from a vehicle inspection pit and petrol pumps into a big white space for creative possibilities.

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Thought Foundation will house MINDFIELD- a transformative gallery, THINK- thoughtful eclectic shop, BRAIN FOOD cafe and kitchen, IMAGINATION STATION – alternative kids play zone and BRAIN SPACE – a workshop room. The space aims to be open, dynamic and thought provoking. Clearly a space for culture vultures, little culture vultures in the making and artists……..I’m interested to see exactly what activity and creatives get involved in the space!

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I first heard about Thought Foundation through social media and finding Leanne Pearce’s (married name Billinghurst) art work. At the time alongside, first testing out the idea for The Thought Foundation she was also working on her current exhibition “Breastfeed” with large scale portraits depicting mothers feeding their offspring. This type of work not only visually interested me, as it is beautiful and evidences great talent in portraiture and painting, but thematically as I’m going through that stage where lots of my friends are having children and each having very individualistic experiences breastfeeding. Leanne’s work celebrates and displays focused and intimate moments as a breastfeeding mother – the bond, the natural beauty, the functionality of the process and showcases different versions of the maternal and female experience.

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An artist pushing forward this positive agenda should almost certainly be on your radar. Within Thought Foundation in 2017, a project called “New Born” will be on going. Leanne has defined this as “a creative response to parenting” and I’m excited to see elements of how “Breastfeed” intertwines into that, alongside new creative additions from other artists, Mums, Dads and carers and potentially her own personal evolving experience as a Mum. Oh gosh – I’m getting excited just typing about it – I love the beginning of project development when anything and everything could be possible!

So Culture Vultures, onto the most important question, how can WE get involved!? Well, they are aiming to open Feb/March of this year with a soft launch – keep an eye on their Facebook page for that and make sure you attend; I love being the first to check out a new cultural gem so I will certainly be there. From then on, people will be able to visit and they are planning on developing a cultural programme housed within – so expect events, projects, exhibitions, workshops etc.

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If you’re a creative and artist and want to get involved, well this is the best time to reach out to Thought Foundation and have your input from the beginning. If you have a particular project or their mission sparks an interest in you, drop them a line/pop in and visit and make it happen!

Their first exhibition is titled “Thoughtful Planet” and is a creative response to environmental issue we currently face. They are currently seeking artist submissions for this immersive, multi-disciplinary exhibition. So if you are an artist/creative that works with Film, Photography, Painting, Sculpture, Installation, Light/sound, Poetry/written word, Spoken word art or Performance then they want to hear from you.

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Submission process is open until 30th January 2017 – so you’ve still get plenty of time to pull together a brilliant brief!

If you’re a maker, artist or creative business, well then there could be a collaborative opportunity here! They are looking to develop a great range of stock in their shop THINK. Supplying to a creative stockist is a great way to get your products out there, a different means of selling and they are passionate about supporting local creatives, so if you have lush creative products, why not send them a message with some examples!

And if you’re like me, always looking for a new venue for an event, conference, to run workshops etc, well as I said before, there is a whole world outside of the NewcastleGateshead central zone of culture so why not, discover it alongside being a part of creating your little piece of it in partnership with Thought Foundation! As Leanne herself told me “the opportunities are endless!”.

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Keen an eye out for their launch Culture Vultures; I’m expecting great things and in Summer 2017, I hope to bring something Culture Vulturish to The Thought Foundation! Keep your eyes peeled!

If you’d like to find out more about The Thought Foundation drop Leanne an email: Leanne@thoughtfoundation.co.uk

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

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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.

 

Jane Gower – Sculpture 30 Artist of the Month August

Well Summer is drawing to the end…..and it seems fitting that we spent most of August’s Sculpture 30 activity outside with the sculptor version of Ray Mears.

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As an artist, a business person, a career person, a stay at home saint or any other type of busy bee, do you take the opportunity to get outside and appreciate the outdoors. Now I mean, REALLY appreciate – look around you, taking in the smells, the shapes of natural objects, the light…….

If you look closely enough, beauty and sculpture can be found and created in almost anything. Taking time out to do this is not only imperative for your mindfulness and inner wellbeing, it is also crucial part of the creative process; allowing yourself to think, reflect, reimagine and to get lost in the world around you, that you may see every day, but not take in.

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That’s what we focused on during August with our Sculpture 30 Artist of the Month Jane Gower. We got outside with different groups; adults, children, artists and creatives a like and we got using the natural world and materials around us to make beautiful sculptural pieces that both created meaning in the present and complemented the landscape.

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I spent an afternoon with Jane during a family Land Art workshop in Thornley Woods…..it was a fantastic afternoon spent making our names from natural resources around us and picking special objects during our trail.

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Whilst on our object hunt, we often stopped to talk about why we’d picked certain objects, why they visually seemed special to us and the beautiful colours, shapes and textures. It was fascinating to share perceptions and discover emotional attachments to inanimate objects.

Jane had also scattered on our route, several pieces of her land art that she had created making the afternoon feel like a mini sculpture trail of natural discovery.

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We used our materials to recreate the Gruffalo’s foot-steps – a series of footsteps with natural materials, to reimagine what he might like to eat and we ended our session making him a den.

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I had a fantastic afternoon – I found it grounding in the sense it reminded me of the creative possibilities that exist all around us every day and how these possibilities are constantly changing and evolving with nature. Moreover, this type of sculpture making is very accessible to everyone and something individuals, teams, groups and families can do as a collective.

After the session, I caught up with Jane Gower, our artist of the Month for August, to probe a little deeper into her practice, to find out what it is about the outdoors she loves so much and what exactly, ephemeral art is……?

Hi Jane, Tell me a little about yourself?

I love walking, especially with friends and family and ravelling around and camping in my converted transit van; also getting totally lost in creating a piece of work when I forget time, to eat and other people. I also love collaborating with other artists on projects.

Meeting new people is endlessly fascinating especially if I’m researching for a commission and find out about a whole different way of life.

I did a degree in Textiles and an M.A in Fine Art. My jobs from a previous life include; Stage-Management in London West End Theatres, running my own knitted textile business, clothing designer/production manager for a Fair Trade company, Art Foundation Course Lecturer and Community artist.

I have two children who have flown the nest.

Tell me about your practice?

I have been described as an eccentric art-scientist, experimenting with different materials: melting, shredding and generally deconstructing, then re-constructing the remains into some other form. This approach employed man-made materials. I’ve transferred this questioning recently, into testing the physical qualities of natural elements out in a rural environment. In doing so I’ve dropped the need for tools and equipment, finding the necessaries in a ‘make-do-Ray-Mears’ approach and adapting whatever’s lying around or re-thinking the process. This is very liberating. It involves trusting a spontaneous response to the natural environment and going with it.

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I also describe my practice as socially-engaged; involving participants in the creative process, using a range of media and techniques that is relevant for both the participants and to the installation site. The constant thread that runs through all my work is the intricacies of communication in the cultural realm: the disparity that lies between intention and interpretation.

Social engagement has decreased in recent times as I’ve been exploring this new direction in my practice.

Past commissions and residencies include; The Great North Run, The Sage Gateshead, Newcastle Riverside Sculpture Trail, The Tall Ships Race, Pallion, Cleadon and Gateshead PCT NHS Health Centres, among others.

Where can people go to see more of your work?

In terms of the Land Art work nothing can be seen in actuality as it’s so temporary but I’m on Instagram as jane_gower. I try and make one Land art piece a day, photograph it and upload onto the app every day.

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There are two large-scale, permanent, sculptural installations in the Trinity Square Health Centre at West Street, Gateshead. One is inside the surgery and one outside in the car park. Both were participatory pieces based around the question: ‘What makes you better?’. They are both permanent. Fabricated from printed and engraved clear or mirror acrylic they are different from resources I am currently using.

Voice recordings are often incorporated into my sculptural installations as I like to make evident the work process in the final piece and they bring animation.

I’ve just completed a sound piece: ‘Coastal Viewpoints’ in collaboration with Nicola Balfour for Durham Heritage Coast. We’ve been audio recording people out and about on the coastal path between Seaham and Horden. Their responses to the question: ‘What’s your view of this coastline?’ are being edited into QR points on the information boards along the path. People can hear some of the recordings on the FB page; ‘Coastal Viewpoints’.

What are your ties to the North East?

There are several factors:

I ran away from a London-life 28 years ago, for a job as clothing designer/production manager for the fair-trade company Traidcraft in Gateshead, and never went back.

I live on the border of three very different county boundaries; Northumberland, Durham and Gateshead. The diversity in terms of landscape, communities and culture is so varied and engaging, that it constantly inspires me.

I feel the North East has been one of the few areas in England that has valued artists’ contribution to its regeneration. Even though there has been a noticeable dearth of available arts funding recently, it still feels there’s potential to make a living as a free-lance artist here.

The North East has been good to me. Both my children were born here, so the area feels like part of our DNA.

For those who don’t know, what is “Ephemeral Land Art”?

Land Art refers to an art movement that began in the 60’s in which landscape and art is inextricably linked. It’s about experiencing natural spaces and responding to them using indigenous materials to create art and placing it in the natural environment. The ‘Ephemeral’ derives from a Greek word meaning lasting only one day. This encapsulates the temporary period that the artworks are expected to exist. Due to the raw materials being used and the spaces they are created in, out in the natural environment, they will start to deteriorate immediately. Open to the elements, to animal and human activity, the artworks only exists at the moment of creation. Documenting that moment through photography is the only way to keep the piece alive and give it longevity.

Why is getting outside important for creatives?

Getting outside whatever the weather for anyone, regardless of whether they are an artist or not, is very grounding. Even in an urban environment, I think to feel the elements and to be in natural light helps get things into perspective. Being outdoors invigorates and you are dealing immediately with the here-and-now basics of life.

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Having to find a way of working with the idiosyncrasies of a variety of natural forms, out in an uncontrollable environment, has its own particular challenges and rewards for creative people.

Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement with the Gateshead homeschoolers?

I was asked to work with a homeschooling group and their carers based in Gateshead. We spent 2 ½ days in Thornley Woods exploring the landscape, looking at all the resources available and using different techniques to make land art, prints and photographs. Sometimes everyone worked individually and sometimes as a team. We did lots of playing and walking, and discussing the natural environment   and our response to it. They were for me some very uplifting and informative days with an enthusiastic group of learners.

What is your favourite piece of Sculpture in the North East/the world?

One that always resonates with me is Cornelia Parkers’   Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) A garden shed she had blown up by the British Army and suspended the fragments as if suspending the explosion process in time.

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Well thank you Jane, another fantastic Sculpture 30 artist of the Month.

As we draw ever closer to the end of Sculpture 30 Festival, I have to say I now view Sculpture in a whole new way. It is very accessible and incredibly diverse in art form, materials used, nature, inspiration…..I am also surprised to discover through-out the year, how “sculpture” is not really the isolated art form, I thought it was. It in fact infuses, permeates and influences Art and creative practices in a huge way….

Taking from Jane and I think we all can Culture Vultures; get outside more and really look at the natural world around you for it is full of undiscovered creative possibilities!

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