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The Royal Northern Sinfonia and Isata Kanneh-Mason

On Friday night, Wendy and I returned to the Glasshouse International Centre for Music to hear the Royal Northern Sinfonia play works by Beethoven and Schumann, plus a Clara Schumann piano concerto featuring Isata Kanneh-Mason. We saw Isata’s cellist brother several times last year, including in this very hall. The talent in the Kanneh-Mason family is astonishing.

The RNS now stream most of their home performances on YouTube, as they did with this one. It’s both fascinating and discombobulating to see the same concert I’ve witnessed in person streamed online, with all of the televisual close-ups and changes of angles that medium provides. I guess it’s a uniquely twenty-first-century experience.

I almost booked the seats behind the stage, and given how prominent they are in the streamed production, I’m glad I didn’t!

This post was filed under: Art, Music, , , , .

‘Stepping Softly on the Earth’

This exhibition brings together work by twenty artists from around the world, intending to prompt reflection on how humans interact with the natural world.

Two installations particularly stood out to me.

This is Kaal (Time), a 2023 work by Kamruzzaman Shadhin and the Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts, which Shadhin founded. It’s a striking collection of seven hand-woven jute sculptures on aluminium frames. They are captured performing Bishahari Pala, a folk theatre work.

The work effectively combines a representation of the land and the people it sustains. There is something quite endearing about the characters; they look like they must have taken many hours to weave.

This is part of a dynamic water installation called Templo del agua, río Tyne by Leonel Vásquez of Colombia. Drops of purified water from the River Tyne fell through the complicated apparatus and created musical notes, which were both audible and physically sensed through the vibration of the benches.

Rocks from the Tyne hung around the space, which Vásquez describes as a ‘temple’.

Despite being in the middle of a crowded gallery of works, the combination of water and acoustics made this space feel quasi-religious or meditative. It was a quite captivating piece.

Stepping Softly on the Earth continues at Baltic until 14 April.

This post was filed under: Art, , , , .

‘The Waiting Gardens of the North’

Having recently seen Connecting Histories, This botanical art installation by Michael Rakowitz ought to have held particular resonance. Like Connecting Histories, there’s a plant-based exploration of colonialism. However, The Waiting Gardens of the North intends to reflect current, rather than historical, experiences.

By planting a ‘garden’ in which different plants are at different stages of the life cycle, Rakowitz intends to explore the strange ‘pause’ in life caused by waiting for asylum applications to be processed: a time when people are caught between the past and an uncertain future.

The central feature of the installation is a collage made of food packaging from local West Asian, South Asian and African grocery stores.

But honestly, I’m telling you most of that from reading the interpretation panels. I don’t think I’d have derived it for myself in a month of Sundays. Wendy commented that it felt like wandering around a particularly good garden department in a branch of B&Q, and I find it hard to disagree.

The nature of art means that, sometimes, the artist’s vision for an installation won’t meaningfully connect with some viewers. This was the case for me with this one. I don’t think I would ever have appreciated that Rakowitz was aiming for ‘a metaphorical space where the potential for growth, transformation, and resistance can take root.’

But that’s okay because I’m sure some viewers will love it.

The Waiting Gardens of the North continues at Baltic until 26 May.

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Nowt’s broken

This post was filed under: Photos, Post-a-day 2023, , .

I’ve seen Erland Cooper

On Friday, Wendy and I were fortunate enough to visit the recently re-christened Glasshouse to hear Erland Cooper and a string quartet from the Scottish Ensemble, supported by Midori Jaeger. We had a brilliant time.

Neither of us had previously heard Jaeger, but her set of original songs performed solo with her pizzicato cello demonstrated remarkable talent. It was Wendy’s favourite part of the night. Jaeger also joined the Cooper and the quartet in the main set.

And what a main set it was, with remarkable performances. I’ve listened to all of Cooper’s albums repeatedly, but my favourite is still the original Solan Goose, and a fair proportion of the set was drawn from that album. There were a couple of moments of real imagination: the title song of that album accompanied by a ‘gannet choir’ made up of the audience streaming gannet calls from Cooper’s website; one song played entirely in the dark.

Cooper’s music isn’t entirely up Wendy’s street: the melodies are quite simple and repetitive (I would say ‘meditative’) but we were both nevertheless entranced by the skill of the musicians. Cooper himself also proved to be an endearing character, bringing real warmth and humour to the evening.

Basically: we had a great night out.

This post was filed under: Music, Post-a-day 2023, , , .

I’ve visited the Chris Killip retrospective

Before I visited this exhibition, I had no idea who Chris Killip was: perhaps that makes me too ignorant to have an opinion on this major retrospective of his work.

If you are as clueless as me, then I should explain that he was one of the most celebrated and important post-war documentary photographers of the UK. He was especially known for his 1980s photography of Tyneside, published in a landmark book called In Flagrante in 1988. His work intended to show, as he put it, ‘not those who made history, but those who had history done to them.’ He was born on the Isle of Man in 1946 and died from lung cancer in 2020.

Killip was a co-founder at the original creator of the Side Gallery in Newcastle, which—with unbelievable timing—closed due to a lack of funding in April 2023, while this major retrospective exhibition was running just a stone’s throw away.

When I visited last week, a couple of months into the run, the exhibition was heaving. It was like something at the British Museum. The place was packed.

I’m waffling. And I’m waffling because I’m trying to minimise the fact that this sort of photography does very little for me. I don’t feel any emotional connection to it, and I don’t feel drawn to it. It just isn’t my kind of thing. I much preferred the personality and humour on display in Mark Pinder’s retrospective earlier this year. I also wasn’t keen on the decision to display the photos in glass frames in a brightly lit environment, which meant that reflections made them—in a very practical sense—quite hard to actually see.

I’m trying to minimise that because I don’t want to put you off. Even The Telegraph—the newspaper least likely to enjoy photographs of poor people from the North—gave it four stars. The interest and joy that the photographs in this exhibition inspired in other visitors was greater than anything else I’ve seen this year, bar Vermeer. I don’t to hold back anyone from having that kind of experience… even if it didn’t have that effect on me.

The Chris Killip retrospective continues at the Baltic until 3 September.

The picture at the top is my photograph of Killip’s photograph called Bus Stop I. I chose this entirely because the name reminded me of Diamond Geezer’s detailed coverage of Bus Stop M. This probably says something about my level of engagement with the work.

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, , , .

I’ve been to see ‘Wayfinder’ by Larry Achiampong

This is a massive exhibition by the British-Ghanaian artist Larry Achiampong, including everything from a feature-length film (showing five times daily) to a collection of (I think) twelve computer games, even a shelf of books to sit and read. One could easily spend days in this exhibition and still not see all the work. My brief visit barely scratched the surface.

Achiampong’s work explores our sense of identity. The scope is broad, incorporating everything from the way our identities can entrench inequality through class or cultural displacement, through to digital constructs of identity.

The most immediately arresting bits of work in the exhibition are from Achiampong’s Relic Traveller series, which includes a series of life-size space suits throughout the gallery. The narrative behind these is that they represent African travellers collecting the relics of their colonial past, found in the West.

I was also taken with a video installation in this series, Reliquary 2, which reflects on Achiampong’s separation from his children during the covid lockdowns. It features edited drone footage of Brighton’s ruined pier, among other sites, with cartoon space people overlaid. The audio features Achiampong directly addressing his children.

The installation Detention, shown in the photograph above, also caught my eye. This is partly inspired by the opening titles of The Simpsons, and partly reflects the way that politicians and social media posters repeat certain key phrases endlessly.

Yet, from the whole exhibition, the thing that struck me most was the atmosphere. Achiampong’s work is personal, he features his family in several pieces, and his work invites visitors to sit on beanbags or benches to watch video installations, to play computer games, to sit on maps, to take books from a shelf and read them. Somehow, whether it’s the work or the curation, the impression is unusually inviting, oddly warm-hearted. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

Wayfinder continues at The Baltic until 29 October.

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, , , .

I’ve been to see ‘The Art of Disco’ by Mul

Alex Mulholland is a Newcastle-based street artist, known as Mul, who is perhaps best known for his famous ‘running heart’ character. There is a vibrant, cartoonish, playful aspect to his work, which he has coined ‘disco style’. His work is seen in many locations in the North East, and he also has pieces in Rome, Berlin, and Amsterdam.

I’ve been to see his very short-run ‘pop-up takeover’ exhibition, which is as playful as you’d expect from his work. There was a mobile interactive element to the exhibition—one could point one’s phone at pieces, and they would ‘come to life’. I’m afraid I didn’t engage, preferring to look at the work with my eyes rather than through a phone screen.

Perhaps because I didn’t engage with that element, I’ll confess that the whole thing felt a tiny bit flat to me. It’s great to see Mul getting recognition, but seeing a load of his work collected together in a gallery isn’t nearly as fun as happening across it in ‘the real world’.

I did, however, enjoy the video installation showing the creation of one of his street works, and I enjoyed the way he had brought the ephemera of the real world—signs, tyres, etc—into the gallery.

The three-day pop-up of ‘The Art of Disco’ continues at the Baltic, but only until tomorrow.

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, , , .

I’ve seen Postmodern Jukebox

When it comes to music that just makes me smile, nothing beats cover versions of songs where the cover is in a different musical style to the original. They can be as out of the box as you like—the madder the better, really—and Wendy generally can’t help but smile either.

Postmodern Jukebox do exactly that, covering modern tracks mostly in 1950s style. Until very recently, I was only aware of a couple of their tracks from albums, and didn’t realise they are very popular on YouTube.

Wendy and I were fortunate to get tickets to their tour, which called in at the Sage on Friday night. It was completely nuts—where else would you see someone tap dance to the Super Mario theme or watch a Motown cover of Beyoncé? But it was also brilliant, both for the joy in the insanity and for the outstanding musical performances of the band, the singers and the dancer.

We had two particular highlights. Our long-standing favourite, a 50s cover of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, is in a style that’s totally at odds with the lyrics yet is somehow spot-on, and it closed the show perfectly. And Effie Passero’s cover of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, which we’d never heard before, found something genuinely new in a song that has been covered to death, and received a mid-show standing ovation like nothing else I’ve seen before.

Their support act, The Last Morrell, was a complete unknown to us, but he struck us as a brilliant songwriter and he’s gone on our playlists.

We had a great night.

This post was filed under: Music, Post-a-day 2023, , , , .

I’ve seen Hew Locke: The Procession

Wendy and I went along to see this 2022 Tate Britain commission which is currently being exhibited at the Baltic. It’s an installation made up of over 100 life-size figures, each elaborately dressed, waving flags or wearing masks or carrying banners or playing the drums or riding a horse or any number of other protest- or procession-like activities.

The first impression is one of overwhelm: there is just far too much to take in, even as you wander around and between the groups of figures. The more each figure is considered, the more startling details meet the eye: a share certificate here, a colonial map there, prints of troubling artworks in between, topped with some imagery of royalty. It’s a lot.

And really, that was as far as we got with it: there were too many ideas all at once to really feel like it was saying anything in particular. The work that has gone into the piece is astounding, but we didn’t really have any profound reaction to it. We didn’t leave the exhibition with a different view on the world.

In the Baltic setting, unlike in Tate Britain, a balcony allows visitors to consider the work from above. This has the secondary effect of visitors considering the figures appearing to become part of the procession themselves, when viewed from this angle. This probably changes the work in an interesting way, but it’s hard to know for sure when this is the only setting I’ve seen it in.

The Procession remains at the Baltic until 11 June.

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, , , .

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