Sunday, October 02, 2005

Newcastle Bridges and the British Artshow 6 at the Baltic.

Newcastle acquired another bridge for the millennium - one that 'winks' -raises its bottom eyelid to allow big ships to pass beneath. Of course there are other older bridges over the river Tyne too - bridges that have replaced more ancient bridges.

The Romans built one of the first - the probable site has been located by finds of old coins and other artifacts. Then, in the industrial revolution, there were bridges built for trains, and in the twentieth century bridges for cars, while the bridge for the new millennium takes only people on foot or bicycle.

This millennium bridge for the north of England connects Newcastle with a new arts complex in Gateshead consisting of a magnificent light-reflecting concert building, a millennium wheel and 'the Baltic'which has been converted from a 1950s warehouse. This is a space not just to be used as a conventional art gallery but as a place where art can be made.

The present exhibition there is called British Art Show 6 and I found much to enjoy.

The show brings together 50 artists which are thought to be most representative of current developments. Film is the predominating medium and there is much variety - from one I didn't manage to see - the sign 'sexual explicit footage' ensuring there was a queue to see Doug Fisbone's TOWARDS A COMMON UNDERSTANDING - to a work that is probably more gentle by Rosalind Nashashibi in which she simply followed a day in the life of an extended family living in Nazareth. This was strangely fascinating. People sat, talked, prepared food, ate - the men at the table followed by the women and children eating what remained - stood by prayer mats and contemplated God, and then slept. Interspersed with the living were shots of inanimate objects which somehow indicated that time was passing - an open door way showing nothing very much but with a background of quiet chatter. There was a sense too of timelessness - this is how it is, this is how it will always be - families living together, not accomplishing much, just being.

Next door to this was a work by Haluk Akakce. In his video BIRTH OF ART computer-generated metallic pears fall opening as they do so to produce magnolia-like blossoms which float and fall again in brilliant colours.

Another film which used reflective surfaces to great effect was Marc Leckey's MADE IN 'EAVEN. The camera moves around the sculpture called 'Rabbit' by Jeff Koons which is made of very reflective steel and explores the reflection and distortion of the artist's bare room. The camera zooms in and out - an effect which is quite mesmerising - alcoves in the rooms become the rabbit's eyes, the walls curve and then become straight, one reality replaces another and the viewer's mind is tricked and stretched too.

Anna Barriball works in many media. Her film PROJECTION was simple but poetic. She filmed herself in profile at a window wearing a sequined t-shirt and as she breathed the pin-points of reflected light on the wall next to her scattered around as if they were alive too. Also on display was her sculpture GREEN + BLUE = CYAN which consists of two desk lamps illuminating a drawing of green and blue circles intersecting to produce cyan.

The other sculptures I liked were those by Roger Hiorns who is fascinated by copper sulphate - he likes the way the crystals grow in their own uncontrollable pattern - which is something that has always fascinated me too. In some ways a growing crystal is close to something living since it shares some of the characteristics. In DISCIPLINE he has taken a thistle branch and replaced the thistle blossom with harder, more durable and just as beautiful mineral flowers of copper sulphate crystals, and in UNTITLED he has fed oxygen into three vessels filled with detergent which causes them to produce impressive columns of foam - touched again with the blueness of copper sulphate - until they collapse back onto the floor like too much toothpaste squeezed from the tube.

The sculpture of Hew Locke was also memorable: in BLACK QUEEN and EL DORADO he constructs large collages of heads from plastic dinosaurs and flowers and creates an effect which is intense, garish and also sinister.

Perhaps the most unusual sculpture was a carpet installation by Tonico Lemos Auad. I could not find a title - but somehow he had managed to teased strands of fluff from a carpet (which you could walk around) into the shapes of animals which were in part crudely formed and in part highly detailed. It gave an exquisite impression of an animal growing from the carpet and yet still part of it.

I suppose it is 2D art I most admire because I like to draw a bit myself. Gordon Cheung's unsettling landscape paintings which involved stockmarket listings from the Financial Times I thought suitably poignant as his trees seemed to be turning into monsters.

Silke Otto-Knapp's painting SHOWGIRLS(BLUE) is subtle, but one of those pictures that the more you look at it the more you see - the vaundeville dancers looking wistfully out of the canvas as if they are trapped.

Lucy Skaer's work is vibrant, large and stunning. In THE PROBLEM IN SEVEN PARTS she shows a corpse again and again around and overlapping an empty wine glass. The corpse is a victim - the message political. It is moving.


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