Some further thoughts: Tales of Valiant Queens, an Insight into Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s Latest Exhibition

A couple of weeks ago, Alice and I went along to the MIMA in Middlesbrough after receiving an invite to come and check out their new exhibitions. Alice and Rosie had been along before and did a podcast on their initial visit, but this was before their new exhibitions were there.

The three new exhibitions being shown this time were Making, A Life by Peter Hodgson, Living Beyond Limits and Tales of Valiant Queens by Chila Kumari Singh Burman. They were all amazing exhibitions and we spoke about them all in our most recent podcast episode. However, in this blog post I’ll be talking solely about Burman’s exhibition.

While we were there, there were talks by the artists on their exhibitions. We listened to Chila speak for over an hour and a half in what was meant to be a half hour talk, and I only wish she spoke for longer. She told us of how she grew up in a working-class Punjabi family in Liverpool in the 1970s and how the things she grew up with and experienced have influenced her art from then till now.

In the room, her work dominated the walls and took over the senses, printwork in vibrant colours, a video playing with loud music and amazing visuals, and who could forget the beautifully decorated tuk-tuk at the top of the room? Her printworks have been the main focus of her work over the years and each of them tell a different story and showcase different themes.

Some of them are collages that look innocent at first, but upon further inspection they contain some sexual imagery. As Burman explained in her talk, this was her way of expressing her female sexuality in a culture which didn’t allow it. Other prints of hers are much more obvious, including her body print in sugar which was shown in the seminal black feminist exhibition The Thin Black Line (1985). Burman uses her work to fight against stereotypes of Asian femininity and as part of the movement for women to take back control of their own bodies.

Her work also tackles issues of politics and race, with printwork which showcases her feminist and anarchist ideals. Symbols of immigration policies and systematic racism in Britain are highlighted in her works, including a print which shows Margaret Thatcher standing across a barbed-wire Europe and a British passport. It represents issues of colonialism and empire and it  shows the struggle of people coming from Asian countries into Britain and the hardships they faced from the Government.

Her work is incredibly inspirational and frankly very fun to experience in person. Every piece tells a story and I truly believe there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this exhibition. I look forward to seeing more of Burman’s works and after this visit, I’m confident that I’ll be coming back to the MIMA for more amazing works.

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out our most recent episode of Hey Art, What’s Good to hear about more of the exhibitions at the MIMA.

-Amy Smith

Beyond Compare: Art From Africa in the Bode Museum

‘Every visit to a museum prompts viewers to compare and interpret objects, but what does it mean to identify similarities and differences?’

The Bode Museum is a historic art museum located in the centre of Berlin. Like the others around it on Museum Island, such as the Altes Museum and the Pergamonmuseum, it’s old and has an emphasis on traditional pieces of art and specific time periods, and includes pieces typically found in other Berlin museums. The particular focus of this museum is that of Byzantine sculptures, and it is amazing to see such a vast collection of such age and from a range of different countries. What makes it quite notable, however, is the museum’s most recent endeavour.

The latest exhibition of the Bode Museum is one that places European and African artworks side-by-side, grouped by theme, style and history, in such a way that has rarely been seen before in such a space. As is written on the website for the exhibition, “many objects from Africa were defined as ethnological artefacts, while other objects of comparable artistry from European ritual contexts remained in art museums” – why is this the case? Why is one artistic and the other ethnographic?

It was a delight walking through the halls of this historic and ornate museum, being able to see the stark contrasts and unexpected similarities between these geographically and ideologically different pieces of art. One thing I’ve noticed is that art is often divided by era and location, such as the Italian Renaissance or French Modernism, and African works are often also separated, so the opportunity to see them together is usually quite rare. As a result, however, you are able to draw the conclusion that every society has the same ideals being creating these types of art, the same idols to revere, the same lessons to teach, regardless of geography.

Amazingly there’s an app which has images and details of every paired items in this exhibition, with far more information than was available at the actual exhibits (which you can download here if you want to have a look). And it is because of this I can actually show some images of the different pieces (because I’m a fool who forgot to take any pictures myself).

Opposite or Complementary?

The theme of this pairing is balance. The one on the left shows a woman and a skeletal figure back-to-back, serving as something of a memento mori (a reminder that you must die), and the one on the right shows a man and a woman back-to-back, equals in life. These pieces, I would argue, are simultaneously both opposite and complementary. Life and death are opposites, and man and women is often also seen as such, however they complement one and other as without one the other would not be defined as existing.

A stark difference here, however, is that the ideologies are contrasting. On the left, the piece of European descent, serves as a warning that beauty fades, and death is the end for us all, therefore one must live life virtuously. On the right, however, a Luba figure originating from the Congo, we are confronted with a somewhat more heartening comparison, which is that men and women are in balance and two parts of an ideal whole. This would contrast heavily with the traditional European notion of the balance between men and women, where the women are definitely seen as lesser.

There are dozens of other pairings within this museum, and therefore dozens of other ways to make some interesting and previously unknown contrasts and comparisons between some awesome African and European sculptures. Since we can’t all just hop on a plane and head over to Berlin (it’s only been a few weeks and I want to go back already!) I would definitely recommend to download the app and check see them through that – the museum has done a fab job and there’s just so much information about every piece and some insight into their meanings and implications.

That’s all for me for this one, I hope you enjoyed it!

-Alice

Some Further Thoughts: ‘Decompression’ by Sally Golding and Spatial

The Hey Art, What’s Good? gang were kindly invited along to the Tyneside Cinema to check out a film from their Projections programme, which is a new programme of artists moving image. The motivation behind Projections is that these types of project are generally confined only to a gallery space, so with an entire cinema at their disposal why not utilise it to present a wide range of moving image works in a space designed for screening the moving image?

We went to go see an installation called Decompression by Australian/British artist Sally Golding and London-based electronic artist Spatial (aka Matt Spendlove). You’d be hard-pressed to call what we saw a film, but it was most certainly an experience. If you could imagine a hypnotic cross between a club, a light show, and a cinema you’d be mostly right.There was very little onscreen for a majority of the ‘screening’ aside from a sort of visual static, however this shifted part way through (I honestly couldn’t say when because time meant nothing in this space) to show quotes from a book called Expanded Cinema by Gene Youngblood. This book relates very much to Decompression given that it literally explores the concept of expanding what it means to be a cinema. (I managed to find a PDF of the book which you can access here).

A quote that I saw on screen that really stood out to me was “We have a compulsion to be occupied”, and I think this really hits home in the current age of digital and mobile media (if you haven’t read Rosie’s blog post about FEED by Zara Worth then you definitely should). I know I’m guilty of scrolling through Twitter or Instagram for ages simply because I wanted something to look at, and in the space of the cinema this would concern the images we see onscreen. The dramatic car chase, the quick cut action sequence, beautiful landscape and cityscape shots: a lot of the time they’re just visual fillers. And this can of course extend to the entirety of what we go see at the cinema; so many films have little real consequence and simply just aren’t good or engaging, they’re just something to go see. As such, Decompression works as a sort of response to this, a means to experience cinema in an entirely different way and to have the opportunity to see what that means for them. For me, it meant being completely and utterly mesmerised. I was engrossed in the sights and sounds around me, yet at the same time my mind was wandering very far and wide. I loved it.

This leads me to recall a quote I had to write an essay about at university, by philosopher Theodor Adorno: “Every visit to the cinema leaves me, against all my vigilance, stupider and worse” (Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life, p.25). What this can boil down to is that when we go to the cinema to watch a film we essentially stop thinking. Where Hannah Arendt posited her ‘two-in-one’ theory, detailing how thinking to the likes of Socrates would be like two people having a conversation, in the cinema one of these voices would be silenced. There are two distinct ways of combating this ideology, however. One could take it at face value, becoming dumb when faced with imagery on the big screen, or one could look a bit deeper, and come to understand how you have the opportunity to become wholly engrossed by something you otherwise wouldn’t. This is exactly how I was during the screening: engrossed. Being so engrossed actually gave me a lot to think about when it was over, so much so I recorded a podcast and wrote this little essay about it!

I hope you enjoyed this little ramble into academia here, this was such a fantastic piece and it is something I would love to look into further.

-Alice

Don’t forget to check out the next programme of screenings in Projections at Tyneside Cinema.

Further reading:
Expanded Cinema, Gene Youngblood (here)
Minima Moralia: Reflections of a Damaged Life, Theodor Adorno (here)
Stupider and Worse: The Cultural Politics of Stupidity, David Jenemann (here)

‘FEED’ by Zara Worth and the Virtual Landscape of Social Media

Here at Hey Art What’s Good? we have taken a few opportunities to express our personal interests in the concept of virtual reality (VR) and how it is used in the context of the arts. We discussed VR technology in relation to 1UP North Gaming Expo, on our Instagram when we stumbled upon Zest Theatre’s street performance ‘Player 1’, and in various other conversations both inside and outside of the recording studio.

In this post I would like to consider how the exhibition ‘FEED’ by Zara Worth, which was shown at Vane Gallery, uses apps and social media to convey some of its ideology. The exhibition is a showcase of work by Worth from the last few years. The artist wishes to use her practice to explore our relationship with hand-held technology, social media and online culture. The show was overflowing with metaphor, so there is a lot to unpack, however I am most interested with the artist’s use of Instagram in her work.

“FEED”, the title of which describes both a social media feed and the cultural phenomenon surrounding food and lifestyle online, span across several rooms of Vane Gallery in the centre of Newcastle. The gallery is a crisp white cube space which added to the somewhat sterile aspects of the show. The work was a mixture of wall baised, 3D and audio visual pieces as this was a collection of various different projects Worth has worked on within the same subject area. This exhibition heavily focused the relationship between the impact social media has on society and culture, and vice versa. The crux of this is examining how ideas and values are shared and spread. A large portion of the work used motifs of food (in particular celery) and emojis. Instagram was featured within this several times, images mounted on the wall, spread on tables and the subject of moving image. Several television sets of varying size, shape and model displayed the same or similar footage of Worth’s instagram feed and videos she had posted on the app. Most of this content involved chopping celery to an obsessive degree, celery being the favourite food of many dieters. Opposite this, there were two rectangular projections, the dimensions of a phone’s touch screen, displaying similar content but to a much larger scale.

At university, I took a module which examined the concepts of landscape within contemporary art. Although I do not doubt that you are familiar with the term ‘Landscape’, these seminars encouraged us to consider the theory that, in the context of contemporary art, landscape is not a physical location but rather a constructed view. This relies heavily on framing, a topic I frequently discuss in Curation Corner. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the act of framing an artwork can completely change how it is read and therefore understood. Framing can take the form of a literal frame but can also include the environment the work inhabits, for example a gallery, a public space, outdoors or indoors, etc.

In the context of ‘Landscape’ and ‘the view’, this theory can be compared to looking through the lens of a camera, looking at the environment through the frame the camera provides. A good photographer knows how to create a successful composition, not by changing their subject but rather by making creative choices that impact how the subject is framed.

A perfect example of the idealised view can be found only 2 ½ hours and 109 miles away from Newcastle in the Lake District. The Lake District is a famous holiday destination in the North West of England. It is known for its lakes, forests and mountains which are so spectacular they have inspired many artists, including poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850), artist John Ruskin (1819-1900) and illustrator and writer Beatrix Potter (1866-1943). This is no coincidence. The land may look natural, but this aesthetic is only maintained through strict conservation that does not permit the land to become wild and restricts the buildings that can be constructed on the land. These rules were put in place to create the perfect Victorian resort. It is no accident that whenever rambling along a lake side or clambering to the top of a peak the surrounding view is phenomenal. This is a result of the Victorians (famous for their love of gardens) curating the landscape to create the perfect view. The environment is therefore synthetic, specifically designed to be framed and seen from specific vantage points to create a specific view. For this reason the land can be described as a landscape.

Think of this in relation to Social Media: the most successful posts are often also the most aesthetic. In this virtual landscape, it does not matter how beautiful or brilliant our physical reality is unless it can be successfully translated into the language of the virtual, framed by the platform. A photograph will only make a successful Instagram post if the subject of the photograph can be translated into a ‘view’ or ‘landscape’. A tweet will only gain traction if it can be framed with the correct grammar, emojis, and hashtags. In addition to this, social media posts must then be framed by the social and political climate of the virtual landscape as a whole, which in turn only exists in direct comparison to our reality.

For this reason, I believe that social media is a virtual reality that exists as a landscape. This is the landscape that Zara Worth’s work inhabits in her exhibition “FEED”. Worth included Instagram posts, QR codes and an app which reveals digital aspects of the work in this exhibition. Many galleries now expect their visitors to take photographs of the artwork upon their visits, however, Worth takes this to the next level by introducing technological elements which encourage the audience to have their phones in hand and engage with the work through the lens of their camera phone. By doing this, Worth was creating an additional framework for her work to inhabit. Here the artist is forcing her audience to participate in a digital, virtual landscape and interact with the concept of a view.

Worth has not created this landscape, but is utilising what already exists, bringing it to the forefront of her creative exploration. This encourages her audience to not only no notice what will normally go unseen, but more importantly encourage them to discuss it. This discussion is important as it is only by identifying this landscape can we use and enhance it. So often we hear about social media using us, the users, for its own gain. Whether it be through exploiting our personal data or the ad revenue we provide them with. I, rather optimistically, believe that if one has a better understanding of the way social media works as a virtual reality and its relationship with our physical reality we may be able to combat the issues surrounding this. Art can be the perfect platform to address these ideas. By placing Instagram in the gallery the app was framed in a different light. As Instagram is my favourite social media, I was shocked to find that in the gallery it came across as cold and manipulative in the context of Worth’s work. The heart-icon ‘Likes’ and the ‘followers’ became much less real and much more disconnected than when I have used the app myself. By changing the frame, my relationship with the app became different.

Perhaps simply becoming more aware of the realities that we inhabit and choose to invest our time into, the social media user can become more attune to the frameworks put in place to curate the virtual experience. Now, in the digital revolution, we exist in a duel reality, partly invested in the virtual whilst grounded in the physical. However, the everyday citizen of the social media landscape may be happily unaware of the ‘view’ that is presented and the impact this has on both realities. It is important to be aware of these elements, gain an understanding of how the social media user may be manipulated and question why this may be. Only through doing this can we utilise the ‘view’ of social media.

Worth’s work is thought provoking and engaging. If you did not have the opportunity to see the exhibition at Vane Gallery, you can access the archive via the link provided. I have also included Zara Worth’s socials:

 

Vane Gallery: vane.org.uk/past-exhibitions/feed

Zara Worth: www.zaraworth.com/about.html

                        Instagram @zara_worth

 

-Rosie Stronach

Some Further Thoughts: ‘Rift’ by Mani Kambo

Art and dreams have walked hand in hand throughout history. Prevalent across the arts from literature such as Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ (1823) which famously came to her in a dream, to cinematic classics like the Hollywood adaptation of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939) which used Technicolor to contrast the drab black and white reality that Dorothy inhabited when back in Kansas, to becoming the key focus of ‘Surrealism’, the 20th-century avant-garde movement concerned with exploring the subconscious. The meaning and existence of dreams has been the subject much scientific, social and artistic study. Whether dreams reveal aspects of our subconscious which we may otherwise be unaware of or if they are simply helping us process our day to day experiences they have been responsible for much creative contribution and no doubt will continue to do so.

Dreams can exist without time, coherence, narrative or form. There exists an idea that to enter a dream is not to create something new but rather a state of being that we are always somewhat a part of and are free to slip in and out of. This idea suggests that there is a stream of abstract consciousness that is constantly taking place that we can enter into a leave at will. This then gives the impression that we each have the capacity to abandon this reality and enter into a new one. We can do this not only through differing our physical state, such as sleeping, but also through the creation and exploration of the arts. ‘Rift’ could be a perfect example of this as through her chosen mediums and motifs Mani Kambo invites her audience to enter into her dreamscape.

This is most prevalent in Kambo’s audio visual piece. Kambo explained to us that she sees herself as mainly a digital artist whose practice is largely concerned with the moving image. The film exhibited in ‘Rift’ is an abstract sequence of film, photography and animation seeped in bold imagery that is coherent with the other elements of exhibition. The film is played on four sheets of fabric that hang an equal distance from each other in the centre of the room. As he projection hits each sheet of netting the images become enlarged and more distorted as the light passes through the fabric. The true beauty of this piece is that the viewer can not only walk around the film, watching as it changes from every perspective in the room, but they can also walk through it, literally entering into the landscape. As the light hits the viewer as they walk between the silk-like hangings one could argue that they then become part of the dream. As the film surrounds the viewer they can allow themself to become completely immersed. By doing this, they are inhabiting both this physical reality and the dream world that Kambo has constructed. This could therefore be a visual representation of slipping from the conscious to the subconscious, this physical landscape to a dreamscape, as seamlessly as drifting in and out of sleep.

One could even argue that all art is a dream, a dream that is becoming realised and grounded in reality as an artist translates the language of dreams into their own visual language with which they can communicate to a wider audience. There seems to be an overlap between. Examining Kambo’s work, one could explore art as a means of attempting to inhabit more than one reality at once. The ‘Rift’ that the title of the exhibition is referring to could be this pace between what is real and what is a dream, the space where one can exist within both.

Dreams are such an evocative subject matter I have left some resources and further reading so that you can delve a little deeper into the world of dreams within art.

– Rosie Stronach

 

Further Reading:

MoMA Learning: Surrealism

If you’re interested in how the practice of surrealism in the 20th century related to the study of dreams the Museum of Modern Art has information online at MoMA Learning. The link provided below offers information writings of psychologist Sigmund Freud inspired this movement as well as offering some activities that you can have a go at to pursue this subject more!

https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/themes/surrealism/tapping-the-subconscious-automatism-and-dreams

 

Front Row on Radio 4: How do dreams become art? (6 September 2018)

This 12 minute discussion examines various different elements of dreams including, what they may be, what they can do, what they have inspired and the future study of dreams. This could be a fantastic starting point if you are interested in the study of dreams or perhaps want to start examining dreams in your own creative ventures…

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06kg9wq

 

BBC Arts: Neon dreamland: Atmospheric photographs of Tokyo after dark (19th September 2018)

The cityscapes that photographer and art director Liam Wong captures exist in the space between landscape and dreamscape. His images of Tokyo resemble fantastical sci-fi backdrops or the setting of a futuristic video game in their dynamic use of colour and composition.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/5Lnn9Lg48jv1RvvvLnKKrJK/neon-dreamland-atmospheric-photographs-of-tokyo-after-dark

 

Fantasia (1940), So Much More than a Magician’s Apprentice

In this week’s podcast we talked about Bridges, an animation that follows the journey of a fisherman as he travels up and down the river Tyne. Ed Carter wrote the music alongside the great Northern Symphonia to create the conversations between the boatman and each bridge along the Tyne. If you haven’t already seen the podcast I would encourage you to hop to it!

Seeing this piece at the Great Exhibition of the North reminded me of the power of animation and music, specifically classical music has when they are together. Many people would argue that classical music is a genre of music that can be rather inaccessible and people are put off by the ridiculously wordy names of the pieces (which can be intimidating). But classical music is in many other things we love, particularly movie soundtracks (I’m looking at you Pirates of the Caribbean) and I would argue that animation can make it easier to interact with.

When I was young, one of my favourite movies was Fantasia (1940). Fantasia combined a classical music soundtrack of well known pieces and created animated stories based on them. Originally used to promote Mickey Mouse (who appears as the sorcerer’s apprentice), it initially didn’t reach the acclaim that was intended. But due to it being rereleased and remastered over the years, in 1998 the American Film Institute ranked it as the 5th greatest animated film in their top 10.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen this movie but it has inspired me in so many ways and opened up the world of classical music to me. I didn’t know the names of the composers or what the orchestra was called, I just liked the one about the flowers or the one about the flying horses. It wasn’t until years later that I found out what the names of the pieces of music actually were. But then it wasn’t so much about what the music was called and who did it best. It was about bringing the music alive and into a visual format that always works so well; animation. Some of the pieces tell a definite story like the mystical countryside of Beethoven’s pastoral suite (one of my favourites) and other pieces were more abstract images.

One such abstract piece is the intermission part. A line called the soundtrack, which is shy at first, is given many different types of instruments and pieces of music to visually demonstrate. It translates the feeling of the music it into patterns and colours.

The line is given a sort of personality through the animation and the musical expression, very similar to the lines and patterns present on each of the bridges of the river Tyne. This is why animation works so well for music because it isn’t bound by reality, it can create anything in relation to the music, however abstract. Ed Carter alongside Novak who did the animation for Bridges were able to create different personalities for each bridges which was very cool to see.

I hope that people are able to look past all the fancy names and worrying about not ‘getting’ or understanding classical music. Classical music is such an art form that shouldn’t be about getting it right. Like any piece of art it’s about how it makes you feel. I believe animation and seeing things helps to see what the music may be about and encourage others to paint their own pictures in their minds eye. If you can, please try and see all of Fantasia (1940) if you haven’t already, it is such a masterpiece.

Ellie :0

Soundtrack intermission Fantasia (1940)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTM48pwoXAo

Can you think of any other pieces of classical music and animation matches? Or have any thought? Please send your responses to heyartwhatsgood@gmail.com

Some Further Thoughts: Idea of the North, ‘Women by Women’

Women by Women Exhibition

Women by Women is an exhibition currently being held at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. I visited this exhibition with Alice, Ellie and Rosie when we all went to see Phil Collins’ Ceremony. I found this exhibition to be particularly interesting as it showcases the lives of women in the North East from different periods in the 1970s up to the early 2000s.

Growing up in the North East myself, very rarely have I actually seen much documentary photography based on the area, much less the women who live here. In fact, the exhibition points out that the North of England has been very much focussed on the men as both subjects and photographers, not the women. It aims to shine a light on the working class women in the area over the space of three decades and bring women into the picture.

A term used in the exhibition is ‘celebration over crucifixion’ – meaning that the objective is to celebrate the women and their unique life experiences instead of judge them for it.

There are five different photographers who feature in this exhibition, they include Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen,  Tish Murtha, Markéta Luskačová, Izabela Jedrzejczyk and  Karen Robinson. Unfortunately, when we visited half of the exhibition room was cordoned off due to a leak in the ceiling, so I didn’t get a good look at the works of Karen Robinson and some of the works of Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen.

Marketa Luskacova – Beaches (1978)

Luskacova’s exhibition Beaches was shot in 1978 after she was approached by Amber member Murray Martin. She was asked to photograph around the North East and document the working class culture here.

In her exhibition, her work showcased the beaches in the North East and the people who visit them. She described the beaches to be “like no other beaches in the world”. She shot a lot of her work in the local town of Whitley Bay and captures the regular working class people enjoying the beach.

It was fascinating to see how one of the beaches I visited often as a child looked then and has changed now. At the same time, it doesn’t look to have changed too much, it’s still a small town beach where lots of working class families come together to enjoy on a summer day.

Sirkka-Lissa Konttinen – Writing in the Sand (1970s-1990s)

The work here was part of a 1991 exhibition and was made to coincide with the Amber Films’ Writing in the Sand.

The work shot for this exhibition was shot over a period of 17 years which makes it truly fascinating to look at. Konttinen travelled around the different beaches and coastal towns of the North East, ranging from Druridge Bay to Hartlepool. Like Luskacova, Konttinen loved Whitley Bay the most. In fact, she loved it so much that she even lived there for 7 years!

One of my favourite photos from Konttinen’s work features three elderly women standing together on a beach showing off their legs and laughing. It’s such a happy photo and embodies the warmth and community of the North East working class community. Despite the fact that the 1970s was an economically tough time for the North East, this photo shows that the area wasn’t all doom and gloom.

Isabela Jedrzejczyk – Jungle Portraits (1981)

Jedrzejcyzk’s work was shot in the long gone “Jungle” of North Shields’ Northumberland Arms pub. The pub was a favourite of Isabela’s and other Amber / Side Gallery photographers. She describes the character of the pub as a result of it being a hotspot for “foreign crews, sailors and shipyard workers as well as the local habitues.”

Before the pub was demolished, it served as a makeshift gallery for Jedrzejcyzk’s portraits. It became lovingly known as “the rogue’s gallery”. Seeing as this place was long gone before I was even born, it was very interesting to learn about this local hotspot. While it may have been a “rough” pub to visit, it sounds as though it was a melting pot of cultures where people from around the world would meet fleetingly to enjoy a local North East pub.

Tish Murtha – Youth Unemployment in the West End of Newcastle (1980)

Tish’s work was the result of a Side Gallery commission back in 1979. This was different to the other photographer’s work in the exhibition as it was a deeply personal project for Tish. It documented not just the lives of working class women from the North East, but Murtha’s own siblings.

The work is a criticism and condemnation of the Youth Opportunities Programme put in place by the government in the 1970s. The people enrolled in the programme were technically termed as being employed, when they were in fact very much out of work. Since they were officially ‘employed’, they never entered the unemployment statistics, in a clear bid for the government to cover up the unemployment crisis in the North East in the 1970s.

Her work shows desolate and barren areas of Newcastle’s West End where many young people’s lives have been deeply affected by youth unemployment. One picture which is my favourite of the exhibition, is titled Karen on overturned chair and shows a young woman sitting on an overturned armchair in the middle of a smoky street surrounded by rubble, rubbish and two young boys in the background. I think it perfectly encapsulated the situation of the time as the girl looks utterly defeated in her desperate surroundings.

I’m sad that I didn’t get to see the remaining photos in the exhibition which features another by Konttinen titles Byker and one by Karen Robinson titled All Dressed Up. I will definitely try to go back before the exhibition ends to get a good look at them.

Overall, I loved this exhibition for showcasing the lives of ordinary women in the North East over a series of decades. For a long time, men have been the sole focus of Northern photography, and it’s refreshing to see how women’s lives have been in the area. I would certainly recommend this exhibition to anyone visiting the Baltic any time soon.

– Amy Smith