Interview with sound designer & artist Matthew Tuckey; unexplored possibilities & bringing stories to life through sound.

“You can’t be, what you can’t see”

This was my starting point for a creative discussion the other day – we were talking about creative industries and lack of diversity, lack of representation in some areas, empowered freelancers and I broadened the conversation on to creative skill set and roles. There are SO many roles and extremely talented folks that go relatively unnoticed and unseen. It’s not to do with their lack of importance or skill set – it’s because what they do happens behind closed doors or “backstage”. Ironically, some of these roles (especially the digital and tech ones) in the current climate – have never been more important. These are the folks that will drive and help shape the innovation and reinvention of creative projects because they have the skill and ability to do so! Therefore, we should be shouting about them and celebrating them!

As The Culture Vulture, my mission has always been to empower artists and showcase the creative and cultural sector in its entirety. So, in my blog over the next few months, I’m going to be featuring talented creative people who have interesting roles in creative projects but often, don’t get mentioned or celebrated in the way they should do! I want to remove the “mysterious” element of what they do and hopefully, make them feel seen with the hope that others may follow in their footsteps. I want to illuminate the creative industries in their entirety.

There are so many roles that could sit within the “unseen” and “mysterious” category – but the one I’m going to explore today is a sound designer! If you don’t know what one is – well don’t flap – I didn’t know until a couple of years ago! I’ve personally worked with them on films, animations, theatre productions and public art commissions exhibited as part of an event. They do weird and wonderful things to sound usually as part of a wider whole (e.g. a theatre production). Their skills lay in making people feel, think, experience things via sounds. In an immersive performance context, if we think about humans having 5 senses – the perfect blending of the performance including sight and sound, can trigger the audience to feel, smell, and even taste things. What you hear can be equally as important as what you see!

A sound designer that I’ve had the total pleasure of meeting and working with recently, as part of Mortal Fools – is Matthew Tuckey, he’s very talented but also really canny human (I’ve enjoyed surrounding myself with canny folks of late). So I thought, I’d jump at the chance to interview him to showcase what a sound design is, what they do and to celebrate Matthew’s work, to make it more “seen”. So here we go and over to Matthew!

Hiyer Matthew – right, let’s start at the beginning – please introduce yourself to my fellow Culture Vultures?

Matthew – I am a Sound Designer and Sound Artist. I work mainly in theatre but have more recently been taking private and public art commissions. I’m based in North East England but take my work further afield when I get the opportunity. I am currently craving a long escape to the Highlands (when it is safe to do so) and I really like cooking. So, if you want to talk at length about interesting sounds or how to make an excellent stir-fry – hit me up!

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Matthew Tuckey

As a forever hungry human, yes please! Can you tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Matthew – It’s a convoluted one… I started off with a very committed drama teacher who encouraged me to pursue directing. I was involved in music, art and drama at school but unfortunately we were limited to only one option at GCSE level, so I ended up going for Drama and took this all the way to A Level. I tried studying a four year MA in Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow but after the first two months decided this was a waste of time and somehow landed an internship in a recording studio back in Newcastle. I was still writing and directing theatre here and there, but the studio offered me an exciting new creative outlet. Without planning it, these two worlds merged quite naturally in sound design.

Fast forward to now and I’m exploring the exciting and diverse world of sound design for theatre, and more lately, sound art. This was quite a natural progression from my creative work in recording studios and theatre sound technician work, alongside participation in directing and writing workshops. The surprising thing I found was when I was doing the more technical work, some people were asking me questions like “have you given up on creating theatre then?” which really fuelled my desire to demonstrate how technical and creative meet harmoniously in the designer’s role.

The Culture Vulture – As a non-planner – I find the magic happens in the freedom and I’m delighted to hear you talk about the connection between technical and creative, as absolutely and actually, I think where they meet is exactly where the innovation is, that will  take us into the next sector creative phase for reinvent post (or during) pandemic!

So tell me, what do you do as a sound designer? What is a sound designer?

Matthew – I get asked this a lot, and often at the start of a project with a new collaborator funnily enough! Also, a lot of people keep asking me how I differentiate between my sound design and sound art practice, and to be fair most aren’t aware that a “sound artist” is a thing. So to clarify, briefly, I am a sound designer when I am serving a client or collaborators creative vision – they present a problem and I plan and execute a design solution. Sound Art is what I do when I am realising my own creative vision – but the line can be quite blurry.

So, a sound designer means a lot of things across film, music, theatre, UI, AR, etc. Even in the theatre industry, where I do most of my work, it can mean many things to many people depending on the show, the genre, the theatre, etc. Broadly speaking though, the sound designer for a theatre production is responsible for all audible aspects of a performance.

It’s a broad role that can involve any combination of the following: sound effects recording, sound effects design, Foley (live or pre-recorded), sound system design, live sound reinforcement, recording and playback of music, programming the show control software, and room acoustics. So if you get the right one, they can be very good value for money!

I describe this approach as a wholistic sound design and this is what I aim to achieve in my work. Depending on the show and the company, this can either be all on me or with a team of maybe one other sound designer or composer and the technicians in the sound department.

The Culture Vulture – I think it’s an important question for folks to keep asking as, the more they ask and get comfortable with what a sound designer can do – the more ambitious they will get with their use of sound during a performance or project. Lack of technical knowledge and understanding of specialist roles like yours, can be so self-limiting! Through increased awareness, the seemingly impossible transforms into possible.

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Matthew Tuckey – photo credit Von Fox

What types of folks require your services?

Matthew – Anyone wanting to tell a story with sound! Whether that’s theatre companies, film makers, podcasters, visual artists, museum curators, or marketing teams. For example, I’ve never worked with an organisation on creating a sonic brand (think Windows or Mac start up. Or Netflix “da-dum”!) but would love to hear from anyone interested in developing that side of their marketing strategy. My clientele is only limited by imagination – it’s fairly niche at the moment but more and more organisations are offering immersive audio experiences (see Land Rover marketing or Formula 1 teams or Bastille album launches).

The Culture Vulture – holy moly, the Bastille album launch was truly amazing (google it folks)! So innovative. And as someone, who had kind of forgotten about them and their music, it worked in getting me to notice them and reconnect.  

Matthew – There’s a range of technical proficiency out there already when it comes to things like recording a podcast or sound for video, not forgetting musicians with home studios. But my skills really lie in marrying specialist technical knowledge and creative expression. When I was working in recording studios, one of the most important lessons I learnt was how to create a workflow that allowed natural movement between ‘left brain’ activities (setting levels, patching signal chains, organising your space) and ‘right brain’ activities (creative ideation, abstraction thinking, meditative listening) – I think that’s one of the biggest offerings on a project.

I also offer consultancy and training for organisations looking to improve their sound infrastructure and skills. Whether that’s theatre and cinema workshops exploring sonic creativity or venues looking to improve their sound system. I’m yet to work with a restaurant that want to improve the sonic side of the dining experience (I’ve been lucky enough to go to some nice restaurants and notice how uncomfortable they are sonically!) – maybe one day!

The Culture Vulture – I really love what you’re talking about there. 1. The brand sound – as someone who works in marcomms, this would interest me greatly. We often talk about how colours and visuals feed into branding- but sound isn’t something explored in the mainstream and I think, it has such potential. 2. Enhancing audience experience through sound – I would love to visit a restaurant or bar that has invested into this area.

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Matthew Tuckey

Tell me about some recent project highlights?

Matthew – Just before lockdown I was nearing the end of an exciting new show with Mortal Fools called ‘Relentless’. This was the first time they had worked with a sound designer and we had/have a really ambitious vision for using sound in this production (Relentless was cancelled just before touring and is set to tour in 2021). I couldn’t help feel a touch of nostalgia with this project as it reminded me of similar devising processes I was part of as a teenager. We’re all determined that this show WILL have a life beyond lockdown!

Another recent highlight is ‘Wolf’ a winter story by Kitchen Zoo in association with Northern Stage which was performed in Stage 3 over Christmas 2019. Kitchen Zoo are a fantastic team making brilliant shows for little people and their grown-ups. It was my first time collaborating with the talented Katie Doherty who was the composer, we both found this collaborative effort very rewarding.

WOLF by Kitchen Zoo – photo credit Von Fox

What makes a “good” sound designer? What skills do they need?

Matthew – I think the main thing that is relevant for all types of sound designers, and sounds a bit obvious but I really do mean it, is you need to LOVE sound and really experience the world through a strong awareness of sound. Whether it’s noticing an interesting acoustic effect, experiencing new music (live and recorded), or being drawn into a film through the sound design and score. I’m pretty evangelical about people watching/listening to collaborations between Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan (current personal favourites – Dunkirk and The Dark Knight Trilogy – both making awesome use of Shepard tones which is one to ‘Google’!) And also, Joe Wright’s Atonement and Darkest Hour are great examples of sonic repetition and punctuation. But I’ll stop short of some of the more obscure ones…

The Culture Vulture – As a real film fan, I love sound in film and really appreciate its usage; 1917 had a fantastic use of sound and Ryan Murphy productions use sound (and populist music) fantastically; American Horror Story, Pose, Versace!

Matthew – Another important skill is developing a language alongside your awareness of sound. Being able to describe sound in a way that communicates clearly with a range of clients/collaborators – whether that’s a producer, a director, a performer, or videographer or painter. Having a common language is really important and is the first challenge in every new collaboration.

There are other skills that are really more specific to individual practice. Such as live sound reinforcement, microphone techniques for live and recorded sound, field recording, effects design, music composition, QLab programming etc. The depth that you go into these more practical skills really depends on what type of work you are designing.

The Culture Vulture – It’s interesting that you brought up commonality of language. I think it’s a real barrier to lots of collaboration where technology and more technical roles could come together. It’s the same with technological solutions and innovation that could make creative businesses function better – we (I class myself in that) often don’t have the words to describe effectively what we want or to do the research to understand what we need and the ones with the technological solution aren’t able to communicate to people who don’t understand tech speak! It can be overwhelming and disempowering!

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Matthew Tuckey

What kit do you use? What kit would you recommend to folks wanting to invest in sound for their work?

Matthew – So I use a combination of field recording, studio equipment, and electronic instruments.

For field recording I have a multitrack recorder with a vast range of microphones, from ambisonics (useful for VR and surround work) to contact microphones (useful for acousmatic compositions). I also have a handy mini field recorder with built-in and external mic’s which I use to grab interesting sounds that I come across day-to-day (this pretty much goes everywhere with me, and it’s not uncommon to spend the first 30mins in a new Airbnb recording another extractor fan or boiler!).

I have yet more microphones for studio recording (such as voiceovers and acoustic instruments) as well as a few acoustic instruments and Foley props that make great source material for designing effects. I recently got hold of a mini Roland synthesiser based on the classic Juno 60 and 106 which is very fun and versatile – I like being able to get hands on with this, as a lot of my work happens in audio editing software, and if all else fails you can just entertain yourself trying to make things sound a bit more Stranger Things!

It’s important to say though that you can buy the best equipment in the world but use it terribly! So the best resource straight away is either investing time and money into learning the skills to optimise what equipment you can lay your hands on, or bringing in a collaborator like me who already has not just those skills and equipment resources, but thinks and creates in a heavily sound orientated way.

The Culture Vulture – When learning something new or feeling out of your depth, there is an impulse that can lead to buying ALL the kit possible as a solution or assuming the best kid will compensate for the lack of skills. I’ve been guilty of that for visual stuff and learnt the hard way!

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Matthew Tuckey

You worked on an Enchanted Parks’ piece – I didn’t know you back then,  but I worked on EP that year and remember your name, it was a wonderful piece– can you tell me about the piece?

Matthew – That was a lot of fun collaborating with Molly Barrett on her sculpture piece ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ in 2018. I got to play around with some new ways of manipulating the voiceover that was part of the wider Enchanted Parks story and working with some theme music from the wonderful Roma Yagnik.

I’m really hoping that Enchanted Parks makes a come-back after their hiatus. It’s a fantastic event and my involvement in 2018 left me with big ideas for a parkwide sound installation.

The Culture Vulture – Me too – both as someone who visited every year as a punter and lived along the top of Saltwell Park, it’s a proper visitor gem! AND as someone who worked on the event for a couple of years – it’s a big miss to my yearly calendar.

Can you tell me a career project highlight so far?

Matthew – That’s a tough one!

I really enjoyed working with Selma Dimitrijevic on ‘joey’. It was a preview tour and Selma’s first point in the brief was ‘very lo-fi’ – we were literally touring to venues that had the most basic of sound systems. The piece was performed as a monologue by two performers simultaneously, one in English the other in BSL (the very talented Scott Turnbull and Faye Alvi respectively), and so we decided to make the soundscape quite low-frequency heavy in order to maximise the effect for our D/deaf audience members. These very strict parameters helped me to focus my attention on the source material inspired by the script and manipulate these in a really creative way that supported and scored the performances on stage.

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Joey – Photo credit – Bish

I also have to mention working as Associate Sound Designer for Northern Stage’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and working alongside sound designer Nick John Williams. That show was a lot of fun, not least because of the sheer scale of the production. Nick brought me onto that project to help with some particular tasks, which included recording various sound effects such as church bells – a first for me! I was also responsible for creating vocal effects chains for the different types of ghosts and narrators in the show. Both of these challenges were a lot of fun and we were very happy with the outcome.

The Culture Vulture – Great answer and it gives a real overview of how broad and diverse your work can be!

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A Christmas Carol – Northern Stage – photo credit Pamel

Can you tell me how COVID-19 has affected your work/practice?

Matthew – As soon as the PM suggested people stay away from theatres (prior to ordering them to close) the theatre industry pretty much shut down over night. My diary for the foreseeable cleared overnight simultaneously. Which was a shock to the system to say the least!

I had already been developing my practice in the digital art scene and making commission applications and funding bids in this area. Now with social distancing in place, a lot more people are contributing to digital art galleries which is great but also means the competition for funding and commissioning has jumped up!

The Culture Vulture – I hear ya! But from knowing you and chatting briefly to you about what you’ve got in store, I’m extremely excited to see your ideas and work unfold!

What challenges have you faced and how have you responded to them?

Matthew – The most immediate issues for me were the worries of financial loss and losing momentum in my practice. As a freelancer, I struggle with this mentality that if I stop for too long and lose momentum then it’s game over – I’ll lose clients, I’ll miss opportunities and I’ll forget how to do what I do.

I dealt with the financial worries by taking a few days just to gather my thoughts and assess the situation – fortunately I wasn’t in any immediate trouble and since then I’ve been successful in securing an individual ACE emergency support grant. I’ve also got some online workshop facilitation work for the lovely Mortal Fools and some online tutoring for Newcastle College’s FdA Stage Management and Technical Theatre students, which is also a lot of fun.

In terms of my practice – I started off by setting myself small, short term goals. I created a mini series of daily-ish ‘Mystery Sounds’ giving people 24 hours to guess the sound from a short recording clip. This helped me feel productive while I adjusted to the new circumstances. I’m still finding it difficult not being able to go very far with my recording equipment and to see people, but the cacophony of birds in our garden are more than obliging recording subjects for the time being. Listen here!

The Culture Vulture   – I loved your mystery sounds and I think it is a testament to your creativity with sound. In a busy digital space where everyone was suddenly pushing out content – I genuinely found yours fun and interesting! It also drove me insane trying to guess!

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Matthew Tuckey

You’ve been successful in receiving ACE emergency support funding – so firstly, BLIDDY WELL DONE PAL! Can you tell me what was the application process like? How did it feel to find out you were successful?

Matthew– It was a fairly simple process and I had some great advice from people who have a good track record with securing ACE funding. I’ve also been through a few bids over the past year, that were all unsuccessful in this ever increasingly competitive sphere of funding, so it was a real relief to find out I was successful. I was having a bad day when I got the email so just dismissed it without reading it in a moment of negativity and pessimism – thankfully I went back and read the email properly!

It was also very encouraging – I’ve basically spent lockdown juggling what little work is done remotely, applying to commissions for digital art, and trying to maintain some sort of routine! Now this help from ACE can give me some structure and purpose for a brief period of time.

YAS!  Proud of you pal! What will the funding enable you to do? What can we hook into?

Matthew – It’s buying me time really. The Arts Council asked how I would use this time to plan and stabilise for the future. And my answer was two things: take some sections of my original sound library and create collections to be bought online, and also to host webinars and discussions for collaborators who want to find out more about the sound design process and how they can collaborate with a sound designer in their work.

The webinars and discussions are largely going to be promoted through my existing networks with the help of regional theatre companies, but if anyone would like to get in touch to hear more about these events then they can find my contact details on my website.

Count me in for the webinars and discussions! So, I know it’s hard to plan during the uncertainty right now – but what’s next for Matthew on the horizon? What projects/happenings/things should my fellow Culture Vultures look out for?

Matthew – I am currently working on a mini album of sound art made during lockdown. It’s largely inspired by sounds I’ve noticed more since social distancing measures and sounds I am missing too. This will be available on my Soundcloud page (and other platforms that I will announce via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@MGTuckey, @thesoundportrait)

As soon as I can safely do so, I will be recording more pieces or ‘episodes’ for my Sound Portrait ‘Podcast’. This is a long-term project that I am running through a Patreon page that is all about hearing someone unfold their thoughts in a type of one-sided conversation. For me, it’s the sound artists portrait photograph of an individual. I’m steadily growing a following and patronage for this project, and I’ve recently created a new lower tier (just £1 per month) on my Patreon in order to try and encourage new followers to support the life of the project. It’s a slow burner, but my hope is that we can create a series of portraits that collectively amount to a sonic time-capsule of people, a kind of living oral history if you like.

Other than that, things are fairly uncertain during lock down unfortunately, particular with regards to theatre work – who knows when this will pick up again.

The Culture Vulture – a sound portrait of an individual…..I really love that. Just reading that has got me excited and I would love to be involved in some way!

Matthew – The other project I have continually running in the background is called The Rime and is my personal response to the epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and combines influences of field recording, acousmatic composition, and sound poetry. I am constantly applying to commissioning opportunities to take this work further and hope I’ll be able to share more about this in the coming months!

The Culture Vulture – Thank you Matthew; you can find out more about Matthew on his website or via his socials; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@MGTuckey, @thesoundportrait)

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Matthew Tuckey

One of the things I love about working in the cultural sector, is the rich tapestry of people, vocations and skill sets that exist within it; it truly is unrivalled. I am unsure if people outside of the sector, truly understand its richness or skill diversity. I often sit back during a project team meeting and look around thinking…..”bliddy heck – what a talented bunch of people we have here!?” Matthew is one of those people!

And I am truly excited to see the opportunities as I predict tech and digital will creatively collide due to the pandemic, connect and from that, exciting collaborations will unfold.

Until next time Culture Vulture.

Sheryl Jenkins: Digital Makings’ Artist of the Month for March 17

It’s March, practically Spring and the month of International Women’s Day. Due to how many events and parties on going through-out March, it feels the whole month is now full of possibilities, empowerment and championing lush ladies and all who fist pump equality and female success.

Seems apt I am able to use this blog to pretty much channel and showcase all the wonderful people that I admire – and as it’s March and all about #lasses – this month I’m championing Digital artist Sheryl Jenkins as Digital Makings Artist of the Month for March.

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I’ve had the pleasure of working with Sheryl during her delivery of participatory arts workshop for kids with animation. She’s dreamy to work with; fast paced, full of energy, great at facilitating creative experimentation, brilliant with young people and fun to work alongside. You can watch the result of her recent ‘Crafty Animations’ session at Gateshead Central Library HERE.

Sheryl describes herself as a freelance animator, an anarchic creative and filmmaker who often works on collaborative projects with artists, schools, community groups, and education and arts organisations. She is also involved in independent film productions and residencies, producing film content for online education resources and random bits of animation.

What comes across from Sheryl’s showreel (give it a watch – it’s brilliant) – is that she really loves her work and has great fun producing it. That vibe is infectious to be around…… I’m all about positivity and people loving their work.

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I caught up with Sheryl recently and wanted to find out more about her practice, her love of things Digital, her involvement in Thinking Digital and her favourite films……

Hi Sheryl, tell me about your journey into digital arts?

At the moment I’m interested in using tablets as animation and filmmaking tools. The apps available make it possible to include a variety of styles including drawn, model, photographic sequences, rotoscoping, green screen and cut out.  It’s kind of the perfect point for me to reach because I’ve always been interested in being able to create animated work where ever I like.  The iPad is like an animation sketchbook and means I can create animated work in response to anything on location.  So that’s where I’m at now.

Going back in time, I was always interested in drawing and making things, I used to pretend I was presenting Blue Peter, when I was younger we had a BBC computer and I used to write games for it. Most members of my family had a camera of one sort or another whether it was 35mm, Super8 film or a video camera.  I enjoyed taking photographs – I’d’ve been obsessed with Instagram if it’d been around when I was growing up.  My brother and I used to make animated films with my Dad’s video camera.  We used our toys and made models – I still have some of those films.

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I studied Graphic Design before studying Animation at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. It was great to meet and work alongside so many other people interested in animation who had such a broad range of styles.  At that time we were using a combination of rostrum camera and reel to reel mixed with newer audio technology and editing software.  I always like the idea of mixing old and new.  I like to feel a creative connection (for want of a less naff description) to what I’m making.  I don’t want tech to come between me and the process of making.  I like that creative closeness.  It probably sounds like I’m contradicting my practice that I talked about at the start but it’s all about a balance and taking advantage of what a piece of technology can offer.

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I’ve been freelance for about 17 years. During that time, through working with different groups and other artists my practice changed and I went back to university to explore my more abstract style that had emerged.  I think that change in style had come about through working with schools, community groups and so on.  It was the influence from those groups and the need to create animated work quickly that had changed how I worked with animation.  During projects I had to take a process that you would normally think of as slow and steady and speed it up and make it accessible.  Those groups have had an impact; I like it when someone questions the process or suggests a different approach.

At the moment I drift between traditional narrative, abstract ideas and anarchic creativity – Anything could be a possible beginning of something and if something catches my eye I start thinking about the possibilities.

Why animation and film making?

The process of animation is fascinating. After all this time I’m still amazed when I finish at bit of work, whether it’s an independent piece or part of a collaboration, and it appears to move itself – just magic. I often use optical toys in workshops and things like the zoetrope are amazing – everyone loves those.  I don’t know if it’s because you’re watching live animation, there’s no camera and you’re not watching a TV; it’s happening in front of your eyes.  It’s just mad.  When I was a kid I had an annual about an egg-shaped, gem stone called Ludwig and on the bottom corner of several pages was a series of drawings that you could flick and they’d move – it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.

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I had ideas about being an archaeologist or an astronomer – maybe I was working my way through the alphabet but didn’t get very far – but it dawned on me that if I did animation then I can become all of the other jobs I’d like to do, in a Mr. Benn fashion. So through animation I get to explore, learn about, work with other professionals from other areas and make films in response to my experience.

Favourite animator/animation?

In his animator guise I love Terry Gilliam.  I used to watch a lot of Monty Pythons Flying Circus and I loved the cut out animation sequences.  I liked the style – it didn’t use drawings like Scooby Doo and it wasn’t smooth like a Disney film.  I liked the use of images from photographs and paintings.  It was charming, quirky and just bizarre.

Another favourite animator is Norman McLaren – I like how he experimented with technology and the animation process.  I often show his films in my workshops.

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Norman McLaren

Another favourite is Barry Purves.  He has made some amazing model animations.  I’ve heard him speak at festivals a few times and I love to hear how passionate he is about animation.

I like to know about other people’s filmmaking process – that’s what interesting to me – I think that the process ultimately adds an energy and presence to the work. I heard Caroline Leaf, who has used sand in her animations, talking about her work and someone asked her what happened if she made a mistake and she said that there were no mistakes because they all become part of the film.  I like that – it’s like growing a piece of animation.

Favourite film maker/film?

I like filmmakers who get immersed in the process or are determined to make their idea and take creative risks. I’ve got to say Terry Gilliam again.  One of my favourite films is Time Bandits.

There are a lot of artists from other backgrounds that I like – It’s often people working with shapes, the idea or suggestion of movement, and shadows.

Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on so far?

Sometimes projects are memorable because of the people you work with – everyone enjoys themselves and works well together.

One of my favourite film outcomes from a project was an animation – Invasion of the Chocolate Monster – made with Year 3 children in Carlisle over three days.  I really like the narration, voices and sound effects in that one.

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As part of my degree I worked alongside English Heritage who were recording prehistoric markings in Northumberland and County Durham. That was interesting.  I was working outdoors with my cameras and pastels, inks and paint – tricky in the wind and rain.  I could’ve done with the iPad then.  The film I made was a mix of all sorts – drawn sequences, Super8, 35mm photographs, mixed media, digital clips.

I worked on a project a while ago with Darlington Arts and people on Firthmoor Estate. During the project we made life-sized, MDF cut-out versions of people and animated them around the estate.  I don’t think I’d worked on that scale before.

I like to collaborate with other artists and professionals. I like to observe how they work and consider how their process could be adapted or applied to my animation practice.  I’m always looking for new ways of working that keep things fresh and challenging.

Tell me about a current/recent project?

I recently completed a residency with Newbiggin Hall Estate and Newcastle Arts Team. I worked with community groups on the estate over about a year and a half.  I felt very welcome and people were interested in being involved.  We made animated film, live action, there was a bit of photography, some painting and crafts, and a bit of textiles.  It depended on what the groups’ interests were.  We had a great celebratory event at the end where everyone came together for a creative fun day and we premiered one of the films.

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When a project comes to an end I hope that people continue to use what they’ve learnt because I always think that there’s so much more potential and scope for animated work and I would like to see where they go next with their ideas.

At the moment I’m working with The Cultural Spring and St. Clare’s Hospice in Jarrow.  I’m working with Day Care visitors.  The sessions are relaxing and fun.  We have a laugh and come up with some absolutely bizarre ideas – they often become a random stream of ideas – “then this happens, then there’s a dog appears, then a shark eats a duck …” and so on.  It’s all very Monty Python.

Do you have a favourite age group to work with?

I don’t have a favourite age group that I like working with. I like working with anyone if they’re interested and want to be involved.  I like to see what ideas and skills people can bring to a project.  Some people, often older groups, worry about the technology, but the technology is only a small part of things.  I’m interested in the creative side of the process.  And there’s always a role to suit everyone whether they’re interested in making things, designing, filming or animating, or telling everyone else what to do.

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Do you do commissions/independent stuff? Tell me a bit more!

I make my own films. It’s tricky, partly because if I have start a project then that takes priority, and also because if I’m working by myself there’s no-one to chat to about how it’s going or keep me motivated or focused, so that’s all down to myself.  I have several independent projects that sit on a shelf and every so often I revisit whichever one I’m in the mood for.  Taking a break from them probably helps me to come back with a fresh view.

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I collect a lot of archive material. I have a stash of old photograph albums and loads of slides.  I’ve used them in projects but there’s potential for other projects with those.  For a while, I’ve been working on a series of images that are made from animation sequences.  I take each frame and build them up on top of one another into a single, still image.  I look at it as a record of each stage in one picture.  It came out of some work mixing animated, morphing sequences which had been inspired by Spirograph patterns.  I sometimes set myself creative tasks, some might take a day to complete and some last a whole year.  They challenge me to think and solve technical and creative problems.

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I’ve been commissioned to create artwork and animation for theatre, television, galleries and festivals. I like seeing my work projected, shown or displayed.  I see it on a screen while I’m making it and it’s good to see how it looks somewhere else.

I see you’re involved in Thinking Digital this year – how did that come about and what are you doing? And most importantly, can you get me a ticket for mates rates?

I was asked if I had any workshop ideas that would be good for Thinking Digital.  I thought it would be a great opportunity to deliver a mobile workshop along the Quayside with participants using their own tablets and apps.  There are plenty of interesting landmarks and some lovely architecture to take inspiration from.

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My plan is for the group to use tablets to collect and create visuals, add sound and edit. There’ll also be scope to create artwork using art materials and then add that work to graphics, sketching and animation apps as part of the post-production process.  The workshop is an opportunity for participants to develop creative use of their tablets at their own pace, share knowledge, and gain inspiration and ideas for future animation work of their own.

I haven’t had any word about mates rates!

Can you tell me any sneaky peakies about any future projects?

I am working with The Hepworth in Wakefield, the Rheged Centre, and young people from Whizz-Kidz over the next few months.  I have my fingers crossed for a successful funding application result in the near future!  And I’m always interested in collaborations.  Plus I have my shelf of on-going personal projects and I quite fancy doing something about chaos theory and motor racing circuits (but not at the same time).

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Well how insightful and exciting – like Sheryl, I love hearing about how other creatives work and I adore the concept of mobile animation – so accessible. Watching her show reel is a testament to that – both old and young, engaged and enjoying animation.

I have the pleasure of working with Sheryl over the coming months as part of Arts Council funded Digital Makings project…….and if you know any budding young animators looking for something lush and exciting to do over the Easter holidays, well we’ve got it covered. Sheryl is running an all-day Culture Camp on Thursday 20th April at Gateshead Central Library – so get booked up!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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Leanne Pearce – Breastfeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Underhill; Artist of the Month January 2017

For those who work in Arts and Culture, like myself, this is prime programming time – in fact I’ve programmed some of the Gateshead Live up until July 2017 – which is crazy. But also fantastically exciting, to see the projects and events that lie ahead. So what lies ahead in 2017!? – well of course alongside a vibrant cultural programme across the North East with far too many things to list here and the official launch of the Culture Vulture– we have Digital Makings!

One of the artists in residence Karen Underhill is also my January artist of the Month. I was involved in the short listing process for Digital Makings and had the absolute pleasure of being the first to receive the applications and read them. I read Karen’s and loved it – she is a local artist, who I’ve had some engagement with in the past, but only in passing and I haven’t had the opportunity to really get to know her and her practice. And what a perfect time to do it!?

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Karen Underhill

I loved her Digital Makings application; infusing traditional arts practice with digital elements in a very clever way that is not only accessible, but exciting. She also proposed Painting with Light session, which if anyone has been to Glasto or Bestival, you will know this well and it’s mint! Dancing around with lights and lasers, UV and capturing pictures of it in motion, which can create beautiful patterns.

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Karen Underhill – Painting with Light

However, what really speaks to me about Karen and her work is her passion to use creative mediums to ignite positive change in communities which is then driven by the community themselves, uniting and finding an collective identity. Karen takes time to get to know people, the communities in which her project engages, she listens, embraces the diversity and empowers people to find their creative voice. This is not creating Art for arts sake; this is art and a creative practice that has a positive impact on the individual, macro and micro communities and the North East region…….. now how many of us can say, what we do on a day to day basis has that wide of a positive reach!? It’s inspiring…….

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Karen Underhill – Street Party 2015

So who is Karen Underhill…….Karen is a visual and performing artist, originally from the Scottish Borders, working across disciplines that include Fine Art, street theatre, digital art and performance. Karen is also trained in media studies and multi-media and has lectured.

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Karen has worked in the creative industries since 1997 delivering multi-disciplinary workshops within communities. That is what is so brilliant about Karen and her work – it never really feels about “her” – it’s about the people she works with, the communities, the engagement, the opportunities and empowering others to have a sense of ownership of an art work, the project, the place they live etc.

I first heard about Karen when she worked on and facilitated the project that concluded with a giant new artwork for Gateshead Interchange; the peacock! Lisa Johnson’s peacock design was chosen following an appeal by Nexus for a piece of art to liven up the entrance to the interchange, out of 30 Gateshead College student submissions. The peacock image is cleverly made up of the word “hello” in different languages. This project was made possible by Gateshead College’s Digital Academy, which Karen was a part of and evidences her interests in creating a sense of place through her fascination with narrative to tell community stories. But at the heart of the project was empowering the next generation of student artists……. an agenda that I’m really passionate about myself.

Lisa Johnson – Peacock at Gateshead Interchange

I have since gotten to know Karen working on events such as eDay, Anime Attacks as part Juice Festival, Gateshead College careers days and as a regular library user. She is absolutely lush, full of energy and ideas – she is an absolute pleasure to talk to. She also runs her own business, which as a fellow businessy gal, I love. It’s called Blue Meanies, a mobile Arts and Events service. She offers arts and craft workshops, entertainment, performance, stilt walking, face-painting, VJing and creative workshops for private parties, birthday celebrations, corporate events, weddings, large and small scale events. She can also provide bespoke educational packages for schools and community centres and aim to make art and creativity accessible to all with an ethos on creative exploration.

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Karen Underhill during performance

So of course, I was thrilled when she was short listed and then selected as one of three artists in residence for the Digital Makings project. I sat in on a recent planning meeting for DMs and had the opportunity to hear about Karen’s work and historical projects alongside her plans for 2017 in regards to our programme. The benefit of having artists in residence within Arts projects is that, it brings in new ideas, new energy, different diverse perspectives and expertise – a collaborative project really comes into its own. Part of that process is engaging with the artist in residence, seeking out the synergy, learning from their experience and their creative CV.

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Karen Underhill – #wingsofthecommunity

This meeting was for that; her passion for her work was clearly evident and I loved listening to her showcase her work. She told us about a recent 2015 project she worked on an ‘Environmental Artist in Residence’ with photographer Jonathan Bradley called Creative Endeavours. The artists worked with residents and communities across the East and West end of Newcastle empowering people to demonstrate their environmental pride.

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Karen Underhill – Reclaim the lanes

The community-owned projects saw participants of all ages, demographics and culture come up with fun and imaginative ways of illustrating and exploring what they can do to address local priorities like keeping back lanes tidy and litter-free whilst coming together to talk about the places in which they live and work reclaiming them as potential community spaces for vibrant cultural and community activities.

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Karen Underhill – #wingsofthecommunity

This project focused on giving individuals and community a creative voice, a means of expression whilst uniting them to tackle collaborative challenges and communicate environmental messages that affect them in the present and in the future.

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What really stood out to me is the rich diversity of the communities involved, led to a real diverse mix of arts engagement – cultural diversity is a beautiful thing and can lead to really beautiful results. Everything from community murals, to street parties, to music in the streets and even a music video called ‘Respect the Streets’ which also features Karen herself, created by the young people at The CHAT Trust Newcastle’s West End.

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Karen very recently finished a collaborative project called ‘Memory Petals’ with artist Kate Eccles; on December 6th a new permanent artwork went on display at Newburn Library, which was the culmination of three-months work by a collection of local groups from Throckley and Newburn.

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Karen and Kate worked with twenty-four people from the Grange Welfare Centre, Throckley Community Hall and ‘Flowers of Newburn’ community group exploring the themes of memory and discovery, mining the rich historical links of Newburn and Throckley to the River Tyne.

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The words and imagery inspired by these local stories were developed into crafting a circular motif, growing from imagery of a rose engraved military button, the watermill and other beautiful flowers. A variety of different techniques were used in the workshops to help create the heritage imagery, ideas and stories.  The techniques included mark making, painting, digital photography, apps, text, collage and sound recordings and explored the senses of sight, touch, smell and sound; and covered singing, textiles, printing and digital media.

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The project infused quite traditional arts mediums with digital whilst working with older people from local community groups, to try and record their personal memories, reflections and to celebrate the heritage of the area. The groups with encourage to explore their memories and self-expression, using creative means. The final piece was a final large flower artwork is 5ft x 5ft in size and contains 36 kaleidoscope discs, each showing the different mediums used. Each petal representing a person, a medium which is united into a visually impressive collaborative whole. A booklet has also been produced to document the three-month creative journey.

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Karen Underhill and Kate Eccles – Memory Petals

Karen has also recently completed workshop sessions with community groups from Kenton Bar, Northbourne Street Youth Initiative and Chain Reaction. They had a go at playing with scrap materials to form a Fire & Ice themed collars and a bustle, tinkered with UV paint and light, snowflake shapes and twinkly bits and mask making. Some of the results of these sessions appear at New Year’s Eve Carnival in Newcastle City Centre.

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So what about Karen and Digital Makings – well she “hopes to ignite a passion for learning and creativity by using thrifty ways of working, combining low and hi- fi technology and resources”. Karen will be running very diverse activities widely across Gateshead targeting digital inclusion, digital engagement and digital empowerment through creative activities– Voice and singing workshop at St Mary’s Heritage Centre, An alphabet photography workshop at Whickham library, Painting with light workshop, a VJ-ing workshop and Film Director Culture Camp at Gateshead Central Library.

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She will also be working with a wide variety of Gateshead based community groups – on community led creative projects with a digital thread. This will culminate in an exhibition, showcasing the work within The Gallery, at Gateshead Central Library. Knowing how well Karen works with community groups and the innovativeness of her facilitation, I’m extremely excited to see not only the end “thing” but the progression and evolution from initial idea to implementation.

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I’m really excited to work with Karen on Digital Makings and seeing some of these community projects take shape. Obviously, being the little raver I am – I can’t wait for some Painting with Light; I’ve got some great moves to bust out…..

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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.