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National Glass Centre to close

Given that I’ve visited the National Glass Centre a few times this year, I should mention that its future is under serious threat.

The National Glass Centre opened in 1998, partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund. On 31 January 2020, Boris Johnson chose the site to hold the Cabinet’s last meeting before the UK’s exit from the EU, promising ‘a new chapter in the United Kingdom’s story’. Three years on, with no EU funding incoming, it’s become clear that the ‘new chapter’ doesn’t include the very place where it was proclaimed.

Due to structural problems with the building, the ‘world-class cultural asset’ of the final (and very busy) glass furnace in Sunderland is due to be lost. The upper end of the much-disputed restoration cost is £45m: less than one day of the funding the former Prime Minister claimed the UK sent to the EU, or less than a fifth of one percent of the estimated cost of restoring the Palace of Westminster. In the Government’s view, the value of glass-making on the Wear is negligible compared to law-making on the Thames.

There’s a spirited campaign underway to save the National Glass Centre. I would miss it if it closed down, and that feeling was only reinforced by seeing the building half-closed due to storm damage on my most recent visit.

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

I’ve been to see Glass World

The National Glass Centre has curated an exhibition to show the influence of international studio glass styles and techniques on the British studio glass scene. It features work representing the practice in thirty different countries.

Here are three objects that stood out.

This is Dancing Goblets, a 2021 work by Sacha Delabre. Delabre grew up in France and studied for a BA in Glass on the internationally renowned programme at Sunderland University. He now works at the Glass Hub down in Wiltshire.

I’ve previously seen the left-most of the three goblets exhibited on its own. I was taken by its surrealist form. Seeing these three pieces together brings out the dynamism of the dancing. They are wonderful.

I didn’t react as emotionally to this 2016 untitled work by Czechia’s Martin Janecký, but I was amazed. The detail and complexity of the large form seemed incredible.

My visit to the exhibition of work by Neil Wilkin and Rachael Woodman earlier this year taught me something about the challenge of working with glass. It is hard to comprehend how Janecký made such a detailed, lifelike form from such an uncompromising material.

Map of the World, diminished by Inge Panneels is a tiny 2023 work, perhaps only a couple of centimetres square. Slightly cheekily, this work apparently represented Belgium, Scotland and England on the basis that Panneels is from Belgium, taught in Sunderland and works in Scotland.

This stood out to me, combining the aspects I liked in the previous two works. It is surrealist: the practical map is rendered impractical through its tiny size. It’s also an astoundingly detailed representation of a familiar form rendered in an uncompromising material. It’s brilliant.

Glass World continues at the National Glass Centre until 10 March.

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I’ve visited ‘Confluence’

What happens when you take three artists who are used to working in ceramics and give them a ten-day residency at the National Glass Centre? They try to explore ideas in a new material, resulting in an exhibition that—for me, at least—didn’t really work.

The three artists involved were Bouke de Vries, Andrea Walsh and Andrew Livingstone.

Andrea Walsh experimented with the fluidity of glass and ceramic, seeing how each could be made to fold or flex, almost like fabric. Her pieces were mostly tiny and intricate. They felt a bit like the artists’ artist’s response to the challenge, in that they explored the material, but didn’t offer an awful lot to a casual observer like me. I don’t really know how fluid ceramics can be, so a comparison with glass was a bit lost on me.

Bouke de Vries’s work seemed to mostly involve putting ceramic pots in glass boxes, marked with words like ‘fragile’ and ‘handle with care’. I appreciated the whimsy of doing that in glass, but I didn’t get much beyond that. According to the labels, the artist was intending to draw some connection with Vermeer’s Milkmaid, which appeared as four tapestries, but I didn’t really understand how the whole thing was supposed to fit together.

Andrew Livingstone exhibited a bowl of glass emoji-like fruit which I enjoyed, and which was displayed alongside the artist’s earlier painting which featured the fruit. I thought this was an amusing commentary on his style and the artistic process, upending the usual way in which still life art works. Until I read the label, I didn’t realise that there was another sexual layer of meaning in that the fruits are all used in ‘sexting’ and also reference ‘fruit’ as a homophobic slur.

Livingstone also exhibited a glass model of a house in its own section of the gallery, surrounded on the floor by what3words grid references. I had no idea what this was all about: according to the label, it aimed to “explore ceramic and glass as queer politically charged materials.” I didn’t get it, not least as there wasn’t even any ceramic in the piece, as far as I could make out.

All things considered, I suspect this exhibition would be of more interest to those with some background knowledge or experience of working artistically with ceramic or glass than it was to me.

Confluence continues at the National Glass Centre until 10 September.

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


As I wandered along the coast at Roker and Seaburn, I began wondering about the fate of lighthouse keepers. I can well imagine that they thought their job would be there forever, and that the human aspect of lighthouse-keeping could never be replaced. Even as electricity replaced other modes of power, I can hear their voices musing that a human presence would still be required. Even if the operation of the light could be automated, lighthouse keepers with their local knowledge do so much more than maintain the light, and can understand the local conditions better than any automated system. It may not be their primary function, but lighthouse keepers were responsible for some remarkably heroic rescues over the years: no automated system could replace that.

And yet here we are, a quarter of a century on from having any staffed lighthouses in the UK, after every lighthouse keeper in the country was replaced by automation in a transition lasting less than two decades.

Many experts predict that artificial intelligence will replace numerous professions in the UK within the next few years. I’m sceptical: maybe because I work in health. There is much in my field that could be (and is already) aided by artificial intelligence, but it strikes me that the human-to-human relationship is the most important part of a lot of medicine. It’s hard to see that being replaced.

Perhaps, though, I’m the medical equivalent of a lighthouse keeper, falsely predicting my own continued necessity in the face of the unstoppable march of automation.

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

I’ve visited ‘Fiona Crisp: Weighting Time’

Weighting Time is an exhibition of Fiona Crisp’s work spread over two different locations on two different sets of dates. I’ve been to see the portion exhibited at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art: the portion at Sunderland Museum has already closed.

This was a small exhibition of photography and film drawn from across Crisp’s thirty-year career. Included were representations of large, deep underground industrial spaces, which contrasted with images of similarly structured above-ground buildings, such as theatres and cathedrals. Both seem like otherworldly spaces.

A film installation took us driving through the Boulby Mine which stretches out under the North Sea, to space imagery travelling through time itself. The industrial aesthetic of the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art complemented the work which also includes structures and seating designed by the artist to help viewers to contemplate the work.

I found this intriguing and enjoyable, though perhaps too small to be fully immersed or to completely appreciate all the ideas Crisp had in mind. Though, that feels like unfair criticism when I have effectively only seen half of the exhibition.

Fiona Crisp: Weighting Time continues at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art until 3 September. A virtual version is also available online, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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

I’ve been to visit ‘Gathering Light’

The full title of this exhibition appears to be A British Museum Spotlight Loan: Gathering Light: a Bronze Age Golden Sun. The central object of the exhibition is a gold pendant—inexplicably displayed on a stick rather than in a hanging fashion—which dates back to the Bronze Age. It was found in Shropshire in May 2018.

I liked that the exhibition didn’t over-interpret the object. For example, there was text attempting to address why the design differs on each side of the pendant, which came to no firm conclusion.

I didn’t, however, learn much from the exhibition. There were a few local Bronze Age finds displayed alongside, but the exhibition didn’t leave me able to explain the historical importance of the main object.

I also didn’t like the degree to which the space was ‘British Museum’ branded. I’ve whinged about this before, and I should probably change the record, but when an exhibition about a Bronze Age object contains the works ‘British Museum’ more times than the words ‘Bronze Age,’ something is amiss. It feels like walking into an advert rather than an exhibition.

It was disappointing to see that the case containing the Faith and Science objects I’ve previously mentioned was covered with vinyls concealing the contents. It felt as though there was concern that they might detract from the British Museum’s special exhibition, with which they shared a space.

As you might tell, I didn’t take much away from this exhibition.

Gathering Light continues at Sunderland Art Gallery until 3 June.

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

I’ve visited Mark Pinder’s ‘Macromancy’

People who are much more politically savvy than me suggest that the Tory party might run in 2024 on a platform of ‘the recovery plan is working, don’t risk switching to Labour.’ The logic of that is confounding in itself, but this photo of the 1992 Tory campaign from Mark Pinder’s exhibition neatly summed up the more profound problem from a North East perspective… though of course the Tories won in 1992.

Mark Pinder is a photo journalist, and this exhibition selects from his work from Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 election win through to the present day. It has a heavy North East focus, and it is brilliant curated.

This photo of miners ending the last production shift at the Vane Tempest Colliery is positioned alongside the photo below, showing the fabrication of the head of the Angel of the North. The latter is often said to be a commemoration of the region’s mining and industrial heritage: the two photos are dated just four years apart.

There was much to enjoy in this exhibition—it’s not solely about political anger and betrayal, even if those were the bits that initially caught my eye. It’s a brilliant collection which provides real insight into the history of the North East region over the last forty years or so, and well worth a visit.

If you haven’t seen this show, then you’ve missed it: Macromancy closed yesterday at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art. This probably therefore counts as bad blogging.

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

I’ve been to visit ‘Harvest: Fruit Gathering’

This collaborative exhibition by Neil Wilkin and Rachael Woodman, previously exhibited in Wales as ‘Cynhaeaf: Casglu Ffrwythau” was brilliant. I’ve never seen anything quite like these glass sculptures before, and their abstract, colourful nature is right up my street.

While each piece isn’t individually attributed, Wilkin’s usual thing is displaying organic forms through glasswork (the ‘fruits’) where Woodman’s is the collections of tubes (the ‘gatherings’). I was more aesthetically taken with the latter, though the former did strike me as being an especially challenging ‘one shot to get this right’ sort of art-form.

‘Harvest: Fruit Gathering’ continues at the National Glass Centre until 12 March.

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

I’ve been to visit ‘Faith and Science’

‘Faith and Science’ is a small exhibit which forms part of Sunderland Art Gallery’s permanent collection. It gathers works by contemporary glass artists which represent aspects of, well, faith and science.

I very nearly walked straight past this—it’s positioned very close to the door—but two works caught my eye.

This remarkably prescient 2018 sculptural triptych by Luke Jerram illustrates the electron micrographic appearance of smallpox, HIV and an “untitled future mutation” with a more-than-passing resemblance to COVID-19.

In his statement, Jerram asks, “Has this virus been created in the laboratory or evolved naturally?”

Jerram is perhaps better known for his giant sculptures of the moon and the Earth (the latter currently floating in a dock at Canary Wharf)—who knew that he also basically predicted the pandemic?! He has also since made artworks of both the COVID-19 virus and one of the vaccines.

This 2005 triptych by Katharine Dowson demonstrating mitosis also caught my eye. Interestingly enough, Dowson has also created work inspired by vaccines: in her case, A Window to a Future of an HIV Vaccine.

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

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