Nostalgic for Newcastle

Someone came up with the fantastic suggestion when I was leaving Newcastle in July, that before I say goodbye to the city I should document what have become my favourite and fondest places over the last three years. I thought this was a wonderful idea, especially given how cities change and evolve over time, how interiors get renovated, or places close down. I might come back some day and not be able to go to my favourite little wine bar! I therefore felt taking a few  documentary photos was the perfect way to remember the good times. I’ve had them on my hard drive for a while, but it wasn’t until I revisted the city yesterday that I remembered I’d taken them. I was just visiting for the day to work with the Newbridge and Newcastle-based artist Rosie Morris for her upcoming exhibition at The Laing Art Gallery (preview Friday 30th September, 5-7pm with a live performance at 6pm). It was a fantastic today and I am very excited to be a part of her work (more on this next week or on The Laing Gallery’s website, click here to view).

I only realised yesterday however, how lacking my photographic documentation of Newcastle is. I’ve got the Quayside and it’s pubs – the beautiful river front, all of which I frequented often, The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (sometimes I kick myself for not keeping track of how many visits I paid there, just for the sake of curiosity!) Grainger Market where I bought all my fruit and vegetables (how I miss it!) Flares, the cheesiest club you will ever enter, but always with the gurantee of a good night! Blakes, one of my favourite cafes, mainly because you can get the yummiest breakfast served as late as 2pm (never miss your breakfast!)

However, I now realise I’ve only really captured the exteriors. The buildings and architecture are of course beautiful, but the interiors are what I want to remember more. I want to remember the dim light of the pub where I was laughing madly with my friends, I want to remember the coffee shop where I had to take my shoes off, I want to remember the chandelier of spoons that hangs in Quilliam Brothers tea house. I suppose, if you have read my previous posts, I am contradicting myself. In the previous statements I mentioned the lack of necessity with imagery, how words can satisfy and be enough. However, in nostalgic projects like these and in the act of remembering, I am definitely a visual person. I feel another few trips down to Newcastle may be needed, for me to complete my collection of memories.

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Visual Essay on Architecture

Being in Berlin gave me so many revelations that I can’t stop thinking about. It also, much to my delight, reignited my love for architecture. I did a project on architecture as part of my Art coursework at GCSE level, but have never returned to it as a topic since. Partly I think because I was put off by the result of my naive endeavors. At GCSE level I explored Omani architecture with it’s beautiful mosques and arched doorways, as well as more modern twisting architecture in the form of the Armani Hotel. I feel the way in which I approached it at the time was far too broad; I just plunged in with the only focus being ‘architecture’, meaning the results were weak due to the lack of specificity. Now I look at things with more refinement, far more critically and only really pay attention to things that ignite my utmost interest. Which pretty much all of Berlin did! I always remember someone telling me to look upwards as you walk round cities, because that tends to be the place you see the most exciting and unexpected things. Watching ‘The September Issue’ (a fashion documentary) years ago also made me think about how and where I should be looking as what was said has stuck with me. In the documentary, Creative Director at the time, Grace Coddington, talks about how you should never shut your eyes and sleep, but always look out the window of a car and absorb the world as it flashes by. Never miss a minute.

Walking around Berlin allowed me to contemplate the city and its structures at my own pace and I am slowly starting to formulate the idea of exploring the bridge between architecture and life within my artwork. I have studied and worked with the human body for so long now, I feel it is time to refine even that as a topic.Possibly merge it with my revised interests in the buildings that surround us on a daily basis. Culture of course comes into architecture, as does history. Not just of the buildings themselves, but of how infrastructure has developed over time. Perhaps a comparison between Egyptian architecture and the historical buildings of Berlin will feature? Perhaps a trip to Barcelona to finally see the work of Antoni Gaudi will happen? I don’t know. All I know is that I want to explore more. I want to try broadening the palette of my focus. So again I have resorted to a John Berger style visual essay on the architecture of Berlin.

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Back from Berlin

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I am not long back from Berlin and let’s just say, it is one of those places you don’t easily forget. I am struggling to pinpoint what exactly about the city had such a lasting impact on me, but it’s difficult to specify given the broad range of things that appealed. Firstly, of course, was all of the culture. There is even a Museum Island.  An island dedicated entirely to museums! Yes, that is my idea of paradise (we have already established on countless occasions that I am a major nerd). So there is no shortage of things to absorb and learn which is my kind of holiday – what I call a holiday/research trip. We did so many things ranging from the National Gallery, to The Jewish Museum, to the Berlin Biennale. What luck our visit coincided with that! For those of you who don’t know, a Biennale is a very prestigious art festival which takes place in countries like Venice. If an artist’s work is represented in a Biennale, that is something they will be glueing to their artist CV for the rest of their career! So being the contemporary art fans that we are, my boyfriend and I got very excited by that (as you can probably tell by my sidetracking). Anyway, culture. Culture, culture, culture. There is something for everyone under that broad umbrella – whether you like art, history, architecture or music.

13643565_1076082349149719_139534304_n The architecture I must say is absolutely breathtaking, especially on Museum Island. Everywhere you look there are beautifully shaped buildings. Curved dome roofs, intricate designs and embellishments, magnificent and proudly standing statues, ceiling and wall murals; it is a visual feast! It’s not only the older buildings, but the modern architecture is also truly incredible; tall skyscrapers are built at almost unimaginable angles, with glossy glass windows glinting in the sun from top to bottom, dwarfing you as you crane your neck looking up. Almost everywhere I looked there was something I wanted to draw. Which is why we ended up spending several evenings sat on and near this lawn of Museum Island sketching, drinking and just absorbing the evening atmosphere. This was another thing that greatly appealed to me, the general mood of the city. Although everywhere was crammed with tourists, the pace of life just seemed so calm and tranquil; public transport moved smoothly, people everywhere were laughing and smiling, buskers on this lawn had everyone clapping, people were casually drinking beer in most places we went. It was all just so magical and unforgettable. It stayed light late into the evenings and even when we were full of beer and arted out, we couldn’t help but keep admiring the place. The bridges, the wide wide roads and the cycle footpaths were all so peaceful in the evening light.

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We were there for only four nights and for a city as big as Berlin, it was not enough. You need a week at least to do everything you want to do, whilst still allowing time for adventuring down alley ways and seeing where they’ll take you. I have been to Berlin before – in 2013 on a school History trip, which was lovely, but for such an art orientated person like myself, it was not enough. I thought this extra trip back would suffice, but again I am left unsatisfied and with a thirst for more exploring. I feel each trip has to be better than the last (although this one will be hard to beat), because I know I’ll definitely be heading back. Although this time, I will be better prepared for the language barrier. That was tricky. Tourist places do of course speak English, but the little restaurants we discovered off the beaten track were very much native speaking. And neither me nor my boyfriend are the master of the German language. For some bizarre reason, French phrases kept popping into my head every time I tried to converse with a local. It’s good to know I’ll be fine when I get round to visiting France, but it just wasn’t any use in Germany. So my advice to anyone visiting, get a book and learn some of the language!

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Having now visited Berlin twice, once in winter and once in scorching hot summer (my pale self actually got a slight tan – which is an absolute miracle!) it was really interesting to see the contrast of the seasons. Mainly because of the fashion. The Germans have such an effortless look, they could throw on a black binliner and look like they owned it. I think European style in general just tends to have that effortless, ‘I just threw this on’ look; whether they’re snuggled up in thick coats and winter scarves, or wearing cascading summer dresses and ripped up mini shorts. I think the fact that a lot of them smoke also contributes to this glamorous aura. I’m not saying smoking is good, I’m just saying some people really do look good with a cigarette between their lips. Having now branched into visiting more of Europe with Amsterdam and Berlin under my belt, I am beginning to realise that I could happily live there. Or live abroad at least. There’s something mesmerising about a place that isn’t home. The very fact that you could eat a sandwhich for breakfast in Berlin delighted me, as I am very much a traditional breakfast eater with porridge and coffee generally the norm. Yet in Berlin you can have a breakfast consisting of a mozzarella and tomato sandwhich (to die for!), a sandwhich absolutely crammed with brae, croissants with sausages and cheese melted through them – an endless and yummy variety of options. I am very much a social meal eater. If I am alone, I couldn’t care less about food and I just eat for the sake of fueling my body. However when I am with other people, I absolutely love making an occasion of it; having a late breakfast, eating a long lunch, people watching from the cafe you’re sat in. Sometimes I think drinking tea and observing the world is one of the most peaceful past times that I would be happy to do forever, especially in a city as bustling and exciting as Berlin.

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So if you’re planning your next holiday, think of Berlin. Think of the buildings. Think of the art. Think of the history. Considering Berlin was not long ago divided by the Iron Curtain and had a Communist regime imposed in East Berlin by the GDR, the composition of the city; it’s infrastructure, it’s culture and it’s economy is incredibly impressive, particularly given it’s rapid progress. These features all show that despite it’s bleak and dark history, Berlin is a place that is very much orientated on the present, and what a superb present it is.

Alice Theobald and Atomik Architecture

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 I have viewed this piece at The Baltic a few times now. I did not run to write a blog about it, as I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought. I needed more time to process what I’d seen and I also felt like I had to see it again before I could formulate my thoughts into anything worthwhile. That is not a negative thing. The fact that this work forced me to really think and contemplate my experience of it shows its staying power and effectiveness. The work is co-authored by Alice Theobald and Atomik Architecture. It’s an endevour to blend an artistic practice with architecture. Given that Theobald works in performance, sound and installation, it’s quite an ambitious choice of blend. Hence my excessive contemplation over it all. 

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It was interesting because when I arrived on Level 2 the above scene is what I was greeted by. There’s an instant blockade which suggests a lack of access. A lot of visitors did in fact question whether or not they were allowed to enter the structure. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an art student and have seen things like this before, or if it was just an assumption on my behalf, but I entered without hesitating. I knew it was designed to make the viewer question so I was instantly quite taken by it! That was before I even entered the structure which is made up of everyday objects such as duvets. The comfort of that item in a space as awkward and industrial as this was quite a contrast. It brought the idea of comfort zone and bedroom space into a gallery setting which was an unusual experience. Yet it demonstrates the success of the piece given its play on the conventional associations of architecture. 

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There was writing scrawled across these interior duvet forms; it was difficult to make out so it took a lot of time to read. I found myself reading out loud in an attempt to process it better. This play on interior and exterior was brilliantly constructed. As the piece had all sorts of components including sound, video, performance through the installation, it could have been a very overwhelming experience. However, given how they had broken up the space by placing spherical structures at various intervals, it created an easing of the senses. There was singing playing throughout the gallery and the spoken word as well, yet when I entered the ‘duvet columns’ as I will call them, the exterior sound reduced slightly, allowing me to better concentrate on the text. 

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These ‘duvet columns’ were dauntingly high, so much so that they reached the ceiling. As well as emphasisng the expansive nature of the piece, it also really highlighted the relationship between the work and the architecture of the gallery. It was entirely work-in-situ. This was highly effective as it is not often you contemplate the ceiling of a gallery space, yet Theobold and Atomik make it a key element. The height also furthers the emphasis on the difference between interior and exterior. As does the fact I was being videoed as I circulated the work. There was a live stream documenting people walk through the work. This meant at certain points there were projections of my face at certain points up on the outer walls of the structures! This was on the one hand quite funny and amusing, but on the other quite uncomfortable. It was a relief to get out of the view of the cameras once I was back inside the columns! This created two different emotions for me in response to the entire space. Outside and looking up at the columns made me feel small and exposed; being inside the columns surrounded by duvets and away from the cameras made me feel comfortable and safe. Two entirely different experiences, both within the same space. 

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I’m so glad I went more than once before I wrote about it, as my experiences both times were entirely different. The first time I went there was music in the background and performers on the stage, the second time I went there were no performers with only a woman speaking as the audio. Two entirely different situations, but again within the same space. This led me to question how the piece is set up, do the performers come on at a fixed time everyday? Do they perform daily? Do they improvise? Why is there music when they are on stage in stead of the spoken word, is it to make it more theatrical? All very interesting questions that contribute towards the complexity of the piece. It’s not what people would call ‘pretty art’. Personally however, I far prefer art that challenges me and really forces me to question it. Theobald and Atomik are certainly successful in that respect.