Blog Posts

Living in a Northern Town

This week we went to see Double Dropping on a Phantom Island by Michaela Cullen and Declan Colquitt at The Newbridge Project, which is part of their ‘Life in a Northern Town’ series of exhibitions. This prompted me to consider my own life and experiences living in a northern town. I live in Gateshead, specifically in an area called Bensham, which is just across the river from Newcastle. This is a place I’ve lived all of my life really, and as such I’ve seen it change quite a bit over the years.

An example of this change are the entire blocks of streets that have been entirely demolished in the past few years, just down the street to my home. Dunsmuir Grove and Westminster Street no longer really exist, and neither do several personally notable establishments. No more Bensham Booze, the off-licence where my siblings and I bought our first legal drinks when we turned 18; no more Graham’s, the favourite takeaway of my childhood best friends dad; no more Basudev’s newsagents, where my parents had been getting newspapers delivered from for years. One thing that is still standing in the area though, amazingly, is a phone box that is older than me. I couldn’t tell you if it works or not.


I’ve taken countless photos of the area I live, and I know I will keep on taking more, because its an area that is constantly changing. I want to be able to document its growth, its destruction and its development.

Ultimately I think it’s a shame that houses here are being knocked down: this type of terraced housing has always screamed ‘Northern’ to me, oftentimes being the homes of miners and working class people, and their being replaced by newer, smaller and ultimately uglier and more expensive ‘modern’ housing saddens me a bit.

This of course isn’t an in depth and particularly artistic response to ‘Life in a Northern Town’, but I always welcome the opportunity an art exhibition gives for a bit of reflection on the subject matter and your own life.


Blog Posts Exhibition Further Thoughts

Life in All its Vanity and Fullness is Art, the Highest Art

If life is art, then the documentary Ceremony by Phil Collins at the Baltic very much qualifies. Ceremony is a documentary composed of three parts; the transportation of a statue of Friedrich Engels across Europe to Manchester, the stories of the modern Manchester working class and the celebration of the statue being installed. Engels is known as one of the authors of the Communist Manifesto alongside his friend, Karl Marx. But before this in 1845, Engels lived in Manchester and wrote with Marx The Conditions of the Working Class in England based upon the working class living in Manchester at that time. The themes of temporary work and education that is influenced by the politics and religions of the ruling class in Engels work are still relevant for 2017, when the film was first released. One major difference however is that instead of just being a writers topic, the documentary brings the lives of the people into the forefront of the story. The experiences of people translated into art is a way of prompting action or a response and is the main area I will be looking at. (Well done for getting past the first paragraph, I can only write like a scientist. My apologies).

Ceremony Image(

Of course people’s living conditions is a popular theme in art. Even Charles Dickens did this, specifically in his novel Nicholas Nickleby. Written in 1838-1839 it strongly critiques the Yorkshire boarding schools of the time. One in particular served as his inspiration: Bowes Hall Academy. This school had horrendous living conditions for its wards and was a representative of most at that time. Dickens witnessed students being beaten, widespread blindness and evidence of death. Charles Dickens used this experience to add depth to his characters; for example Smike the maltreated student, and the vicious headmaster Wackford Squeers. Eventually in 1840, many of these schools went out of business, and the gathered attention on this system by Dickens’ book arguably played a part in this. Dickens was known for his descriptions on a lot of the living conditions of the lower classes during this time and through his personal experiences of poverty.


Unfortunately poverty is also still present today. In 2014-2015 a documentary called Shy Bairns Get Nowt by Vice looked into food poverty in the UK. A food bank, located in the West End of Newcastle, was giving food parcels to 1000 people per week. The documentary primarily followed ‘Barry’ as he used this food bank. We get to know Barry more and more as the documentary goes on and we build up a closer depiction of what he is going through. Other people who use the foodbank and help there are also interviewed throughout the documentary. It represents these people’s reality in a way that evokes a response in you, which I believe art should do. Food poverty is a hidden aspect of society that can affect anyone. The title ‘Shy Bairns Get Nowt’ is a Geordie proverb meaning if you don’t ask you don’t get anything. How much that applies to the people who would rather starve than use a foodbank or a wider acknowledgement of the Shy Bairns of society that are ignored is anyone’s guess.


A major champion of ‘reality encased in beauty and truth’ (Joseph Ishill, 1931) is Emma Goldman. Emma Goldman was an anarchist feminist who wrote Anarchism and other Essays in 1910 (would recommend). She was a committed activist and lecturer who critiqued many different aspects of society such as religion, the Soviet Union, and women’s rights. She also worked to bring to the American public plays, such as Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky and works by Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw. She believed that great art has always gone to the masses, particularly that art and life are one and the same. She worked at this all her life bringing reality as radical thought into her discussion. Showcasing or creating art about the everyday life, like the examples given is as powerful now as it was back then.

Even if you don’t know about Friedrich Engels, Emma Goldman or Charles Dickens (I didn’t read Nicholas Nickleby, the internet is a wonderful thing). Showing any reality in an artistic format is what I love about art. Ceremony, Nicholas Nickleby and Shy Bairns Get Nowt are all examples of this. It is about showing people’s lives and struggles in a way that makes you think and even act. Which is what art should aim to do.

TL;DR showing people’s lives and experiences, particularly the lower and working classes at the forefront of art pieces is powerful and important.


References I used and further reading:

The Conditions of the Working Class in England and Ceremony tatue-of-engels-across-europe-to-manchesterNicholas

Nicolas Nickleby

Nickleby schools

Shy Bairns Get Nowt 

Shy Bairns get nowt oodbank est-foodbank/

Emma Goldman and art in an anarchist sense chist

Anarchism and Other Essays– Emma Goldman (1910)

Blog Posts

Salvador Dali and Virtual Reality

Hey guys, what’s good? On this week’s episode we were joined by David Campbell as we talked about the gaming exhibition 1UP North taking place in Northumbria University. Unknown to us, myself and David both explored the idea of virtual realities (VR) and how they interact with our own reality in our dissertations. Where he examined VR in relation to games having an impact of the environment, I explored how VR is used in contemporary art. This lead to quite interesting discussion, so if you haven’t heard the episode you can find it here:


Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus,” 1933–35, Salvador Dalí.
Photo: © Salvador Dalí/Fundació Gala-Salvador Dali/Artist Rights Society (ARS), 2015

While talking about the VR experiences available, I mentioned that during my dissertation research I found a video that was part of a 2016 exhibition celebrating the work of surrealist artist Salvador Dali (1904-1989) and animator and producer Walt Disney (1901-1966). The exhibition was entitled ‘Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination’ and aimed to offer an immersive and enriching multi-media experience that told the story of the unlikely alliance between two of the most renowned artists of the twentieth century. After meeting at a Hollywood party in 1945, Dali and Disney became life life-long friends. Although the two never completed a project together, they planned to collaborate on a film entitled Destino, which did go into production despite eventually bringing scrapped after three months.


Within this 2016 exhibition, VR was used in a piece entitled ‘Dreams of Dali’ in which the viewer is invited to immerse themselves in a reconstruction of one of Salvador Dali’s surreal landscapes.

Personally, I play games to enter into worlds and situations which I would never encounter in our reality. I much prefer games that immerse me in their gameplay by allowing my imagination to run wild, rather than the games that aim to be super realistic and lifelike. In my opinion, this is where VR technology is missing the mark. The emphasis so far seems to have been on placing gamers in very life like situations, simply mimicking the reality we inhabit. But to me, that’s not what is magical about video games and art. Why would I use VR to stand in a virtual art gallery when I could use to to actually enter into the art! I want to stroll in Monet’s garden and gaze upon Van Gogh’s night sky, and I don’t think many people would disagree with me.

This is what I enjoyed so much about ‘Dreams of Dali’. I have provided a link below so that you can watch it; I would love to know your thoughts. You can watch it as a 360-video from a desktop computer or mobile device or, if you are lucky enough to have a VR device you can give it a go! I have also provided a couple of links to articles about Dali and Disney as they are two quite interesting characters!


Dreams of Dali (Video) The Dali Museum 

Explore The Trippy Landscapes of Salvador Dali Through Virtual Reality By Will Speros

The Time Salvador Dali Worked for Walt Disney by Mark Mancini

The Secret History of Salvador Dali’s Disney Film By Trey Taylor


-Rosie Stronach  

Blog Posts Curation Corner

Curation Corner: The Power of a Frame

Hi guys, what’s good? In this week’s episode about James Unsworth’s ‘Girth and Mirth’ I used Curation Corner to explain how framing an image changes what it is and how it is perceived. Here is a hilarious example:


Story time:

My dad, Papa Stronach, is a lover of the arts and has helped instill a love and respect of art within me from a very young age. I once walked into his house to see this framed on the wall. This. Framed. On the wall. Make no mistake, this is exactly what you think it is. This is the flat-pack instructions for an IKEA toilet brush.

My dad, probably amused by the absurdity of this image and its existence (perhaps thinking about the artist who was given the task of illustrating this) decided in to pick up one of the many frames lying about his house and mount it on his wall. After doing this and stepping back, what started as a joke became quite a humorous, but pleasing, aesthetic. The act of framing this image had changed what it was by giving it value and inviting people to spend a moment looking at it. It is within this that the humour lies as, upon further inspection, one realises that this scrap of paper was once packaged with a Swedish toilet brush. A viewer may even spend a moment to look again and just double check that it is not in fact a piece of pretentious contemporary art that they simply misunderstood. But no. It is exactly what it is.

Who the hell would frame that!? My father, everybody.

But I can’t say I disagree with him. I enjoy the humor of this object and yet there is also something I find quite appealing about the minimal aesthetic, the balance of the composition, the size of the image and the way it sits in the frame. I like it so much in fact that when Papa Stronach did a bit of a declutter recently, I tool it off his hands. He gave me the frame, thinking I could use it for some of my own artwork, but once I got it home I couldn’t help but feel that I was going to end up hanging this on my studio wall. Not to get too artsy-fartsy (but I have to use my art degree for something, right guys!), this object feels like a post modernist comment on global consumerism, capitalist culture and the profound stupidity this appears to breed. Again, someone explain to me why this had to exist. And I am sure that is exactly how it would be read if it was hanging on the wall of the Tate Modern, the Saatchi or our very own BALTIC. In my dad’s flat in Percy Main or my studio however, one is able to appreciate the hilarious and downright odd power a frame can have over the value of an image.

– Rosie Stronach

Blog Posts Exhibition Further Thoughts

Some Further Thoughts: Sembalance

When you look further into something, things are never as they seem. This was certainly how I felt when researching further into material surrounding the aptly named Semblance, an exhibition by Mani Kambo that recent appeared in our very own Hey Art, What’s Good? podcast (If you haven’t had a chance to hear the podcast you should first go ahead and do that!)

In general, the exhibition featured themes around the ritual and the occult with tools often used for divination, such as tarot cards, incense, palm lines and symbols such as snakes and eyes. Part of the exhibition included handmade paper made by the artist which had been made with lavender. Lavender itself is associated with calming properties and used in creating a peaceful environment for dreaming. Its physical effects have also been used to treat inflammation and may even help to create a positive mental state with its scent. However, the act of the artist putting a herb used for dreaming into a physical object (the paper) reminded me of turning your dreams into something that is physical. Along this same thought, the exhibition also featured incense made by the artist that was burned and filled the air with heavy, pleasing scents. Incense can also be used to induce specific emotional and spiritual states or the future. Unfortunately I can’t remember which herbs were burned (sorry guys!), but again, this ties in with the action of making a spell into a physical object or response.

Another aspect the exhibition explored was the future. This was shown largely through clay models of the artist’s hands that had some detailing of the palms and knuckles creases, and these palm lines were also present in some of the digital prints hanging on the walls. Surrounded by incense, in a ritual circle, the artist’s right hand (which I assume to be the dominant hand) can be perceived to represent conscious future or your future as an adult. The main lines highlighted on the print show the head, the heart and the life line. The depth and the continuity of the lines and how they intersect can be looked at in a number of ways depending on the ‘seer’. However, an interesting thing about reading palms is that they don’t stay the same. As you age or go through life, your hands and the predictions they hold change, so your reading of the future can also change. This was also present in the artist’s own maze necklace and what she talked about: that life always moves either forwards or sideways and never backwards which is similar to how you walk through a maze.

Overall, these things inspired me to look further and engage more with the art. The ways the exhibition, the artist’s words and the divination tools wove together created a story of how things such as dreams, reality and the future all move and transform in many directions and that whilst they may not move linearly, they never revert backwards.

– Ellie Clark

Articles used: