Wednesday, 26 October 2016

A day of threading packing peanuts

In preparation for the launch of A lot can happen in fifteen minutes, (my recent publication with UnstapledPress), I spent today threading packing peanuts onto lengths of thread.

Enough said!

Come along to NewBridge Books from 7-11pm on Friday 28th October to discover the threaded packing peanuts for yourself!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Word, The National Centre For The Written Word on Front Row

In times of major cuts to funding for the arts and culture, listening to Monday night's Front Row on BBC Radio 4 was a welcome treat as it reported on a new cultural venue located in South Tyneside. Last week marked the opening of The Word, The National Centre For The Written Word in South Shields.

"The Word forms the centrepiece of the £100 million regeneration of South Shields Town Centre. The building is brimming with exciting new experiences, activities and facilities for people of all ages to engage and enjoy, from a digital media wall and FabLab to an immersive storytelling experience and interactive touch-tables. The building will also be home to 70,000 books and OpenZone which provides digital learning and ICT to schools.

At its core The Word will celebrate the written word in all its forms through a rolling programme of events, exhibitions and workshops."

It is also a celebration of the spoken word, and there is the opportunity for visitors to add to an archive of dialect and language by writing down any words they are aware of but that are not necessarily widely known.

The building itself is stunning.

"The external appearance of The Word has been strongly influenced by the industrial heritage of South Shields with salt panning, coal mining, glass making and ship building all informing the material choices.

FaulknerBrowns Architects, who developed the design concept, likened the facade to fanning out the pages in a book with the entrance overlooking the Market Place being book-ended by two vertical spine walls. This allows the benefit of fantastic views both into and out from the building at key locations."

The main exhibition at the moment "celebrates the career and achievements of Sir Ridley Scott. Featuring a timeline of his life and movies, and focusing on six of his most famous titles including Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, Robin Hood and one of his more recent movies The Martian, the main exhibition is intended as an affectionate overview of his life in film. Aimed at both visitors who are perhaps only familiar with the movie titles, to passionate fans of his work, the content uses facts, stories and vivid imagery to bring to life the world of Sir Ridley’s movies with a real ‘wow’ factor."

I am looking forward to paying a visit to what sounds like a venue that importantly values words in their various forms.

For more information visit 

Monday, 24 October 2016

It's all go in readiness for Friday's publication launch and exhibition at NewBridge Books

I am somewhat overwhelmed and delighted by the positive responses from artists accepting my invitation to respond to my recent publication with UnstapledPress, A lot can happen in fifteen minutes. 

As we prepare for the publication launch on Friday, artists from around the UK and abroad are busy creating their own responses to the publication. These responses will be exhibited at the closing event on Friday 11th November. 

Today Deanna (from UnstapledPress) and I have been working on some collages which will be exhibited in NewBridge Books, and I have been practicing the readings.

I've also been busy corresponding with the artists who are contributing to the closing event. The group of artists involved are at different stages of their careers and working in different ways, but all are producing work in response to the publication. It is their choice as to what specifically they respond to, whether it be a diagram or drawing within the publication, a particular text or sentence within a text, or the general tone and themes that run throughout the publication.

As the number of contributing artists increases, so does the number of publications sold. Today Newcastle University Library got in touch to let me know that they have purchased a copy for the library. I hope that it is well received.

The publication can be purchased online from

I would like to thank all those who have, and continue to support my recent exploration into creative writing.

Happy reading!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

First contribution to the closing exhibition received

I am delighted at the number, range and quality of the artists that have accepted my invitation to respond to my publication A lot can happen in fifteen minutes, published in collaboration with UnstapledPress.

The publication is being launched at NewBridge Books on Friday 28th October, 7-11pm with readings at 8pm and an exhibition. There may even be jelly!

The exhibition will last for 2 weeks but will be changed for the closing event on Friday 11th November, between 6-8pm. The closing event will be a showcase of work produced and curated by a group of artists, musicians, writers, creatives who have responded to A lot can happen in fifteen minutes.

I've just received my first response, and it is very interesting to study the ways in which the artist has responded to the publication, and notice particular points of interest. I am curious to see what others create.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Caroline Achaintre at BALTIC, Gateshead

Level 3 of the BALTIC is currently host to an exhibition of work by French artist
Caroline Achaintre. 

Achaintre "works across a diverse range of media that includes textiles, ceramics, prints and watercolours, using techniques typically associated with the applied arts. 

Her work is colourful and potent, evoking the subversive spirit of European carnival and creating an atmosphere that is simultaneously playful and absurd. 

Citing German Expressionism, post-war British sculpture and Primitivism as influences, her work also makes reference to more contemporary sub-cultural strands of sci-fi, the Goth-metal scene, psychedelia and horror films."

I find both the work and her means of installing the work interesting, considered and inviting. She varies the scale and type of work throughout the exhibition, and forces the viewer to engage with the work in different ways. Large-scale 
handtufted woollen hangings are impressive both from a distance and up close. Ceramic masks are displayed both in a line on the wall and on bespoke stands that resemble figures.

The 'false wall', (for want of a better term), was specially built for the gallery and the work that she was going to exhibit. 

Colourful drawings in a line face a line of black framed prints, one set neatly aligned to the bottom of the frame whereas the black prints seem to be hung from their central point.

I admire Achaintre's use of colour, not only in her artwork, but also in the means of display such as the different coloured plinths. 

In a recent interview for Aesthetica Magazine Achaintre revealed:

"Colour is an important part of my work, it sets the tone for the world/character the piece is from, often bright, but sometimes also muted and subtle. Again, I play with associations, also through colour. The tufted piece Ray-Inn radiates sun rays, whereas the ceramic sculpture ‘Mola’ looks like it comes from the bottom of the sea."

Nowhere is the colour more vibrant than some of the woollen hangings.         

"Shooting the threads through a canvas, working from the back to the front, she is basically working blind. She mixes the lengths of threads, producing an uneven surface and allowing accident, something that appeals to her, inspired by her professed love of expressionism."

Monday, 10 October 2016

Akala at The NewBridge Project as part of Hidden Civil War

On Saturday I was fortunate enough to listen to Akala speak at The NewBridge Project as part of the Hidden Civil War programme.

I must admit that a few weeks ago, the name Akala meant nothing to me. I apologise now!

"This fiercely independent artist has performed in over 30 countries, released 6 albums, two books, presented the seminal Life of Rhyme for Channel 4, founded The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company and has been a tireless voice for education and social justice in the UK and all over the world.

Akala is a MOBO Award Winning artist, an outspoken rapper, spoken word artist and writer. In 2008 Akala founded the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company (Ian McKellen is a patron), a touring troupe performing Akala’s adaptations of Shakespeare’s work. His aim was to underline the similarity between the plays and the poetry of the best rappers, or, as he put it, “the lyricism that transcends all the revenge-tragedy, Tarantino violence”.

The ‘Doublethink’ diaries is a collection of dystopian poetry, the lyrics taken from the Doublethink album and selected other writings from one of the most interesting, informed and challenging voices to emerge from the British music scene in recent years. ‘The Ruins Of Empires’ — an epic poem and graphic novel features illustrations by Tokio Aoyama and follows ‘The Knowledge Seeker’ through the course of human history, via astral travel and multiple re-incarnations, in an attempt to discover the causes of the rise and fall of empires."

The event was sold out, additional tickets were released and there were people on the day coming into the gallery hoping that they would be able to get to see Akala in action.

For me, one of the best things about the Hidden Civil War programme is that it is attracting people who would not normally be contemporary art gallery visitors. I often go to art events and look in the room to see the same faces and wonder whether as artists we are just talking to other artists. But as I scanned the project space on Saturday, I was delighted to see many new faces I did not recognise from the art scene, and talk to a bunch of people who were new to NewBridge, but genuinely wanted to come back after this, their first experience. Surely that alone is an achievement in itself.

As for Akala, he spoke with passion, intelligence, wit, and responded to questions in a thoughtful and open manner. Politicians sure could learn some things from him!

Sunday, 9 October 2016


The BLOCK party last night was an idea chance to visit the experimental digital print room currently within The Northern Charter project space & library.
"In the spirit of a famous broadside by Beatrice Warde (1900-1969), celebrating the eloquence and power of the printed word: digital collages are being developed by Giles Bailey & CIRCA Projects with collaborators visiting the print room each day.

Visitors are welcome to spend time browsing research content, videos and a specially curated reading room. Then work with Giles Bailey CIRCA Projects to re-imagine archival images, texts, and video as digital posters in Photoshop.

The posters are projected onto a sculptural stage-set made by artist Eleanor Wright: an installation changing with the course of the workshops. Following this, the poster designs will be printed and distributed around Newcastle in venues, cafes and bars – acting as footnotes for future artworks to be developed by Giles Bailey & CIRCA Projects for the North East."

On arrival, Dawn Bothwell (one of the CIRCA members), gave us an introduction to the project and invited us to participate and make a poster using imagery chosen from the archive. We then investigated the archive, selecting a few images that caught our attention. As we were scanning the images and creating our poster, Adam Phillips (another CIRCA member) talked to us more about the archive material. We had chosen an image from a pamphlet produced by Star and Shadow cinema and an image from a publication about an art festival in Newcastle that no longer happens. It was a great way to learn about two aspects of Newcastle's cultural heritage that I have not experienced.

This is what we ended up with

I look forward to seeing the range of printed artworks that result from the project.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Newcastle University School of Education Communication and Language Sciences - Centre for Learning and Teaching Showcase 2016

Organised by Newcastle University's Centre for Learning and Teaching, this showcase event addressed themes of: Social justice; Innovative research methodologies; Professional development, leadership & learning; Innovative pedagogy and curriculum; Learning spaces; Teaching and learning in HE.

The event was split into 4 parts, with a choice of 3 different sessions in the first 3 parts, followed by the entire group coming together to join in the final part, a 'Moot' (a term meaning an assembly held for debate).

Attendees ranged from students from the department to Academics, teachers, educational psychologists and others involved in education in some form.

The first session dealt with Communication Aware Teaching and how labels may discriminate people. I was interested to hear about the Pygmalion effect, the term given to the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people (such as children, students, or employees) the better they perform. Tajfel's findings are also of interest to me: "Whenever we are confronted with a situation to which sort form of intergroup categorisation appears directly relevant, we are likely to act in a manner that discriminates against the outgroup and favours the ingroup."

The second session I went to was an 'Art and SOLE' workshop. SOLE is about learning in groups, with minimal facilitation and often using the internet.

It has affinities with the artistic process in the following ways
- they are cognitive activities (as opposed to craft which is purely about making with the hands)
- they encourage us to think for ourselves
- they are an enquiry
- they are creative
- questions the role of the artist/facilitator
- art is a form of free expression

We did an exercise in groups whereby we had to make some form of sculpture that represented what our learning looks like. This is the outcome!

The third part featured 2 presentations, one by Sam Shields who is researching assessment in the UK and the Netherlands. She analysed the methodological traditions of these two countries.

The other presentation was by Lydia Wysocki who discussed words and pictures and learning: comics as a method of reflecting on learning, facilitating collaboration and working with narratives. For a comic novice like me, her talk gave an excellent insight into the value of comics and how to read them.

To end the evening, we all gathered for a Moot. A 'Moot' is a medieval word meaning an assembly held for debate. Three colleagues were given 5 minutes to share their views in relation to the question: How can we ensure all children achieve?

Here is a summary of some of the suggestions made:

- the importance of ensuring the wellbeing of both children and teachers
- not letting results be the most important thing
- every child matters

- eliminating categories and labels in order to limit the Pygmalion effect

- Parents occupation and socioeconomic background has been linked to the choice of GCSE and A-Level subjects made by children
- Lower socio economic background = less children choosing STEM subjects
- Better education about what different subjects could entail and be used for

The event ended with another question being posed:

How do we ensure all teachers achieve?

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Drone Ensemble attempt to come up with a new way of playing the pipes

The Drone Ensemble currently store all of the instruments in Joe's office, and it is gradually becoming harder to move around without knocking into or treading on one of the sound making machines. It is also quite a cumbersome challenge to set up the instruments and is not very time effective when we are only able to meet once a week for a few hours. When we have performed outside of the University, transporting the instruments has been another mammoth task requiring several trips, so any way we could reduce the clunckiness and size of the instruments would be a huge help.

We therefore decided to amend the design of the tubes so that they do not need to be attached to a base. We wanted to be able to have a wheel that we could each keep and move around with, playing the wheel on the various different tubes.

Achieveing the right design to make this happen is tricky, and we spent the whole session trying different options and testing out the results. Joe had sourced some felt for the rim of the wheel, and this seems to work when on the largest wheel but not so well on the smaller wheels.

Joe manages to make it look really easy to play, but there is quite a skill to balancing the wheel on the tube with just the right amount of pressure to make a sound.

This is how it is done:


Sunday, 2 October 2016

Side Gallery exhibition - Childhoods

Today I discovered Side Gallery, a newly re-opened gallery in Newcastle.

"Side is dedicated to showing the best in humanist documentary photography: rich, powerful and challenging work engaged with people’s lives and landscapes, telling stories that often get marginalised, whether they are from the North East of England or anywhere else in the world."

Side Gallery was opened in 1977 by The Amber collective because there wasn’t a venue in Newcastle, at the time, which would show the documentary work it was producing. Over the past 2 years the gallery has been closed to allow for building works to take place. The gallery accessibility was greatly improved, both physically and digitally.

The current exhibition, CHILDHOODS brings together 12 photographers and film makers creating work between 1977 and the present and crossing four continents. The exhibition creates a complex portrait of children’s imaginative lives, the social contexts they deal with and their resilience; of ourselves.

PORTRAITS AND DREAMS, 1975 – 1982, Wendy Ewald
JUVENILE JAZZ BANDS, 1978 – 1979, Tish Murtha
STEP BY STEP, 1980 – 1987, Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen
SEACOAL, 1982 – 1984, Chris Killip
THE TIME OF HER LIFE, 1984 – 2004, Lesley McIntyre
SHIFTING GROUND, 1997 – 2005, Dean Chapman
DOVANA FILMS, 2000 – 2016, Duco Tellegen
ALL DRESSED UP, 2004 – 2005, Karen Robinson
CLASSROOM PORTRAITS, 2004 – 2012, Julian Germain
WHERE CHILDREN SLEEP, 2008 – 2010, James Mollison
SYRIAN COLLATERAL, 2014 – 2016, Kai Wiedenhöfer
HOME MADE IN SMETHWICK, 2015 – 2016, Liz Hingley

I was particularly fascinated by the series of photographs called Where Children Sleep by James Mollison. He was commissioned to make work engaging with children's rights, which lead him to think about children's bedrooms and how they help children form who they are. Mollison was conscious that he wanted to document children from diverse backgrounds and so the photographs feature children from privileged and unprivileged circumstances. The photographs are deeply moving, made more so by the stories that go alongside them which really bring them to life.

There is a real power to this exhibition. It has the effect of getting people talking. The above series of photographs prompted a conversation between a small group of strangers. We discussed the changes to family values over the decades, differences in upbringing and the subsequent effects on society.

I would urge anyone to go to the exhibition. I would find it hard to believe if you were not moved by what you see.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Hidden Civil War Launch Event

Last night was the launch of Hidden Civil War, "a month long programme of activity in Newcastle upon Tyne, commissioned by The NewBridge Project. Throughout October 2016 activists and artists will contribute to a series of events that expose, collate and present evidence of a Hidden Civil War in Britain today.

The programme includes artworks, performances, public-realm interventions, talks and film screenings from internationally renowned artists and activists. A range of approaches have been taken, from quiet and considered talks and films, through to loud and overt calls for dissent. From playful interventions that subvert the political rhetoric, through to thought-provoking debates that highlight issues of austerity and give voice to marginalized groups. Whilst these works will be embedded within the city of Newcastle, they will be contextualised by national and international ideas of Hidden Civil War."

As with most previews, particularly at The NewBridge Project, there were so many people that it was extremely difficult to properly see most of the work, and I will definitely be returning to the Project Space to spend time considering the work.

A few one-off performances were commissioned for the launch event.

Ditte Elly set up outside the gallery windows in true busking style. Her "vocal performance explored the craft of song and story-telling, with an aim to question the relevance of ‘folk’ traditions in the modern age and how they can be used to engage in political ideas."

Richard DeDomenici was dispersing his customised balloons, each printed with one of nine revolutionary phrases such as "This is a protest", "All those racist people should go back to where they came from" and "Drone Machine". Throughout the festival more balloons will be free to take from the gallery, and it is hoped that the city will be populated with these subversive slogans.

The launch vibe was heightened when Dawn Bothwell performed altered electronic torch songs as Pentecostal Party.

It is all too easy to leave an exhibition opening without engaging with the artwork and forgetting its relevance, but the speeches by NewBridge Director Charlie Gregory and Chris Erskin, two of the core group of people behind Hidden Civil War were an excellent way to contextualise the launch and the programme of events to come. Given the nature of the exhibition, it seemed particularly appropriate to remind ourselves of the importance of our presence and what role we can play in shaping things to come.

For more information visit

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Damián Ortega at The Fruitmarket Gallery

The current exhibition at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh left me a little underwhelmed. For an artist who is known as "one of the most prominent artists of the new Mexican generation" I found the work to be rather unoriginal and dated.

"The works in the exhibition are predominantly made from clay, the most elemental of materials. Ortega uses clay to form waves, sculpt icebergs and to track the eroding power of a river on a sequence of plains made from brick."


The hanging clay blobs reminded me vaguely of Rosie Hughes-Jones' degree show exhibition at Glasgow School of Art in 2008, but without the amazingly aluring scent that made Rosie's work a real sensory experience. 

It also reminded me of Cornelia Parker's installation 'Cold Dark Matter', but without the sense of action that is so implicit in Parker's installation.


Again, the clay forms on the floor could be likened to Anthony Gormley's installation Field, but the scale of Ortega's work did not create the grandeur that Gormley managed to achieve with Field.

For more information about the exhibition visit

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Jez Riley French visits Newcastle and comes along to Drone Ensemble

I met field recorder and photographer Jez Riley French a couple of years ago when he came to give an artist talk at Newcastle University. We have kept in touch, and earlier this week I met up with him and a group of other artists using sound at NewBridge Studios on his latest visit to Newcastle.

"Using intuitive composition, field recording, improvisation and photography, Jez has been exploring his enjoyment of and interest in detail, simplicity and his emotive response to places and situations for over 3 decades.

Alongside performances, exhibitions, installations, he lectures and runs workshops around the world on field recording and the act and art of listening. He also curates the ‘engraved glass’ label and the ‘a quiet position’ series of online releases / forums exploring the broad ideas surrounding field recording as a primary art of sound / sound art.

In recent years he has been working extensively on recordings of surfaces and spaces (natural and man made) and developing the concept of photographic scores. Jrf is particularly associated with the development of extended recording techniques, including the recording of structural vibrations, contact microphone recording, ultrasonics, infrasonics, internal electronic signals via coil pick-up's and recordings made with hydrophones.

Amongst his key recent works are pieces capturing the sound of the dolomites dissolving, ants consuming fallen fruit, the Tate Modern building vibrating, the infrasound of domestic spaces around the world, glaciers melting in Iceland and the tonal resonances of natural and human objects in the landscape."

His visit coincided with Drone Ensemble's weekly session, and so I introduced him to Joe and the other Droners. We demonstrated our range of sound making machines, and he enjoyed having a go himself.

Jez has invited me to be included in a forthcoming edition of verdure engraved, a regular pdf arts magazine, available to view online or download for free

I will be responding to six questions that Jez has sent me, and this will form part of the interview series that runs throughout the arts magazine.

To see earlier editions please visit

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Night in the Museum curated by Ryan Gander at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

‘When I look at sculptures of the human figure I am frequently left thinking of all the things that they’ve seen. This is the world of the silent onlooker.’ Ryan Gander

"Night in the Museum represents the work of over thirty artists including Don Brown, Angela Bulloch, Patrick Caulfield, Jacob Epstein, Liam Gillick, Roger Hiorns, David Hockney, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Kerry Stewart, and Rebecca Warren.

Artist Ryan Gander has curated this exhibition consisting of works belonging to the Arts Council collection. He has displayed a selection of figurative sculptures alongside a range of post-war British artworks that often feature the colour blue. Blue is an important colour in Gander's work, and for him it represents "the abstract ideas often found in modern and contemporary art." The figures are positioned so as to be admiring the surrounding artworks.

My initial impression of the exhibition was that it was very cluttered, leaving little space around the work, but having spent some time in the gallery I enjoyed the sense of sharing the viewing experience with the figurative sculptures, closing the gap between the audience and the artwork.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The studio as a work in progress

A couple of weeks ago I was introduced to my new studio at NewBridge Studios and this is what it looked like. 

Since collecting my studio key I have managed to completely fill the space with lots of art stuff.

Boxes upon boxes have been filled and transported to their new home on the second floor of NewBridge Studios. They have then been moved around the room as I try to create more space and find logical positions for my possessions.

Yesterday I installed a set of shelves, which has helped clear a bit of floor space, 

and today I have managed to organise the space and get more on the walls.