What is a curator? What do they do? I interviewed The Biscuit Factory’s curators to find out!

Curators are defined by The Oxford Dictionary as “the keepers or custodians of a museum or other collection”…. But what does that actually mean? Who are they, what do they do, why are they important to important to museums, galleries, heritage centres and the creative and cultural sector…..? I honestly believe the majority of folks out there have no idea what curators do and as a profession, as it’s not front facing to the public and a lot of what they do is behind closed doors – even in the cultural sector, their role can be perceived quite mysterious, there is a lot of misunderstanding and (in my opinion) there is often a bit of a disconnect between artists and curators.

Over recent years, the words “curate”, “curation” and “curator” have all be absorbed into popular culture and are so overused to the point of diluting their meaning. Folks now “curate” displays, a sandwich, a playlist…. The overuse of the word is a weeee bit of a trigger for me to go on a rant (understatement of the century – but we all have our burdens to bear)……you did not “curate” a sandwich, you simply made.a.decision.

So as part of my mission to shine a light on curators in general and what they do, I thought I’d reach out to The Biscuit Factory curators and see if they would be up for a Culture Vulture interview. The Biscuit Factory is the UK’s largest independent commercial art, craft & design gallery set in the heart of Newcastle’s cultural quarter of Ouseburn and one of my favourite galleries – I love the variety of work displayed – it’s full of colour and very different types of art and interiors. If you haven’t visited yet or haven’t for a while, it’s a must visit – it’s obviously closed right now due to COVID-19 but will be open once more in the future. You can check out The Biscuit Factor online gallery here to see the artists and art works they have on their books.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

I was delighted that the curators accepted, it can be quite scary Mary to have a stranger come in and question your work and processes – so I was prepared for the “no”.  But I got a big fat yes and I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with them (they were so lovely and lush!) asking all my questions…..and believe me, I had a lot thanks to my question call out on my social channels from my fellow Culture Vultures. Consequently, it was less of an interview and more of a creatively curious interrogation (my Line Of Duty obsession, has made me an EXCELLENT interrogator….”Mother of God..!”). But we did have a lush chat and strayed away from curator talk into debating creative careers and opportunities…..

So here we go, an interview The Biscuit Factory curators; Sam Waters, the 3D curator, Sam Knowles – 2D curator and Mika Browning – jewellery curator; this is a long LUSH interview, so buckle up and it’s perfect for your lock down reading.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – Right, let’s start with some intros for my readers and followers…  

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: My name is Sam Waters; I’m the 3D curator at The Biscuit Factory and I have responsibility for sourcing, managing and displaying the items which fall within the 3D product group here. Things like sculpture, ceramic, glass and furniture; basically stuff which is not wall based, although occasionally wall based too. I also look after the cards for the gallery and a few other sort of ancillary things. I’ve been here since 2010 so coming up to ten years.

Before this I was very briefly at another local gallery which doesn’t exist anymore called the Artworks Galleries where I did a mixture of things and event space things predominantly. Before that I was a self-employed copywriter and photographer. And that’s about it.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: My name’s Sam Knowles, I’m the 2D curator which means I’m in charge of paintings, prints and photography; the bigger part of that by far is the paintings and prints. I spend my time sourcing and inviting people to the gallery, managing their artwork, suggesting what comes here and what might sell the best, cataloguing it when it arrives, displaying it, looking after work in the store rooms that’s not currently on show, making sure all the stock is as it needs to be, putting on displays, making sure the gallery is constantly sort of replenished, should anything sell or be moved or sent back to artists and being the person to get that work ready should anyone want to collect stuff either having been sold or being returned to them for other exhibitions elsewhere.

I’ve been here since 2007; I originally started as a gallery assistant, then took on photography which used to be a bigger part here with a lot of graduate exhibitions. Now I spend most of my time in charge of paintings and prints and beyond that I’ve got some responsibility for how the gallery physically looks in terms of wall colouring and floor layout.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I’m Mika Browning, the jewellery curator and I’m quite new; I’ve been here for a year now. I look after all the jewellery that comes in and the display; it’s quite interesting for me because before this I’d been self employed as a jeweller myself for quite a long time, so I’ve kind of stepped to the other side.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: With you looking after three different departments within one gallery space, how do you all work together and collaborate as curators?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: It can be ad hoc coming together and collaborating. Often we won’t be totally aware of what each other’s booked in but when we’re putting a show together, we’ll make sure that things complement each other.

When we have an open call out like the recent Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020; we will go through the submissions together to pick out submissions to be a part of the exhibition – we had about 1200 submissions from all over the world and we worked together to display the work and shared the load.

But a lot of the time, we’re just in our own departments, getting in our own work; but once the work is here, we realise there’s common ground and if it will work together. There can be any number of reasons why one piece of art can go with another; its subject or colour or style or just the sort of person we think it might appeal to, even if the work itself is nothing like each other. That process tends to be something that happens once we are all actually out on the gallery floor, putting work together, working with what we have and often feeling our way through things.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: You mentioned the Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 open call out, how do you decide which pieces of art are included in an exhibition shortlist or “make the cut”?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: Well, ultimately it comes down do our knowledge, experience and what we like, which I appreciate is very hard to unpick and very subjective. We display work because we think it is interesting and to attract people to visit the gallery.

But a key decider is if we think it’s got artistic merit in how it was made and as we are a commercial gallery, we have to think whether or not it might appeal to someone to purchase or be of interest to someone commercially.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We use the same principles in choosing successful submissions from this Contemporary Young Artist Award 2020 open call out, as we do for the main exhibitions. But we probably have a little bit more leeway with this, to take a few more chances and to add a few things which are on the margins of what the main, day-to-day gallery exhibitions are. That’s kind the idea of doing this type of exhibition; we try to stretch the Biscuit Factory’s comfort zone a little bit and bring in newer and more progressive work.

We get submissions to the gallery from people wanting to exhibit on a daily basis. The basic cornerstones of the criteria we use to select pieces for all exhibitions, includes 1. the quality of the craft, regardless of what the subject is or what the medium is, 2. the standard of professionalism AND 3. the quality of presentation and the artistic vision. The Biscuit Factory is a very diverse space in terms of artwork displayed but everything that we have here, regardless of its aesthetic or its taste or its style, is of a high quality. The pursuit of quality helps us make choices when selecting work that might not be our own personal taste but we able to appreciate the quality and recognise that someone else might love it.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: As a commercial gallery, how do you tread the fine line, between selecting exciting, new, experimental and groundbreaking pieces and knowing your audience and knowing what they actually want to buy?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We are aware of what sells and we have a sales system, allowing us to see various different product groups and how they are performing – e.g. How many pieces of sculpture have sold in any given period or how many paintings have sold by a particular artist.

So we’re aware of that and we have to be guided by that to some extent. But there’s always a balancing act between being sales driven and the ethos of trying to show a range of works, some of which you accept may not be so commercially viable and we can’t just keep selling and displaying the same things; our visitors wouldn’t want that.  In a way, progression and sales have to go hand in hand because we can’t just keep selling the same type of work or the same artist’s work because eventually the sales would dry up.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I think the scale of The Biscuit Factory is so big, that actually there’s room for a very wide range of work here and we can afford to take some chances and have some really different things. I think a lot of people who haven’t visited us before would be surprised how big the range of work is here – there’s some very contemporary things, some very quirky things and some very traditional things; they all sit side by side quite well, quite comfortably because they are of a certain standard.

We sometimes think we know what is going to appeal to a particular type of Biscuit Factory visitor, but we are often wrong; you know someone who you’d assume would buy a traditional landscape actually goes for the really quirky portrait, or really minimalist etching.  Or they might be interested in all three!

We take pride in the fact that there’s something here for potentially everyone; behind our doors is a whole range of work waiting to be discovered all tucked in here.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think in terms of the jewellery, it’s a different sort of position because most of the jewellers that I work with are more commercial and used to that side of galleries. The jewellery is made to wear and own, rather than being looked at in a gallery, so that makes it a little bit easier for me when choosing between more ‘out there’ stuff.

Jewellers can send in more of their work as it doesn’t take up as much space; they might send a piece that’s kind of really high price and out there in design but then it can be paired with quite a lot of other pieces from a range which are really wearable, so that’s quite a fortunate position to be in as a curator that I can kind of manage to get in both.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: How would you describe the role of a contemporary curator and how do you feel about the overuse of the word “curate?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: Personally, I’m not precious about the word curator and I’ve always been aware that it’s a word that has many different applications or nuances and, people think of it in different ways.

I think it depends where you are as well because there are different kinds of curator and curation so it’s hard to be precious over; if you’re in a municipal gallery or the BALTIC or whatever it might be, even within one city there’s varying different sorts of curators, that aren’t really very comparable.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I guess “curate” is a word that a few years ago was quite niche and not used in the mainstream with connotations as quite highbrow. Now it’s become quite an everyday word and quite trendy, which is perhaps a bit odd.

I’ve been here a long time and what I understand of the word “curate”… or how I understand my job is not necessarily through the prism of being a curator; my job is what it is and when I read about other curators, they’re not necessarily particularly relatable positions to this one.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: For me, I think it’s more… I speak to early stage career artists and creatives in the industry that would like to get into curation and I feel that misuse of the word is removing the respect of the profession and understanding of it as a legitimate career path….  

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It’s diluted it a little bit but you can see that happening anyway through the democratisation of things through the internet and DIY elements across all creative activities. You don’t have to go to a web developer anymore to set up a website for example, you can do it yourself. I guess, the old gatekeepers who defined what a curator is and controlled the role, are dispersed a little.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Everyone’s artistic taste is subjective…. How do you feel if someone doesn’t like an exhibition you’ve curated or a piece of work you’ve put pride of place in the exhibition? Do you take it to heart?

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: We’re slightly sheltered from people’s comments about an exhibition on a day to day basis because we’re tucked away in our office getting on with the next exhibition. We do feel it more when you’ve spent 18 months talking to an artist and they’ve then made the work and it doesn’t sell as well as hoped when it gets here.

You can look back and think “maybe I didn’t quite get it right” or “maybe it was a bit too far out for here” but the fact is that sometimes, you can get someone in who you think is perfect for the people who, largely come here and it still won’t sell; that can be very frustrating and disappointing for you and for the artist.

There may be a reason you can identify but sometimes there’s no reasoning for it, it can just be a matter of bad luck or bad timing; you’ve got to get a lot of things right to sell a piece of artwork –  the right person has got to walk through the door, it’s got to be at the right time for them in their lives and head and it might be that there were hundreds of people that loved the work  but they just didn’t or couldn’t buy it. Sometimes when you send work back that hasn’t sold, days later someone will come in saying “have you still got it because I’d like to buy it?”….. A lot’s got to come together all at the right time, and sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think you can still take heart in that, even if you get something in that you love and then it doesn’t sell, it still kind of feels good that you put it out there; people might not be buying it but at least they’ve seen it. Maybe they love it but they can’t buy it for whatever reason, but it still feels nice to be able to be putting stuff like that out there.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: And you never know what it might do for an artist’s career longer term, the fact they’ve been seen. It’s another exhibition on the artist’s CV, another opportunity to display their work and that feels rewarding.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Sometimes there’s a bit of tension between artists/creatives and curators in regards to how work is displayed and some curatorial decisions of exhibitions…..

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I don’t feel I’ve had that very often; I guess you can’t please everyone 100% all the time. I think largely the artists, certainly in my department, are very happy to be here and we all work hard to make sure their work looks good, is well presented, nicely lit, hung straight and hung in an interesting way; I think more often than not the experience is pretty positive.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I’ve occasionally had artists sort of grumble about where their work is, that it’s not their first choice location in the gallery or how it’s displayed; but in most cases that is because they have not quite appreciated the scale of the place, how things are laid out and that it’s necessary to display work alongside other artists’ work – you can’t always get the degree of separation that some artists would like because we have so much work to display.  Our role is to make the best decisions overall and to bring together cohesive exhibitions on a bigger scale. Occasionally that might mean that a particular artist’s work is not 100% how they’d want it to be displayed or they might personally not like another artist’s work that is visible somewhere beyond their work in the sight line.

But, most people are appreciative that you’ve made such an effort to display their work in a sympathetic and considerate way, and are aware there’s a lot of work to juggle and that you’ve made decisions for the best presentation of the gallery as a whole.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: As a curator do you go to other exhibitions and reflect on the curation?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I recently went to the new gallery at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it was really inspiring!  Also, their shop space was really inspiring to me because that was where their jewellery and some ceramics were; I thought that it was beautifully curated and displayed.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: I get out far, far less than I should; I go to the degree shows, just out of curiosity but I feel further and further away from that now with age. I’ve got young children which means my free time is at soft play and not galleries. But I do love going to art fairs, I quite like going to places where there’s a big mix of stuff rather than just going to see one person’s exhibition, but yes I’d like to go out more.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I don’t get out as much as I’d like for all sorts of reasons. I’m always very aware of retail art things and maybe that’s what I’m kind of more influenced by, more aware of and absorb. I’m interested in the psychology of retail and people’s subconscious decision making, so in art retail situations I am aware of trying to read how things are set up, colour temperature, sightlines, positioning of things and the way they arrange the spaces.

Sam Knowles – 2D curator: When you work here it is hard to kind of turn off working here and to just enjoy an exhibition or art fair; you’re always thinking, that person could be good in the Biscuit Factory, taking a card or photographing the work or name of artist – so it’s hard to full immerse.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What is the process of seeking out artists to exhibit at The Biscuit Factory and how far in advance do you go planning?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: We do get submissions, some aren’t appropriate or quite right for us. The process is mostly us finding things, going out into the world and seeing it in person or online. Using Instagram as a platform is becoming increasingly prominent as a way of finding things for us.

For the big shows, we often book over a year in advance. Sometimes, if we have space available, we might find things and come across things that if the artist has stuff available, we might get work from them in very quickly. As our space is so big and we have such a variety of different ways of displaying things with a flexible display space, we can often shuffle things round and create some space.

The exhibition timeline can be anything from working with someone that we’ve worked with for ten years and booking them in two years in advance for a big show or coming across someone new and having their work here two weeks after you first saw it and everything in between. We have a big quarterly changeover but within that we have an ongoing evolution of displays and bring in new work in quite often; it always keeps the job fresh for us and hopefully fresh for our regular visitors.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What would your advice be to artists and folks who want to get their work into The Biscuit Factory? How should they approach the gallery?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: A lot of people want to show you the complete range of what they’re doing, so you might get a charcoal drawing of an animal, followed by a portrait, followed by a landscape and unfortunately that’s not much help to us. What we really need to see is a coherent collection from somebody, whether or not that’s the animals or landscapes. We’d prefer them to limit themselves to presenting one collection at a time. Some artists try and show you everything they’ve ever done and can do which is too much, instead of honing with focus. And we only take submissions by email.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: It just has to be really good; what I’m looking for are pieces that are really impeccably made and that is something that takes a long time to learn and produce.  The submissions that come through, that are a goer, you know straight away; they come in with confidence, they know what they’re doing, even if they haven’t worked with galleries yet and they’re new graduates, they still have total confidence and a passion about their work. They send in good images because they know that it is worth taking a good image because it’s a good piece.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Often with paintings we’ll get terrible images of the piece – it will be pixelated or they’ll be photographed next to a heavily patterned carpet in someone’s living room….

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It seems an old-fashioned thing to say but when there are typos and spelling mistakes, it sets you on the back foot. When you’re approaching someone for the first time in a gallery, I think it’s very important to be very precise, deliberate and hit the mark in the quality of your photographs and presentation of the work. We don’t have the time when receiving hundreds of submissions to de-pixelate photos or read through paragraphs of art speak. For the best chance, it’s about focusing on editing your work down to the best stuff, investing into quality images, reflecting on the way you’re presenting yourself and your tone of voice.  Top tip: you’re much better sending 3 really strong images than those three being hidden in amongst 15 things – edit, edit, edit, be tight, be professional and get good photographs.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: If someone comes in or sends a good email and is really nice to work with straight away, we think, “yeah I can see us working with you for 6 months and that’ll be pleasurable, easy and we know that we can rely on you”.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: When you depend on people to fill a gallery, you’ve got to be able to communicate with artists and them communicate effectively with you, build a rapport, have confidence in them that they can deliver, be reliable and you can get along with them. That’s what we are trying to gauge from their submission.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Some pieces and collections seem to stay displayed for a while at The Biscuit Factory – how do you decide which pieces stay and form part of the next exhibition and which ones come down?

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It’s intuition. Curator’s intuition. As much as we have stats and are led by those things, a lot of it is also instinct. We also talk to artists and get a feel for how their work has been received elsewhere and how they feel it’s performing here. For some pieces and types of work like sculpture and furniture, it really responds to having longer in the gallery and it can take customers quite a while, to finally commit to buying.

This contrasts quite vividly with paintings which generally sell best at the start and then gradually the sales will reduce. For sculptures and bigger 3D things, it’s quite a long lead-in time and there can be a period where you don’t make any sales at all. So, you just commit to it and have faith that more exposure will ultimately lead to the sale.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: There’s different reasons why paintings or prints might stay up; sometimes it’s because they’ve done well and you think there’s no point taking it down because hopefully it will continue to do well. Other times, like Sam says, sales might not have happened but you think “I just know there’s sales to be had from these” and it’s just a matter of time or the right person coming through the door so they deserve to be up.

It can also depend on where the work has come from, especially if they’ve delivered them from a long way away or the deal with the particular artist. Also, I feel if a particular artists work is on display too long, people become a bit blind to it so we might take down so when it goes back up again it’s fresh and people are pleased to see it back up.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: What’s the weirdest or the most unusual submission to the gallery you’ve had?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: A sculpted portrait in a jam-jar full of their collected toenail clippings; certainly a curious way of doing self-portrait with their own DNA.

The Culture Vulture: With the state of play of the world, have you seen a move towards protesty or political artist submissions?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Not so much, our submissions tend to be very much about self and people.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Yeah, subjects like identity, gender, feminism; I see more work addressing those issues. There’s always been a lot of that with younger people, but I think there is a little more of that now.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – Thinking about another contemporary issue – the environment! Have you changed any of your practices in terms of wrapping up work and things to do with environmental concerns; has that changed how you work?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: We’ve all been a bit more aware of it recently, in fact we tried just recently getting some cardboard bubble wrap, like a sort of textured, cardboard wrapping.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: Not in terms of the way the gallery works but I’m really focusing hard on trying to get ethical jewellers in, because the jewellery industry is a total nightmare; precious metals aren’t always produced ethically. We’ve had an ethical showcase, shining a light on jewellers working with recycled or Fairtrade metal and it’s my big target to get as many jewellers as possible working with that. I’ve been contacting jewellers who don’t currently work with ethical metals and telling them about suppliers, trying to get that moving here as a wider movement.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: When you’re working on an exhibition install – what’s it like? What tasks are involved?

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Well a lot happens on email before the work is here, it can be quite involved, suggesting and selecting what work, covering a range of price points and sizes. Then the work arrives; we have to check it off and catalogue it.

Using experience and intuition, I decide which prints and paintings work well next to each other without competing too much with each other – I spread out colours. styles and sizes so that there’s some balance to what is displayed. You want to be able to see the work as opposed to some heavily laboured curating; an exhibition is about the work, so you don’t want an arrangement that looks very heavily arranged. But you do want people to see particular pieces first, especially if there’s a large piece which you think is going to be a show grabber….The exhibition install is the really fun part of our jobs, we come out of our offices and get hands on.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: The install is a surprisingly small portion of the job though; from the outside, people might imagine that it is predominantly the job. Probably about 20% of our time is spent on actual installation of work, doing displays, thinking about the layout of the gallery, the lighting and the juxtaposition of various things. That’s the fun stuff, that’s what people see and that’s what people might imagine constitutes the job of a curator –  but the job is a lot broader than that and it’s about building relationships, a lot of administration, paperwork, analysis, managing stock, working out VAT codes…..

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I think that’s why we work hard to get good gallery submissions because you do so much work in the background and then it’s such a pleasure when you get really beautiful work in and you can take loads of pleasure in putting it on display.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: It can sometimes feel exciting when something’s arrived, you can forget for a while that it’s not just for you personally. For a short while, it’s like Christmas, unwrapping the “presents” and that is a nice feeling.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: And when putting the work up, you start to get a sense of the possibilities and the gallery that you’re putting the work into is kind of ever changing. A lot of the displays aren’t really planned per se in advance so it’s about thinking on your feet; that’s quite energising sort of thrilling.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – I imagine it being like…..remember the 90s programme Itsa Bitsa, where they had loads of art materials and then they’d go as a collective, pick all the stuff out and then it would all be like chaotic and then they’d create something collectively mint out of the chaos…

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: We have two weeks of full-time install for each quarterly show and we’re just on the gallery floor. There can be trollies of paintings going up and down, things propped against walls, boxes of jewellery, boxes of ceramic, whatever it might be and we try to keep it all clean because we don’t close; we’re open to the public. There is a moment where everything is in some state of flux and change and then somehow, normally with five minutes to go before everyone turns up for the preview, it suddenly all looks rather nice and it’s weird.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: It is weird how often really interesting displays come out of thin air and I would love to say that it was all very planned; may be at some level it is!  But also, twenty new painting deliveries might arrive at once, I might get twenty to thirty ceramic and sculptures and that’s all got to be arranged into the gallery in a coherent way that does the best for all those artists, you don’t necessarily have the fine details of that worked out but you’ve got a few days to curate it and out of that “something” happens! It just comes together in a way which is beautifully surprising and quite satisfying,

We are always too exhausted to really appreciate the exhibition at the end of the install.  The hour before the quarterly preview, we’re always generally still running around, polishing things and doing labels but there is always suddenly a moment of calm when I go “oh that’s come together and it looks pretty… pretty good and I really like how that sits with that.”

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: Pre-lock down – were there any current art trends or futures trends that are impacting and influencing how you select work?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I guess, social media is changing how you select work because you don’t necessarily need to go… I can get a jeweller in from the other side of the country but I don’t need to go see it. Some people are getting really good at promoting their work online I think that’s something that’ll happen more.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: Trends can be very subtle; like the colours of frames people choose or the fact that people change from making rectangular work to square work and all those things are subtly moving around all the time.

The Culture Vulture: I’m all about championing that there are so many routes into creative industries. Can you tell me what you studied and any advice you have for future creatives who would like to embark on a creative career path?

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: I studied jewellery and silversmithing in Edinburgh, so I do have a relevant degree. Then I was self-employed as a jeweller for a long time and then I had a small gallery space on the west coast of Scotland, where I got into the curating side of things!

I did really love doing my degree but if you’re interested in jewellery making, I would totally recommend going and doing an apprenticeship. Art college is great for concept and community but going to work with a traditional jeweller and getting that basis of skills will just set you up.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I have a degree in contemporary photographic practice from Northumbria and then I have an MA in Fine Arts Practice from Northumbria.

Advice for breaking into professional creative industries…… go out and make as many connections as possible, be open to things, attend things and broaden your horizons in any way possible. Advice from an art practice side, I’d say the same really and I think, just get good, in terms of making art!  I think a lot of people aren’t resolute or rigorous enough in getting good and people want… I guess people want to be famous, they want to be in galleries, they want to make money and obviously there’s pressures to be all of those things socially and economically but that can get in the way of building your own voice, which ultimately could be the foundation to your success. Some people want to shortcut that.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: I did a degree at Kent Institute in Canterbury for a year and then I did by BA at Newcastle University. Then I was a bit clueless really, I kind of floundered around for a very long time, reading the Evening Chronicle once a week hoping to find a very high paid arts job with my name on it and not knowing where else to look!

I don’t think my degree particularly did anything much to train me up to know where to find opportunities or to successfully apply for them when I found them; I did apply for various sculpture commissions and things without really knowing how on earth to put together a professional application. I spent some time working various retail jobs and then worked for about 18 months as an art technician in a sixth form college. I moved back here and became a postman, then I got a job here as a gallery assistant. I worked hard and tried to prove myself and when other opportunities came up, I applied and progressed.

In terms of advice, I suppose advice for artists would be slightly different to advice for future curators.  As much as I like my job I didn’t really set out to be a curator so it’s very hard to give advice to set yourself up to be one; I’m sure there are more tailored qualifications that would give you more chance of becoming a curator now.

Advice in terms of being a fine artist; that it’s important to hone in on one aspect of your work, even if you do lots of other kind of work for your own enjoyment. You’ve got to have something which is identifiably you, your signature, something that can be repeated to some degree to apply to galleries and connect to a specific customer base.

I guess, as Mika says, go and get some actual, specific experience, especially if you’ve done a fine art degree as it’s just so broad ranging, wide and potentially a bit wooly. I advise you to go down one route where you can start learning the skills that make you really good at something, rather than just having some ideas and tinkering. It took me a long time to do it; I was doing various part time jobs to free up studio time to make – I’d paint a portrait one week, then get frustrated and think that the new future of me was going to be landscapes and then decide it was printing and then something else… I spent years floundering around like that with nothing much to show for it. It’s only in the last four or five years, especially through working here, that I’ve narrowed everything to one or two things and tried becoming more professional on those. My advice would be to get to that stage, quicker than I did!

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I’d tell them to expect to have to flounder around for a bit. Perhaps now in the age of the internet. 15 years ago, when we graduated, it was a different world or it looked like a different world; it looked less easy to penetrate. Whereas now, I think people have social media and they have their own websites much more quickly;  I think that can lead to people wanting to shortcut it; but the floundering bit is character making, humbling, exposing you to failure and doubt, working out how to fit yourself into the world rather than just steadfastly standing there saying “I’ve graduated, I’ve got a website, world come at me/world fit around me”.

You’ve got to find your way into the world a little and I think it’s that, that is the source of a lot of discontent as some graduates are unprepared for the reality and competitiveness of the world.  You’ve got to expect it and understand that the world is indifferent to you at first, even if you’ve got a website and a first-class degree in Fine Art. The reality is you’re still going to have to work at it really hard; if you’re not prepared and hungry for it, it’s going to be even harder. I’m sure that we’ve all experienced difficulties in trying to find a route into the arts, with our own personal practice or professionally; but I think more than ever people are unprepared for the difficulty and it’s more competitive than ever! So you’ve got to go into an artist career with your eyes open or it can be quite damaging – the world can be quite hostile.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture – I do a lot of work with young people and I’m starting to see less young people choosing to go into creative industries because they are viewed as a whole mass together and that there aren’t the opportunities….if you’re looking to go into a visual arts career, then yes it’s very competitive. But if you want to go into graphic design, app development, animation, outdoor event producing, tech  – well there are LOADS of opportunities….

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I feel like it’s irresponsible to send so many kids off to vague creative degrees and fine art degrees; many are left at the end high and dry when they finish. I had this experience in my final year of my BA, literally a couple of weeks before the end of it, we had a seminar about the outside world and how to write a letter to a gallery and it was like a one hour thing…..

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator: After a four year degree, I did not know how to apply for a commission or how to write an Arts Council grant. It’s unforgivable that you can get through that amount of degree and not know those things.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Some artists have no awareness of the landscape in which they’re meant to be a professional in or they are meant to be qualified and don’t know materials, don’t know the processes, don’t know what opportunities there might be or how you apply for them. It happens all the time.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

The Culture Vulture: It’s the same with outdoor light installation work – many aspiring outdoor sculptors/light installation makers out of University have brilliant conceptual ideas but no knowledge of the technical aspects of what it takes to make a sculpture durable outdoors and the technical aspects to deliver on a light installation….

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  It happens. Soon after graduating, I had this bronze commission for a school in Jarrow, a big bronze snail, I had no idea how to secure it to the ground and in about half an hour, having welded a couple of bowls, I just filled it with as much cement as I could and tried to wedge some holes into the ground. If that hadn’t worked and it actually needed to be on a stone base or welded, then I’d have been stuck. I had just had no idea at all!

The Culture Vulture: And just a final thing, I am really interesting in this “positivity” ethos at the moment on social, manifesting success and an extreme push towards “only do what makes you happy” across our whole lives – on one hand that’s brilliant but I think we’re gradually conditioning some people to forget that life is hard, that to get to where you want to be it is tough and sometimes you have to wade through a whole lot of difficult and challenging stuff…..and that’s normal and ok.

Mika Browning – jewellery curator: It’s really unrealistic.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: Yeah, and also you might not even get there, no matter how hard you work; there’s this idea, this myth, that if you work really hard, you’ll get what you deserve.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  Well we’ve all said this but our generation feels like we were told by our parents’ generation that you can naturally – unlike them, who just got a job and had to work hard at it for fifty years, that you can be anything you want to be as long as you set your mind to it but actually to become a very successful commercial artist is not attainable for most people and even if you’re trying, you’re not necessarily geared up for how much work there is involved. I’m sure there’s a lot of people of our generation, that are very frustrated that the false promise didn’t come off.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: I think people take it on as a personal failing; whereas it is really a structural failing in a broader societal sense and also there aren’t enough opportunities for all the graduates coming out of Art School. And you know, like Sam said about his experience, you don’t really know what path it is that you’re taking and then you look back and you’ve arrived somewhere.

Sam Knowles – 2D Curator:  You just find yourself in unusual places in your life, take what comes your way and carve out your own opportunity.

Sam Waters – 3D Curator: In retrospect, it looks like there was a plan because it led you somewhere that turns out to be decent but actually it’s just a series of coincidences, circumstances, situations and chances; you find your way through it and I think people are perhaps less aware that is the reality of how it is, now more than ever. More people have bigger expectations and are fed this idea of the clear route to something; it’s pretty dubious to set people up like that.

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The Culture Vulture at The Biscuit Factory – photo credit Marion Botella

Wow – what interesting curator chat! You can check out The Biscuit Factor online gallery here to see the artists and art works they have on their books. The Biscuit Factory underpins the livelihood of over 50 staff, supports the careers of thousands of artists and attracts over 100k visitors a year into the local economy. They do not receive public funding, arts council financial support or rely on any grants to carry out work, so for the first time in their 17 year history, they are asking for support and donations. You make a donation or purchase something like a card, or lunch from their café HERE.

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. xx

Interview with Newcastle Artist Pointer – MIND FULL MESS

If you’d asked me the question last week – “where’s your head at!?” – well I’d have said – a bit worried, but excited for lots of things to come and happenings. Now you’re asking me a week on – well… not as much in a pit of doom as I was a day or so ago but I’m circling it. The world as we once knew – individually and collectively – will never be the same again. It’s all A LOT to take in!

In the wake of what’s happening, social media has exploded into a well-meaning (sometimes!) explosion of noise, information, guidance – it’s suffocating. It’s bringing out the best and worst in people – a lot of projection IMO. Some of the elements of social media that we all know is bad for us and creates anxiety, disillusionment, chaos and everything in between, is unfolding in this period of uncertainty in which 24 hour news is being consumed like Crack. I feel like I’m trapped in a Black Mirror episode.

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Artist credit – Pointer – image from Insta

MIND FULL MESS by Newcastle artist Pointer, explores both those things – it provokes you to reflect on the question of “where’s your head at?” in the wider context of the social media world. Of course, this exhibition and it’s work was created before Covid-19 was a thing but viewing it and reflecting on it, in this new light has been interesting and for me, added a whole new layer to the work and actually, provided comfort.

Little did I know when the invitation to the opening of it at B&D Studios (the exhibition was set to run until end of March but is currently closed); that it would actually have such a profound effect, long after viewing. As someone who struggles with the concept of mindfulness (my brain just isn’t wired that way) and also navigating the relentlessness nature of 24/7 social media life (even more relentless in the context of now) – I thought the concept behind the exhibition sounded amazing.

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The MIND FULL MESS exhibition was filled with bold and thought provoking, mixed media skull pieces revolving around the theme of social media, the digital age and its effect on our potentially brilliant minds and mental health. Each skull summed up exactly how my brain feels at some point every single week or how it has felt times a million this week. Each skull was a provocation to reflect and check in with myself whilst considering that folks could be feeling any number of those thoughts or emotions…..

Before I get into the interview with Pointer – which was planned before Covid-19 ramped up to this level – I have a few take aways for my readers….

  1. Ask yourself the question “where’s your head at” at least once a day – check in with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself space. Give your mind chance to process and breathe.
  2. Take some time away from social media and put your phone down for a few hours a day – I’ve had freelance friends and art friends turning off their phones and muting notifications for their sanity – being overloaded by information and advice through various “groups” as other desperately try and figure things out, might not be helpful to you right now.
  3. Pointer is a fantastic artist and this was a selling exhibition – like many the current state of play will have hit his wallet hard. If you like the skull pieces and would like to purchase or interested in a commission – (hey we are all going to be spending time in doors for a while, so may as well colour up those walls) – contact him via his website: http://www.bypointer.com or via his insta: @bypointer

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*Get ready for the question that triggers existential crisis….Who are you?*

I am a Newcastle based Artist by the name of Pointer.

*Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?*

After studying Graphics I drifted into a career as a commercial artist; making artwork for other people, companies and even other artists. For a long time I was quite comfortable being the guy that worked behind the scenes – without an outlet for my own personal work.

*Where did the name Pointer come from?*

That just happens to be my surname.  After a childhood of kids pointing fingers at me, I grew tired of it but I kind of like it again now.

*Tell me about your exhibition MIND FULL MESS?*

The exhibition is a collection of 16 artworks I have been working on since September. The tagline for the show is ‘In a 24/7 always ON culture, where’s your head at?” It’s a snapshot of peoples’ state of mind, a look at modern anxieties caused by living in the social media age.

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*How did the relationship with B&D studio come about?*

Someone kindly put my name forward for a show and I thought why not.

They have a free hosting space and take a generously small cut of sales.  I met James the manager on a tour of the gallery and later when a studio became available I felt it would be a good opportunity to progress my work.

*The show is called MIND FULL MESS – as someone whose mind is always a bit of a mess and has tried mindfulness and just doesn’t get it – I relate! Have you tried mindfulness?*

I think playing my music loud, stepping outside to take a walk once in a while and not taking my phone to bed are measures that are enough for me most of the time – I have never felt the need to do yoga on a beach at sunset listening to Enya.

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 Pointer – MIND FULL MESS

*What do you want people to take away from the exhibition?*

Just to make people think or connect somehow with the work or look at things from a different perspective. That’s the most you can expect from art I guess.

*Tell me about inspiration for the pieces and exhibition?*

The initial impetus of the idea was wanting to show visually what’s going on in your brain whilst you are doing something mindless. I was thinking of some kind of internal conflict where one part of your brain is busy staring at the flashy lights whilst the other side of your brain is screaming for you to think.

*I feel like I live that conflicted reality …. So as a commercial artist – where is your head at with social media?*

I feel one format of social media is enough for me (Pointer is on Instagram – @bypointer). I chose the more visual platform of Instagram but there are long periods where I ignore it. I would happily pay a subscription for Instagram to ditch the ads and the restrictive algorithms. I realise I spend too much time reporting each ad I see as spam.

That’s a big negative for me, advertising really disengages me with what potentially is a great tool for artists. It’s a love / hate relationship!

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 Pointer – MIND FULL MESS – taken from Insta

*I think most people feel like that with social media….can you tell me a bit about the process of making each piece?*

Each piece features numerous laser cut wooden elements, these are all hand painted with sealer, primer and acrylic.  I have also used cut Perspex and steel which is then screen printed on. The pieces are then assembled and put together to make the final artworks.

*What’s next for you?*

I had planned on showing work at the recently postponed Nowt Special event and also the Late Shows in May (both postponed due to Covid-19). So, I guess I will get back to the sketchbook, it would be nice to book in another big exhibition project but will see what happens.

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 Pointer – MIND FULL MESS – taken from Insta

Thank you Pointer! Total talented gem!

Just to reiterate on my close of this blog interview – the current state of play will have hit his wallet hard. If you like the skull pieces and would like to purchase or interested in a commission –– contact him via his website: http://www.bypointer.com or via his insta: @bypointer – artists need our support right now.

Stuart Langley; an artist lighting up the world one installation at time…

So I’ve had a full weekend of Culture Vulturing – I’ve been all over the place to galleries previews, to live painting, to workshops, to Christmas markets, to the theatre, to Lumiere Durham and I can tell you, that it has given me a total Monday spring in my step.

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Giant Slinky – End Over End at Lumiere Durham

It has filled my soul with such lushness and all feels great in the world of the Culture Vulture, today on this glorious Monday. Lumiere Durham was of course, a total highlight…. I mean…. WOW! I LOVE Durham at the best of times, but with light installations, sculpture and projections around every corner, I fell in love with it more. So after Lumiere Durham, catching up with Stellar Projects ahead of Nightfall AND hitting up Light Up North’s residency launch at The Biscuit Factory on Friday eve – my world is presently #lit with my love for light installations so it just feels like the perfect time to share this interview with one of my hands down fave light artists, Stuart Langley.

Stuart Langley is one of many artists creating a BRAND new light installation art work for Nightfall 2019 (last few tickets still available for this lush outdoor event in Teesside) and he is someone I’ve fangirled from a far for ages. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of championing his work, programming his work, I’ve even got slightly drunk at a Curious Arts auction and purchased his work and across 2019, I’ve worked with him multiple times. It’s funny in the freelance world – folks like Stuart, whilst I’ve only met a couple of times in *real* life, due to ongoing projects, I speak to him more currently than some of my mates.

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Stuart Langley

Stuart is a graphic designer, maker, installation creator and neon rule breaker…. His light installation pieces are just amazing. I knew from the moment, he created a toilet with a neon rainbow coming out of it, that he’d cemented his place on my top fave artist list. AND he’s a local lad from Hartlepool, big up the North creating work on a National (and International) field.

I’m BEYOND excited to see his new piece at Nightfall – I’ve seen the mock up drawing of and I know where it is going to go – it’s epic, it’s brilliant, it’s colourful, it’s ambitious….it’s VERY Stuart Langley.

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So without further ado…. Let’s hear from Stuart!

Hi Stuart, we’ve had this interview on the cards for ages…. So let’s get down to it for my readers; who are you and what’s your practice?

I’m Stuart Langley and I design, create and imagine things with lights and that.

Standard Culture Vulture question…… tell us about your journey into the creative arts?

I’ve always created – from making model rollercoasters and stop motion animation as a kid to being able to create big installations nowadays. I didn’t do a degree in the arts (I ended up doing Japanese and French), not even a GCSE, because I was always told being creative could only ever translate into a hobby. I ended up doing a foundation degree in graphic design and worked (and still do) as a graphic designer which gave me the confidence to imagine on a big scale.

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Amusements – Stuart Langley

It’s so bizarre that folks don’t believe that there is a career possible in the creative industries and that message is still being communicated….Your pieces are really interesting, some have a ‘Langley flare’ and others are completely different in style…. Where do you get the inspiration from for your pieces?

Anywhere and everywhere but anything that holds my interest for longer than a day or so is always worth developing.

Tell me about your involvement with Nightfall 2019?

For Nightfall, the plan is to create a piece that is going to reanimate the iconic aviary space which is very exciting but kinda intimidating as it’s a space I’ve wanted to do something in for ages. I’m just one of a number of commissioned artists that are going to be turning Preston Park into a magical moon themed escape for two nights in December.

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Hartlepool Art Gallery – Stuart Langley Solo Exhibition

Tell us a little more about your piece? What was the inspiration?

So the iconic Aviary is going to be filled with about 3,000 floating iridescent butterflies that should look a little like magic. The work is inspired by a moment: at the end of July this year I looked out of the window and saw hundreds of butterflies everywhere – I was having a shit day and it made me smile.

Apparently, painted lady butterflies make an annual 7,500 mile trip from Africa to the Arctic Circle every year and 2019 just so happened to feature a major pit stop on the Teesside coastline. So, thinking about extraordinary journeys in the sense of 2019 being the anniversary of the first moon landing, the aim is to create a piece which celebrates a magical journey of the natural world.

Why should folks get tickets for Nightfall 2019 and see your piece?

First off, for a one-of-a-kind and memorable trip out on a cold December evening, it’s a bargain. Plus, there is so much going on in the programme, there is bound to be something for everyone to enjoy – not forgetting the appearance of the iconic ‘Museum of the Moon’ by Luke Jerram which is surely reason enough to get tickets.

There feels a real buzz around culture and events in Teesside at the moment – do you feel that too?

Yes – Teesside and its people, have so much resilience, humour and creativity. It’s good to be the underdog and so many organisations (the Auxiliary, Pineapple Black, Platform A, Navigator North, Creative Factory etc etc) are proper flying the flag for creativity in the North East. There’s a ridiculous myth that art happens down South and although there is a higher concentration of cultural activity down there I think Teesside is able to put a completely different spin on things.

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Neon and That – Stuart Langley

I couldn’t agree more and In Teesside you see that real unique partnership work of Indie galleries and orgs working together with the more “traditional sector players”….you don’t often see that. Back to your work, you often create outdoor art pieces that require real technical knowledge to survive the elements – do you enjoy the creative challenge that creates?

To say that I create things is a bit of a fib. I’m fortunate to work with so many other people with so many different skills and knowledge and the success of a piece is always reliant on the quality of the collaboration. It’s essential to collaborate when you’re coming up with ideas for outdoor pieces as there are so many different factors to consider.

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Over – Stuart Langley

Tell us about your involvement with Curious Arts (who will also be popping up at Nightfall!)?

Being a gay lord myself, I think it’s important to support work that champions the outsider and increases visibility of LGBTQ+ comrades. Curious Arts are doing some really ground-breaking work in terms of making the arts part of a wider drive for equality and I’m always happy to play a small part in that.

(The Culture Vulture adds – Following the success of Start’s installation ‘over’, featured as part of Curious Festival 2016, Curious Arts reconnected with him to reimagine the World AIDS Day ribbon. Curious Arts challenged Stuart to create an artwork inspired by the World AIDS Day charity ribbon to reinstate its distinctiveness in ensuring visibility for the 36.7 million people globally who are living with HIV & AIDS.

36point7 saw the creation of 36.7 of Stuart’s neon light box, available for a minimum donation of £360.70 each. Curious Arts’ ambition is that each limited edition piece will be displayed in a visible public area for a minimum of two weeks annually – National HIV testing week and the week of World AIDS Day (1st December). In addition, a large touring piece is in development which will be accompanied by a programme of workshops and talks delivered in partnership with local HIV & AIDS affected communities. I purchased one of the smaller Light boxes for £360.70 to support the project)

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Do you have a fave piece that you’ve created? If I had a gun to your head and you had to pick one?

I’ve never had a gun to my head, a few other choice implements but never a gun – so that’s quite difficult. I am never happy with the work I put out – it’s a feeling a lot of other creatives have – there’s always something that could have been done differently to improve the end result. But staring down that loaded barrel, there’s a work I keep revisiting called VHS R.I.P. (the fourth incarnation of it was shown at Pineapple Black earlier in the year, the first version was shown as part of Nuit Blanche Brussels way back in 2014) which has a very exciting mix of subject and material: video tape, horror and light. Maybe being obsessed with films like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and The Never Ending Story as a kid has something to do with my love of VHS and wanting to give it a proper send-off/funeral but it’s also nice to think of defunct technologies like absent friends and do right by them through celebration.

LOVE that answer….Tell me about the toilet with the rainbow coming out of it?

I’m a big fan of the work of people like John Waters, David Hoyle and more recently the artist Christeene. They all promote the idea of revealing and celebrating the beauty to be found in the dirt; ultimately highlighting the ridiculousness and hilarity of modern values that try and push us towards glazing over the more unsavoury and carnal aspects of our existence. So, the rainbow in a bog considers a lot of these ideas as well as being a direct response to some of Bobby Benjamin’s work which I thought looked a bit like the insides of a very healthy and active bowel.

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Rainbow in a Bog – Stuart Langley

Tell me about a fellow artist that inspires you currently?

I went to see Christeene perform Sinead O’Connor’s The Lion The Witch and The Cobra at the Barbican recently and loved how feral and honest her performance was. She has so much drive and ambition and never apologises for being so intense and direct – her energy is inspirational and I hope one day I can take my own work to a level where it might have a positive impact on other people’s lives.

Any advice for future creatives?

Just make stuff.

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Two Hearts – Stuart Langley

You don’t really do much social media – which blows my mind – how do you champion yourself and your work?

I came off Facebook in 2013 or summat and have since ditched everything else, most recently turning off Instagram. There was a time when what you experienced and what people told you directly mattered most and whilst there are some really good things about social media I personally think it adds too much noise, distraction and negativity to our lives. Maybe I’ll turn it back on in a year or so when all the commissions dry up from lack of presence on the internet.

Well, if you need a social media “representative” look no further! Do you have a highlight of 2019 so far?

I’m working on two big projects at the moment – the Nightfall installation and something for Ushaw College in Durham so fingers crossed I don’t fuck it up…

What’s next for Stuart in 2020 – anything you can share?

All buns in the oven for now but I would really, really like to make a ghost train before I pass away…

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Cars – Stuart Langley

Can I be one of the first to ride it please? Thanks Stuart, an artist who inspires me and reminds me that my dream of having a house full of neon art work to dance around near, on a Friday night, is more possible than ever before. See, all you folks planning your families and lives and I’m planning when I can afford a Langley commission, with a Light Up North commission and a Dan Cimmerman….

To see Stuart’s new commission at Nightfall 2019, why not nab one of the last few tickets available….. I’m so excited to see it in person! You can’t follow Stuart on social but he does have a website…so you can check him out there!

Enchanted Parks 2018 the Artist edition…..celebrating outdoor art and hidden stories with Helen Yates!

We’ve been blessed across the North this year for outdoor festive events – you could literally attend something lush and magical every day and night. When you’re attending you might forget that these events are only possible thanks to a mega team of creatives; a project team and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears that make such events happen. Since I’ve started working on outdoor events as The Culture Vulture, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for these people and all the artists/creatives involved.

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The Finders Keepers at Enchanted Parks, Theatre Space NE (Photo: Rich Kenworthy)

I recently attended this year’s Enchanted Parks at Saltwell Park; Enchanted Parks is an outdoor after dark arts adventure around the park with light installations, sound, performance – all based around a theme. This year the theme was The House of Lost and Found – the story of a mysterious travelling circus that collects lost things and reunites them with their owners. You can get a sense of this year via this year’s professional photos from local (and bliddy amazing) photographer Rich Kenworthy.

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Enchanted Parks 2018 Photo: Rich Kenworthy

In my opinion, it was a great year and I loved all of the installations – quite different than previous and pushing the boundaries! A firm favourite of mine was an installation called ‘Precious and Found’ by Helen Yates – Burning Light Arts. Helen’s installation consisted of hanging in the branches of the Cherry Tree Walk in Saltwell Park, a series of birdcages hosting a fascinating array of curiosities, each with a story to tell.

I became really curious about what it’s like to be behind the scenes, working on this type of event and the artist experience! How scary mary, but also lush to have your artwork out there for all to see – night after night! So I decided to reach out to Helen Yates for the artist perspective – to find out more about her piece, how she came to be a part of this year’s Enchanted Parks and of course, her Enchanted Parks experience as an artist!

So step forward Helen Yates, one of this year’s Enchanted Parks’ artists!

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

Hi Helen, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you – so let’s start at the beginning for my Culture Vultures; tell me about you? Who are you?

Who am I? Strangely enough I made a piece a number of years ago with that very title, a textured, wax wall piece that incorporated the phrase in as many languages as I could track down. Some languages don’t even have the words to be able to ask the question!

Me? Well…… I have had a number of labels over the years: artist, lead artist, educator, lecturer, project manager, workshop leader, schools’ artist….I reckon my most enduring labels have been mother and artist.

Can you describe your arts practice?

I am one of those people that loves to gather new skills, materials and processes; so my work varies. I feel I have succeeded whatever the piece is, if I can create a response, a need to touch or discover more. Site specific installation tends to be my preferred way of working at the moment. I want to make work that fits the people and place that it is intended for and introduce some elements of hidden stories and thoughts for people to question. Temporary installations are great because people and places change, so I like that the work doesn’t feel static.

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The Lost and Found Tree, Dave Young at Enchanted Parks 2018. Photo: Rich Kenworthy

I ask every artist I interview this question….what was your journey into the arts?

From a very young age, I loved to read and draw. My mum would order me outside to ‘get some fresh air’ when she thought I had stayed in my room to long…. I would take my books and pencils outside and sit until I went numb with cold.

Throughout my life I have drawn, made and created things. My journey wasn’t as typical as most but I was always determined to go to college and university to ‘prove I was a creative’, so just after my son was born I did. I gained my degree and 2 daughters along the way! From there I hounded my local arts officers and officially became an artist. Three children and tight finances led to diversifying into college teaching and from there into arts development whilst still working as an artist.

What inspires your practice?

There are probably three things that have been extremely influential in shaping what I do. The first was at Uni; I obsessively drew and painted large scale nude figures in empty spaces – I wanted to portray being ‘human’. Secondly, when asked why I never incorporated objects or clothes, my response was that these things labelled people, put them in categories, people made assumptions. The more I thought about it, it led me to thinking about the power of objects and how we respond to them. I have always loved history, so archaeology and how objects are used to build pictures of long gone people become the overriding theme in my work…. Objects ruled! The third event was my visit to the Tate modern some years ago and seeing Cornelia Parkers Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View – she exploded a shed and its collection of objects into thousands of pieces and then reconstructed them in mid-air, creating a still, quiet and beautiful moment in time from a noisy, destructive moment in time. I saw how installations transformed and created their own spaces and this idea has stayed firmly in my mind.

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Cornelia Parkers Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View

Can’t believe I’d forgotten about Cornelia’s piece – went to see it at the Tate and WOW! But back to you….You had an installation at this year’s Enchanted Parks – how did that come about?

I came across the opportunity and loved the theme…. The idea of storytelling and lost objects immediately caught my attention. I have collaborated with storytellers on previous projects; I feel it’s a wonderful way of creating a new link between the work and audience. It invites people into thinking about an objects past, its meaning and the people that owned it. I want my work to engage children as well as adults so this commission had the possibility to do all of that. So I applied and I am extremely glad to say I was asked to create my proposal for the Cherry Tree walk at Saltwell Park.

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

What was the inspiration behind the piece?

The overriding theme of the commissions for Enchanted Parks 2018 was put forward within the brief and some images were sent within this to visualise these ideas. Within this was an image of a contortionist who had squeezed into a birdcage, it was a very striking image, if a little sinister! From here I wondered where Peter Chavalier (travelling circus leader) might store all his found objects on his travels and birdcages seemed very portable and just the kind of thing he might use to keep the found objects safe. They also seemed an excellent way of lighting and displaying the Precious and Found objects.

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Helen during the rigging process for Enchanted Parks 2018

How did you chose what items went inside the cages? Loved the Octopus and it was a firm favourite for visitors!

Thank you! The items were inspired by my research into what items have ended up in lost property offices around the world and it seems some very unusual items have been found, including an octopus on the London underground – probably not as big as the one in Precious and Found… but you never know! Can you begin to imagine though how anyone can lose a bag of skulls, a prosthetic leg or a missile guidance system? Of course others are more usual, the teddy bear and the puffer fish (well maybe not!!).

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

What does it feel like having families and culture vultures seeing your work every night and engaging so positively with it?

It makes me smile, even when I saw a toddler vigorously tugging at the octopuses leg one half of me was worrying that the leg would stay on, the other was chuckling and loving the intense concern that the child had, wanting to free a foam and latex, pink octopus..… I love the interaction…. It’s why I do it.

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

What did you think of this year’s Enchanted Parks theme?

Excellent! It has given rise to a lot of varied and excellent work. I feel the way the theme has been created is extremely creative in itself …. Well done Enchanted Parks!

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The Little Legionnaires of Lost and Found Studio McGuire at Enchanted Parks 2018 – Photo: Rich Kenworthy

I recently found a story about a day in the life of a chicken written by a 6 year old me – it’s so lush and pure; I don’t remember being obsessed with chickens but apparently I was a big chicken fan as a mini….have you ever found something that you thought you’d lost forever?

That’s a lovely story….chickens make excellent children’s characters! Unfortunately my response is not so lovely. After a brain injury some years ago, I lost the ability to walk, communicate and draw even a simple circle! Over the following years I found all these things again.  Words can’t explain my relief at knowing they were not lost forever.

The Little Legionnaires of Lost and Found Studio McGuire at Enchanted Parks 2018 – Photo: Rich Kenworthy

They say that the brain never really forgets – it’s just the path to remembering which is damaged. Whilst all the pieces are fantastic this year – do you have one that stands out and you’d say is one of your faves?

Can I cheat and chose two? I love And Now’s piece with its carousels and fire garden and the lost and found labels hung by the visitors are a treat to read. Whilst that piece is beautiful low tech, I also love The Mcguires’ Studio pieces, The Little Legionnaires, I love the mix of tech wizardry and the beautifully constructed 3D elements that make up their enchanting illusions.

Merry Glow Round, And Now at Enchanted Parks 2018. Photo: Rich Kenworthy

Now EP is done and dusted – do you have a bit of down time? Christmas plans?

Not yet, I have workshops in schools immediately after the de installation, after that hopefully a mince-pie and brandy or two might be in order!

Looking back across the year, tell me about a highlight for you/your practice in 2018?

2018 has been a good year for work – I have been kept busy and produced work that I have enjoyed creating so I can’t ask for more. Of course Enchanted Parks has been my highlight, great people, great place, met lots of interesting artists from around the country, excellent food (think I’ve put on half a stone!) all in all a very lovely and interesting opportunity.

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Nova by Studio Vertigo at Enchanted Parks 2018. Photo: Rich Kenworthy

What is on the horizon for you 2019?

I enjoy collaborating with other artists, especially when they bring very different skills to the mix, so I have a couple of ideas in the pipeline…..watch this space!

Well thank you Helen! Such an interesting insight into being a part of Enchanted Parks and it’s been lush to hear about the artist experience. Really looking forward to seeing how Helen’s 2019 unfolds….

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Precious and Found by Helen Yates at Enchanted Parks 2018 (Photo:Rich Kenworthy)

Promise not to leave it soon long Culture Vultures!

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.

 

Digital Makings Artist of the Month November; Lesley-anne Rose

Digital Makings has led to direct exposure to the wonderful world of digital arts and many fantastic digital artists that work in this area. Digital art is a wonderful world that encompasses everything from music, to photography, to film, to animation, to CAD, to creative coding and hacking, to more traditional arts and mediums infused with digital elements.

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Animation workshop October 2016

The thing that I find so absolutely fascinating about digital art is that firstly, my preconception going into Digital Makings was all wrong. I believes that digital arts and traditional arts were quite separate; however what I’m finding through the project of Digital Makings, is that traditional arts still has an integral part to play with many artists using sculpture, drawing, painting, etc within their digital arts practice. In fact, digital art and traditional art are so complementary and where they meet and overlap, there is real synergy that can lead to real creative results.

Secondly, Digital Art is a continuously evolving process of experimentation and learning. If we think how rapidly technology is developing, how often new apps and programmes are constantly being launched and updated; it happens daily. In the midst of designing workshops related to apps, we’ve had their capabilities wildly transform or often, disappear altogether replaced by something newer. Clearly this constant evolution and change will affect Digital Arts and the artists that engage in those mediums. To me, their practice could arguably be described in an exciting state of flux.

Over the recent weeks, I’ve worked with a brilliant North East based Digital artist; Lesley-anne Rose as part of Digital Makings.

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Lesley-anne Rose

Lesley ran an animation workshop on 15th October and a family music workshop on 12th November as part of the Digital Makings activity programme. Both were at Gateshead Central Library and both workshops were amazing!

Click here to watch the animation produced at her Digital Makings animation workshop

Talking to Lesley, I could see we had a lot in common, we were passionate about similar community agendas, both a bit unconventional and in love with the weird and the wonderful. I then looked at her animation showreel, which is absolutely amazing and knew that I had to make her my November artist of the Month.

Click here to watch Lesley-anne’s professional showreel!

Lesley-anne Rose is an Artist and Arts educator who works across photography animation and sculptural platforms. She has a special interest in stop motion animation and model making. She works with community organisations such as We engage and Baltic Stars facilitating creative digital engagement. She has had animations commission by the likes of Channel 4BALTIC and has even animated a music video!

I caught up with Lesley, to get some insight into the world of the digital artists, to find out what inspires her animations and how she overcomes rapidly changing technology alongside participatory barriers to engagement……

Hi Lesley, Tell me about your arts practice?

I work across a few mediums, from photography to sculpture and model making; though my speciality is stop motion animation.

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 Lesley-anne Rose

I am interested in the comic and the banal things in life; I take a lot of photographs of rubbish in bushes for some reason. I have also been collecting film footage of people doing something I am fascinated with, the drag queen from the Black Garter Pub in Newcastle for example. I am not sure what I will do with the filming yet.

Favourite project of 2016 so far?

I think the Art and SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environments) project with Helen Burns at Newcastle University; I liked this project because independent thinking, ownership and agency are central to the experience. Children get to make decisions about their own learning and once that happens you can feel the energy in the room change in a good way!

Can you tell me a bit about your involvement with We engAGE?

I work with Claire and another two Artists facilitating digital engagement to older people and people living with Dementia.

I have met and worked with some amazing people as part of this project! Recently we have been looking at sustainability, working with schools and care homes together; we are hoping to foster long term partnerships between older people and students.

Why are participatory workshops a good means to engage in digital and new types of technology?

In a workshop, you can try applications with someone who can help you navigate complex software in order to make something, like an animation, piece of music, digital drawing or a computer game. Access to digital learning is something I am really passionate about.

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Lesley- anne Rose: Animation workshop October 2016

What do you find are the common barriers to engagement in Digital Arts and Digital in general and how do you seek to overcome them?

Cost, knowledge and confidence are major barriers as well as age and access. There are still a lot of people who don’t have access to any digital facilities for various reasons. My job as a facilitator is to make the equipment less scary and more of a tool for creative use.

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Why did you decide to take the Digital Arts route?

For me it was a means to an end; I wanted to make better animations and saved up to buy the laptop, software and camera that would enable me to take a step up in quality.

I really enjoy the learning process and became interested in a few software packages that are fantastic for any budding creative; Photoshop, Dragonframe, Final Cut Pro-editing software and most recently, Game Maker software.

Even though all artists’ practice and participatory workshops grow, evolve and change – as technology updates, changes and new innovations are launched all the time, surely this must speed up this process for a Digital Artist?

Any smaller, cheaper, hand held technology has the potential to be used as a creative tool. I don’t want workshop participants to just be consumers of technology, I am interested in how creative technology can give a voice to people who can showcase their work across digital platforms like YouTube.

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Lesley-anne Rose – Animation workshop October 2016

How does emerging new technology affect your practice as a digital artist?

Keeps me on my toes! I had to learn how to describe a quantum computer in order make a short animation, I watched a lot of explanations online and was thankful for the ever educational online community.

You do work for a variety cultural organisations and community initiatives; from BALTIC, to Woodhorn, to Equal Arts , to We engAGE, to Gateshead Culture Team – what’s it like working for different cultural organisations as an artist?

The work is really varied! I also work with GemArts  and have done some great projects with them working with marginalised groups and learning about other cultures. I am a huge fan of Contemporary Art which of course there is plenty of at BALTIC. I think Contemporary Art is an underrated educational tool; Artists responding to the world around them and asking many questions is something we should all feel able to do.

Can you tell me a bit about your involvement with Baltic Stars – sounds like such an interesting project!?

I really enjoy working on this project; with every group, the process and outcomes are vastly different. This project is funded by Children in Need and the aim is to work with young people with special educational needs outside of school and with their families. Every group I have worked with has had fun exploring ideas such as identity, music, sculpture and photography as part of their creative pathway.

Click here to watch her community show reel of work

You do quite a lot of animation commission work; how do these commissions occur?

Usually, someone has seen my work and recommended me. I do apply for commissions as well and perhaps I am not to everyone’s taste as an animator.

What was it like being commissioned to make an animation for Random Acts on Channel 4 ?

I didn’t think I would get through! Then when I did it was long hours of working with a great team of talented artists. Long long days in a blacked out room; it was worth it though and I am still proud of that animation .

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Lesley-anne Rose – Spatula Head – Random Acts, Channel 4

I’ve watched your various show reels and they are amazing! They seem to be quite dark, a bit Tim Burtonesque….what inspires the concepts and stories behind your animation?

I am inspired by Jan Svankmajer, a Czech animator as well as The Brother Quay. I get a lot of inspiration places as well as people, I think that’s why I like photographing the rubbish in parks, it’s a kind of story of the person who left it there.

Jan Svankmajer

Your work also seems to infuse a lot of traditional arts (what you call as analogue skills – really like that term!) – from sculpture, to drawing, to puppet making, to photography – do you have a particular traditional arts “specialism”?

I don’t think I have a particular specialism; I use drawing a lot in my process even though my drawing skills are not that great. I am fond of the drawing process and anyone can do it. You just need something that can make a mark and somewhere to put your mark, even if it’s a signature, it’s a way to tell the world I am here!

Can you tell me a bit about the animation process?

Stop motion animation is essentially a mix of photographic skills and model making. I make a set and puppets and plan out what needs to happen in that sequence of photographs.

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Lesley-anne Rose

Some scenes are made up of hundreds of photographs, some shorter scenes may be 50 or 60 shots. I work with a really talented post production artist who removes out any rigging (mechanism that holds the puppet in place) and tweaks the photos so that the animation looks good.

What are you plans for 2017? Any exciting projects that you can share with us on the horizon?

Other than trying to master the basics of game design, I don’t have any big projects lined up for 2017. Animation wise, I have an animation in production that requires me to figure out how to lip synch, making loads of tiny replaceable puppet mouths that I am hoping to complete by this time next year.

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Lesley-anne Rose

Thank you Lesley – I’ve loved working with her so far on Digital Makings and I hope our paths cross again soon. Good luck with the Lip syncing!

 

October Artist of the Month: Pui Lee

Hands up who can draw? If yes, I’m furiously jealous. And if no, me either – most things I try to draw end up looking like something a primary school child would proudly display on their fridge. In fact my inability to draw, led an arts teacher at school to tell me that I wasn’t very “arty” and so I decided that clearly I wasn’t creative in the slightest and I didn’t really engage with any type of art until I was an adult. That’s the crazy thing about labelling and the narrowness of self-perception, it can be so damaging and limiting.

I am actually hugely creative and I now ironically work in the cultural and arts sector (so two fingers up to you Mr Arts teacher). However, I still can’t really draw but I love to draw! I’m an incredibly visual thinker, so when I’m planning and plotting, I draw things out; it looks like beautiful creative chaos! I find drawing and the visual process is part of my internal dialogue; I can’t work something out and evolve an idea without seeing it and exploring all aspects. Drawing is so intertwined with my creative process, ideation, problem solving and reflection.

But in an arts sense, I probably wouldn’t draw for pleasure which is something i really should, as I enjoy it…..that young girl who was told she wasn’t very “arty” is still in there. I’m sure many people can relate and there often seems like such a barrier to drawing; it’s something technical, something you have to be good at to do, it’s a real skill. We forget that when we were younger, little tinkers, we drew without barriers, scribbled; big abstract pictures of everything and anything. And then somewhere along the line….we stop.

A project and initiative I’ve had exposure to is The Big Draw! It’s a fantastic drawing festival that runs every October and champions the ideal that drawing can change lives.

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The Big Draw Festival invites people of all ages, levels and abilities to take part in drawing activities. Anyone can get involved and there is a yearly theme to inspire. Oh and it’s also endorsed Sir Quentin Blake…….

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Through activity organised by cultural organisations, artists and Big Draw themselves, there is an ethos that empowers everybody and anybody who engages to draw through facilitative and participatory arts activity.

If you’re still not persuaded, Andrew Marr makes a cracking case regarding the importance of drawing; you can watch it HERE.

My engagement with The Big Draw led me to meet a fantastic artist called Pui Lee, who has become a staple regular within Gateshead’s arts programme and has led Big Draw arts activity for Gateshead and many other cultural organisations.

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Pui Lee

Pui is brilliant at drawing (obviously) but her ability to engage with all ages and abilities through the most conceptually creative ideas is just fantastic. I always look forward to getting her emails full of ideas for future participatory workshops. She’s also absolutely dominating at the moment and her interdisciplinary creative practice is going from strength to strength. Her passion and energy for her work and empowering others to engage and give it a go is evident; she loves what she does and lives and breathes the experiential process of creativity, it’s just a joy to watch.

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Pui Lee

So it makes sense, that I decided that October’s artist of the Month, should be Pui. I caught up with Pui after her workshop at Anime Attacks to find out a little more about her practice and involvement with The Big Draw…

Hi Pui, tell me about your interdisciplinary Arts practice?

Hello! My name is Pui Lee and I work as a freelance artist and arts educator throughout the UK. As an interdisciplinary artist, I often work sculpturally with a strong emphasis on making in my practice. This is regardless of the media I am using which can be anything from 3D/installation, printmaking, drawing & painting, craft, textiles, moving image or photography.

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Pui Lee

I like to experiment and I definitely believe that creative problem-solving and reflection lies at the heart of it. My educational work is definitely informed by my practice and vice versa. This is always something that I have aspired to do! The briefs I work on are varied and diverse but I love a creative challenge and every opportunity is an exciting one for me!

Why did you want to become an artist?

I knew I had always enjoyed drawing and making things even as a child, so the thing of looking at the world, making sense of it and creating something has always been there. -I’m sure I was fascinated by nearly everything around me!!

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Really, I think it’s just what I like to do… Create things. And so, it made sense to me that art should be my career choice and therefore, I should do everything I can in order to make it work. I was always intrigued by and liked the idea that something can communicate something or express an emotion without having to use words necessarily.

Making the decision to become an artist wasn’t an easy one. Being someone who was strong in academic subjects as well, there was an expectation that this would be the route in life that I should follow in order for a good and successful life. However, during my A-Level exams, I decided to just go for it and submitted my application to art school! I then went on to study a Foundation art and design course, which is the step you take before moving onto Higher Education and then the rest as they say is just history! Now, looking back, that was the best decision I ever made because I’m here right now living the life I want to lead and hopefully, I’ve proved that hard work does pay off in the end!

You say you’re “A Black Belt on a mission to break down barriers in learning and aspiration through creativity and unwavering perseverance…”; how’s that mission going?

haha… I wrote that statement on my website a very long time ago! Since then, I have been promoted to my 2nd Degree Black Belt in North Korean Taekwon-Do, trained in other martial arts disciplines and now learning Kung Fu too! But yes, I would say that my “art mission” is going well! Although my martial arts practice and artist practice are entirely separate, I think they both require the focus, discipline, hard work and determination to succeed.

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I do feel like my career portfolio is still continuing to expand nicely and I have been lucky to have worked on so many different things. The amount of people I must have met over the years at my art workshops, events, classes and exhibitions makes me feel very lucky to be part of their story. Some of the individuals I work with have low self-esteem or have, for some reason or another, lesser access to the arts; and to be able to empower them in some way makes me feel very happy. That’s why my working ethos as an artist is to “empower through creativity”. Creativity not only improves overall wellbeing but empowers people to believe in themselves as valuable individuals who can make a positive contribution to the world.

Which other artists do you admire?

Probably too many to mention for your blog word count I expect! But let me tell you about my number one: Paul Taylor – my then-art-tutor during my Foundation year at art school. He is an artist/illustrator and has done fantastic things with The Big Draw and other community art projects! His creative energy is infectious, he says it how it is and he is still one of my biggest inspirations even to this day. I feel very thankful to have been one of his students. I learnt a lot from him and most notably, to follow your dreams and to make it happen!! Other favourite artists include Bill Viola, William Kentridge, Cornelia Parker, Quentin Blake, Sam Taylor-Wood, Ron Mueck, Gabriel Orozco to name but a few!

Sam Taylor-Wood

So, you’re often involved with the Big Draw…….tell me a bit more about the Big Draw from the artist perspective?

Yes – I love The Big Draw and work on it each year! From an artist’s perspective, the medium of drawing is the foundation to all creative practice and to see members of the public engaging in it is fantastic! Often, I find people can be a little bit unsure or nervous about it and it can be hard for them to take that first step in picking a pen/pencil up and making that very first mark on the paper because they feel like they are being judged or whatever. I think that’s a real shame because drawing has many functions but most of all, it’s just a lot of fun!

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Pui Lee

There’s also something really nice with The Big Draw in that they tend to be drop-in events, which eases the pressure a bit and people can hang around for a minute or stay the whole day. Importantly though, it does bring people together and whenever you do anything as a group, it creates an opportunity for dialogue to happen between strangers and peer support to be given etc.

What did you think of this year’s theme?

I probably preferred the themes from other years to be honest although they always tend to be very broad and inclusive anyway. Having said this, I completely appreciate the relevance of this year’s theme: STEAM especially in the context of education and politics in the UK today.

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Pui Lee

I do think it is important to see how creativity can be applied in other parts of the curriculum and that drawing can manifest itself in many different and sometimes unexpected ways. Drawing is especially useful in the context of learning – whether at school, work or in everyday life.

What activity were you involved in this year?

This year, I designed and delivered only one official Big Draw event, which was, “Somme Little Big Draw” at Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life in Carlisle. At my event, participants were invited to explore the coinciding Somme exhibition and created portraits of soldiers using my special “drawing windows”. These were then transformed into giant hand-drawn medals, which could then be taken home as a keepsake so that the memory of the story lived on! Throughout the workshop, there was also opportunity for the participants to add to, edit and reconfigure a collaborative collage made up of line drawings of the soldiers, which was projected large-scale on a wall screen. It was great to see this evolve during the day.

I had a lot of different ideas for the Big Draw! this year and one called, “For Amusement Only”, took place under a different guise as part of another cultural art event in Gateshead.

For Your Amusement Only – Pui Lee

Unfortunately, with continued pressure on funds everywhere and higher registration costs for organisers, it has led to some organisations stepping away from the Big Draw altogether, which is completely understandable…

For Your Amusement Only – Pui Lee

Why are projects like The Big Draw important?

Big Draw projects are important because they create arts engagement opportunities and to have an annual presence on the calendar where the whole country gets drawing is just fantastic! The drawing festival is, of course, endorsed by Quentin Blake himself and this helps give the festival the publicity it needs to capture the imaginations of members of the public because his illustrations for Roald Dahl are so loved and well known.

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Pui Lee

What would you like next year’s theme to be?

I don’t mind really – I’m open to any creative challenge!!

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Pui Lee

What’s next for you? Any big plans for 2017?

Yes haha, -always! But for now …watch-this-space!

Thank you Pui; fantastically insightful to hear about the artist perspective of the Big Draw! I’m really glad that Pui followed her dreams into art and that is a real take away message; listen to your gut and pursue your passion.

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Pui Lee

I think it’s brilliant when people work out their purpose, their “why” and know what they want to do…….as a creative and entrepreneurial individual I made the horrific life choice of a law degree and going into a legal career because it kind of made sense and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. From law to culture and business…..almost laughable, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Peace out. Get drawing, check out Pui’s work and listen to your gut always.

The Culture Vulture. x

 

Sculpture 30 September Artist of the Month; Neil Canavan

It is with a heavy HEAVY heart we bid a big goodbye farewell to our year long Sculpture 30 project in Gateshead. What a fantastic run we’ve had celebrating 30 years of Gateshead’s Family Sculpture Day and Public Art Programme.

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The programme has included public events, sculpture tours, art walks, exhibitions, commissions, participatory workshops, school projects, community engagement and range of very talented artists each with a very sculptural practice.

Each month, I’ve featured an “Artist of the Month” showcasing them, their practice and sculpture in a variety of contexts.

October 2015 – Helen Pailing

November 2015 – Yvette Hawkins

December 2015 – Stephen Newby

January 2016 – Jo Coupe

February 2016 – Tanya Axford

March 2016 – Ed Carter

April 2016 – Joseph Hillier

May 2016 – Russ Coleman

June2016 – Colin Rose

July 2016 – Gilbert Ward

August 2016 – Jane Gower

And finally that brings us on to September 2016 and the subject of this blog post; Neil Canavan, our Sculpture 30 Artist of the Month for September.

I first met Neil, probably about five years ago, when I was working my very first Gateshead Family Sculpture Day in Saltwell Park. Neil is something of a Sculpture Day veteran – having been involved with it since very near the beginning.

You only have to work with him a short while to see; firstly the man knows how to handle a band saw…… something I’ve grown to love and learn, but was initially terrified. Secondly, he really loves what he does and working with wood – it oozes out of him. Where others (like me) see a pile of wood, he see’s opportunity and creativity. It amazes me every year, what he builds with the school children on School Sculpture Day.

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Neil has a studio in North Shields and alongside the making of his own sculpture, he works on commissions, residencies and school projects. He uses particular themes to produce a series of works – a key theme is that of the coastline; an area in constant flux.

Neil is our September Artist of the Month, not just for his involvement this year in School Sculpture Days and Gateshead Family Sculpture Day on 25th September; which by the way, was absolutely smashing! But he also led a Sculpture Making Workshop in the Gallery, at Gateshead Central Library where participants of all ages created mini sculptures which then became part of a large-scale sculpture called ‘Juggernaut’ inspired by the large mobile structures that were pulled along by devotees in Hindu religious processions.  Juggernaut became the ‘showstopper’ if you will, on Gateshead Family Sculpture Day, featured amongst the sculptures Gateshead schools had made on their days.

As always with our Artists of the Month, I caught up with Neil so I could dig a little deeper beyond the man I’ve only met on Sculpture Days and find out what other sculptures float his boat!

Hi Neil, so tell me about your practice?

Mostly, I tend to work on commissions either public or private. I work with the housing group ISOS quite a bit with their community development team producing work that is installed in developments. This usually means working on ideas with either community groups or local schools near to the new development.

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Cherry Tree Fence

Most of my work involves construction or carving mainly in wood but I love mixing materials and trying out new techniques, e.g. bin bags with Juggernaut. My work also involves interaction with the general public covering all ages; this is an essential part of my working practice.

Where do you seek inspiration for your work and sculptures?

There are many and varied sources of my inspirations; I do tend to plunder what I see as watershed moments in my past such as my childhood, growing up in the countryside, my time working in India and Cyprus.

Also I’m greatly influenced by the land and seascapes both in the North East but also my trips abroad. Shorelines in particular fascinate me; the fluid nature of their interaction keeps me enthralled.

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Going with the Flow

What is your favourite type of material to work with?

Wood but particularly driftwood! I love the shape, texture and feel of this material; although I’ve used many differing materials in my work from bones to bin bags. I tend to use either natural or recycled materials and love being able to mix them in my work.

How did you get into sculpture?

This is a somewhat long and convoluted journey. I started my working life as an electrician and through my twenties did lots of different jobs and became somewhat bored. By chance I signed up to a stained glass course to learn how to cut glass; the tutor must have spotted something because he said I had a talent for it. I started to get small commissions but quickly realised I needed to learn how to draw; at school I’d been told I wasn’t very good at art so I didn’t try to learn the technique of drawing.

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Seaton Burn Gabbions

So I went to do A level art and once there it was like a light bulb moment; I knew this is what I wanted to do! Since I’ve always been good with my hands I gravitated quickly to sculpture and working in three dimensions.

Any advice for a budding sculptor?

The main thing is perseverance! Say yes to any initial work after you leave college as you never know what it might lead to.

Tell me a bit about Juggernaut – the Sculpture 30, Sculpture Day showstopper?

The idea for Juggernaut goes back to my time working in India; I loved the way they celebrate events particularly big religious festivals and I thought what better idea then to make something big and colourful that could be pulled into the park to celebrate what is already an amazing popular event.

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Juggernaut

Also I liked the play on words from its original meaning in Hindu of the large mobile temples pulled along in outdoor religious festivals to its present meaning of something large and unwieldy; a bit like Sculpture Day itself.

Do you have a favourite sculpture of yours?

Not sure I have a favourite piece! I suppose I still have a soft spot for Ship of Fools, in fact my more temporary pieces tend to be the ones I have more fun making.

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Ship of Fools

Do you have a favourite piece of sculpture in general?

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Taratantara –  Kapour

This is difficult, as I’ve been inspired by so many different sculptors over the years. The Field by Gormley and Taratantara by Kapour are two that stick in the mind.

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The Field – Gormley

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share?

I’m just in the process of working out the next ISOS commission for a social housing development in South Shields and I’m working with a local primary school.

So Culture Vultures, from me and the other Sculpture 30 Team; thank you for supporting the project. To all the artists including this month’s artist Neil, you’re all amazing and I hope we’ve created something of a legacy here; lots of memories.

With Sculpture 30 now over, you may be thinking….now what?

Well – there is LOADS coming up….first stop…..Digital Makings.

Watch.this.space.

 

Sculpture Day 2016: Game ON!

It is very nearly Sculpture Day…..it is THIS Sunday, starting at 11am in Saltwell Park, Gateshead.

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So how are going to approach this year’s theme Games? Even if you’ve been before but especially if you haven’t, I want to make sure that you get the most out of the day and build something fantastic!

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I love this year’s theme Games; it is so open to interpretation! But I’m going to give you some ideas to get you started thinking – You could build;

  • Something from the Olympic games
  • A level from a retro game – eg: Sonic.
  • Your favourite Pokemon character.
  • Take an idea from a Computer game; e.g. Mario Cart, Grand Theft Auto or the Simms.
  • Something board game inspired e.g. Monopoly, Scrabble, Connect four, Hungry Hippos, Guess who or a 90s favourite of mine; Dream Phone!
  • App games – Candy Crush, Subway Surfer…
  • Card games – poker inspired or exploding kittens.
  • School games – e.g. something Sports day related, What’s the time Mr Wolf, Red Rover or Tag.
  • A 3D reimagining of your current favourite Virtual Reality game.
  • Fair games – e.g. Hook a Duck.
  • Other games such as bowling, bowls, Pool, Snooker…..

I could go on, the list is simply endless and I can’t wait to see what you guys get building this year!

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I thought I’d ask the experts for a bit of advice that may help you get building….. I spoke to Karen Rann- A Sculpture Day sculptor, Anna Pepperall – Gateshead Public Art Curator, Adam Taylor –Sculpture Day addict and event’s manager and Jen Douglas – Gateshead based artist and sculptor. I gathered their hints, tips and insights to give you a helping hand to get started…..

What are your top tips for Sculpture day 2016?

Adam: Make it a family/group activity, everyone chipping in ideas, agreeing on a plan, choosing wood, and then building.

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Anna: Wear Warm clothes, and thick shoes/boots; bring lots of food, and your own hammers!

Jen: Either ‘ go with the flow’ and wait till you arrive to think about the Sculpture Day theme or, have a think about the theme beforehand, brainstorm ideas that you can bring along to work on with your family or group of friends you come with so you have starting points for what to make.

Right – so we’ve got lots of wood, they’ve got their tools – what is the best way to get started?

Adam: It’s always good to have a good plan, and think about how the various bits of wood are going to be nailed together.

Anna: Talk to Staff on the Info desk, look at a storyboard for inspirational ideas , ask an artist, or join a group already working on something.

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Karen: Think about framework, creating a good ‘bone structure’ it’s fun to save adding all the little details till the end.

Jen: If you get stuck for ideas there are Sculptors on hand to give you inspiration and get you started. Think through which of these ideas will work in 3D using wood and nails…. Some things might work better than others.

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Is it best to plan your sculpture before you start or just “go with the flow”?

Anna:  Either- some people prefer to come with an idea but often it’s good to look around and get inspiration, or from the Artists/Storyboard.

Jen: It’s sometimes useful to think about making the sculpture from the base up – work as a team/family to decided who works on which section of the sculpture so everyone has a job! With lots of different types of wood different lengths/thicknesses etc. might suit different sections to your sculpture so a plan may be useful.

Karen: Depends how you like to work it could be you spot an enticing bit of timber at that gets the imagination going, don’t forget to look at the school’s work for inspiration.

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For the Sculpture Day veterans or newbies out there, who attend year on year what would your advice be on approaching this year’s theme “Games”?

Adam: Plan something original!

Jen:  When you’ve decided what you want to make gather together some pieces of wood and lay them out on the floor so that you can start to ‘map out’ your sculpture and see how each piece might join together to form your 3D masterpiece. You can always tweak and add more pieces of wood to make the work more elaborate.

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It’s as much fun to just tinker away with the wood and create something quite unique and un-related to the theme – that is fine too Sculpture Day is a fantastic experience to have and everyone who comes along has fun!

Karen:  Don’t always go with the first idea, it may be a tricky one to transform into 3d, there’s so many types of games and a little time spent playing with ideas might lead to something really novel and fun to make.

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Well it’s over to you Culture Vultures; I’ll see you in the Grove, in Saltwell Park on Sunday from 11am.

Game on!

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!

jane3