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

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, , , , .

I’ve been to visit ‘Black Britain’ by Jhanee Wilkins

‘Black Britain’ was originally—in much rougher form—a blog created by Jhanee Wilkins, a photographer from the West Midland. It’s now an exhibition at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art.

The exhibition has a simple, repeating structure. Each series begins with an A4 page of text in which a black person introduces themselves and their experience of racism while growing up and living in Britain. This is followed by a photograph of them looking directly at the camera, one of them looking elsewhere, and a third of an object from their lives.

There is something deeply affecting about staring directly into the eyes of a person immediately after reading about their experience of racism. I was moved by the experience of Kae, born in Wolverhampton, who says,

I do not feel represented in this country, I do not feel welcome even after 42 years.

I can only begin to imagine, and certainly can’t fully appreciate, how fundamentally destabilising it must be to feel unwelcome in the country where you were born and have lived your whole life.

I was struck in a complete different way by Anne Marie’s story:

I think mainly, in the workplace that’s where I find that it is awkward for me to completely be myself. If I would like to bring my own food into work to heat up in the staff room, there’s a whole load of questions about what I’m heating up or the smell of it.

This reminded me of how privileged I am to not have to live with self-consciousness about this sort of thing, and to be able to go through life barely giving it a second thought.

‘Black Britain’ continues at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art until 16 April.

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

I’ve been to visit ‘Pyrex100’

Pyrex, the thermally resistant glass, used to be made in Sunderland. In fact, between 1922 and 2007, all Pyrex sold across the commonwealth—excepting Canada—was made in Sunderland. You’ve probably got a bit of Sunderland in your home right now.

The city is proud of this heritage, and so Sunderland Museum has created Pyrex100—an exhibition to celebrate a century since the start of manufacture in the city.

When I think of Pyrex, I think of glass measuring jugs. I was therefore unsurprised to see that the earliest Pyrex manufactured in Sunderland was a range of clear glassware. I had no idea, though, that glass teapots were a thing in the 1920s and 1930s.

Around this time, Pyrex was also a pioneer in marketing products directly to householders—mostly housewives at that time—rather than to their household staff. It’s sometimes startling to be reminded of the pace of societal change over the last century.

Though the designs of these pieces look suspiciously familiar, I was also unaware of Opalware. These were products made of Pyrex, and therefore strong and heat-resistant, but designed to look like china. They don’t look like they’d fool anyone, but I’m not convinced that I’d immediately pick them out as glass.

The crockery we use in our house is made of reclaimed offcuts of glass products: I thought this was a really novel idea when we bought them, but clearly I’m 70 years behind the times.

Commemorative Pyrex was a thing, too: here’s a 1966 World Cup commemorative glass. I would perhaps have expected to see this sort of thing in crystal, but seeing it in Pyrex maybe illustrates that Pyrex was once desirable in a similar way.

And this is the last bit of Pyrex ever made in the UK, which rolled off the production line as the factory closed in 2007. As this was the last commercial glassware factory in Sunderland, this also brought to an end something like 1,500 years of glassmaking history in the city.

You might, like me, have assumed that the word Pyrex shares the Greek root pyr (fire) with pyrexia and, indeed, funeral pyre, given that its main property is heat resistance, and it is glass forged in a fire. But this exhibition made me wonder about the ‘ex’, and so I came home and looked it up.

And prepare to clutch your pearls because—amazingly—the brand has nothing to do with pyr and everything to do with pies.

The Oxford English Dictionary quotes the original company’s assistant secretary as saying:

The word ‘pyrex’ is a purely arbitrary word which was devised in 1915 as a trade-mark for products manufactured and sold by Corning Glass Works… We had a number of prior trade-marks ending in the letters ‘ex’. One of the first commercial products to be sold under the new mark was a pie plate and in the interests of euphonism the letter ‘r’ was inserted between ‘pie’ and ‘ex’ and the whole thing condensed to ‘pyrex’.

It just goes to show that you can never rely on etymological assumptions.

Pyrex100 continues at Sunderland Museum… but it ends on Saturday, so you need to get there quick if you want to see it.

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

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