Forest and Ex-Voto at Side Gallery

Yesterday my friend Simon and I went to see the latest exhibitions at Side Gallery, which is always an interesting excursion. There were actually three shows on (all free, as usual), and although they were very different, they were all interesting in their own way.On the ground floor was Jason & Victoria: Disability and Partnership, an observation by Josefin Bengtsson which featured pictures of the titular couple, highlighting their experiences in a world where disabled people are still marginalised, and relationships between them are often erased, ignored or sneered at.Upstairs there was Forest by Yan Wang Preston, which was a fascinating though quite depressing look at ‘new build’ forests in urban China, and how trees are being transported and transplanted into new cities, with varying success (the story of Frank, a 300 year old tree that was uprooted only to die after being transplanted somewhere else, properly upset me, because apparently I am a person who cries over trees now.) Preston, a British Chinese photographer, spent eight years on the project, and it won first prize in the Syngenta Photography Awards in 2017, so it’s definitely worth your time.Probably my favourite of the three was Ex-Voto, by Alys Tomlinson (who won the Sony World Photographer of the Year in 2018), a series of landscape and portrait photos taken at religious (Christian) shrines in Ireland, Poland and France. I’d have liked more information about the subjects, but Tomlinson’s style – shot on large format film – made for luminous prints, with the portraits being particularly compelling. Lucky for me, Simon is a photographer (you can see his amazing work here) and was happy to explain the process that Tomlinson used and why it worked the way it did, and the challenges it involved, which made me even more impressed. I could get used to having an expert in tow…The exhibition finishes on the 9th June, so get yourselves along. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday 11-5 and is free. (You can find more details here.)

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Small Town Inertia at the Side

A day off today, which I used to catch up with my old friend Simon, the photographer. Given our mutual interest in photography (his expert, mine… less so) we decided to check out the new exhibition at The Side Gallery, Small Town Inertia by J A Mortram.

Running till March – and free – it’s an incredibly powerful show. Mortram’s pictures show the brutalising effects of austerity on the disabled, the poor, the vulnerable – and, crucially, his subjects get to speak. Most of the photos are captioned with quotes by their subjects, which makes it feel like they have some agency in this: we are not just poverty tourists, peering at their misery. And it is, for the most part, misery, with both loneliness and the abuse and cruelty of strangers a common theme, especially for those who are mentally or physically disabled. They are often insightful and eloquent about their situations – one quote in particular stuck with me, from “David”, who compares the poor to chickens, pecking at the weakest in their midst, instead of uniting against the farmer who will be cutting off their heads.

It’s not an easy show – I found myself on the verge of tears a few times – but it is an important one.

Exposed and the Last Ships at the Laing

Yesterday, I went to the Laing Art Gallery for the first time in decades – another old haunt that I hadn’t yet got round to revisiting. But, spurred on by having a guest, I decided to check out the Exposed exhibition that is running at the moment. Titled Exposed: The Naked Portrait, this is a well curated show that includes a number of familiar images and many less well-known ones, and smartly considers the different ways of being naked or nude (as well as the differences between those two states), and different power dynamics between the viewer, artist and subject. Definitely worth checking out, it runs till March and full price tickets are £8.

As well as a wander round the rest of the gallery – which is a perfect size to pop in and wander without feeling overwhelmed by not being able to do everything, as you can easily cover it all in one visit – I went to the Chris Killip exhibition, The Last Ships. This free show (which is on their site as running till 2020) is worth checking out if you have any interest in the local region or industrial photography. A one-room exhibit, it features evocative black and white pictures of Wallsend and the last big ships built at Swan Hunters, and includes some stunning images of the giant ships dominating the landscape, capturing the influence they had over people’s lives, as well as the impact of their departure.

The Inner Eye at Side Gallery

Down on the Quayside for my weekly barre class – yes, I am still going – I decided to pop into Side Gallery and check out their new exhibition, The Inner Eye: Aspects of GDR Documentary Photography.

I have a longstanding fondness for Berlin, and a fascination for life in GDR, and the show didn’t disappoint. Three floors of stunning photos taken by the leading photographers of the time, most of which focus on the everyday life of the country, it’s a fascinating and enlightening exhibition, and definitely worth a visit.

And now to bed

So, after two months of sleeping first in other people’s houses and hotels, then on my sofa bed and in my own spare room, I finally slept in my own bed last night. The frame had arrived last week, though assembly was delayed as my attempts to purchase the ‘assemble on delivery option’ were thwarted, since that is a service ‘not available in your area’. (I was righteously aggrieved at this – am I not posh enough to have John Lewis assemble my bed? But as the cheery delivery men said, ‘nah, pet, do it all the time, dunno what happened there’ – as they rushed down my front drive hastily, clearly scared I was going to implore that they do it anyway, I can only assume it was an IT glitch.)

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In the end, it worked out for the best, as my Capable Cousin Round the Corner came round and sorted it. I had already realised how much I was liking living so near to her – we’ve always got on well, but the last couple of months have reminded me how much I like her company, and since moving in, I’ve discovered just how lovely it is to have someone close by who is generally happy for you to pop round for a beer with very little notice. The fact that she is, like the rest of my family, super practical and capable has just been a bit of an added bonus.

(I am continually astonished that I – cack-handed, clumsy and with the spatial awareness and good sense of a one-winged moth with a head injury, and who lives a life arranged around how many naps I can squeeze in – am related to a bunch of practical, can-do hard-workers who can build you a shelf unit, fix your car or plaster your walls before breakfast, and then go on to do a 10 hour shift. (I blame my feckless, runaway dad. Bad genes on one side, and it’s obviously not my mum’s). (There is a long-cherished family story that one of the grandparents in my extended clan wooed his lady – who, if I recall, came from Roma stock, so wasn’t keen on moving into a terrace where you lived on top of your neighbours’ lives – by building her a house. An actual house. Not sure if this is true or not – given my family, if anything, it’s likely been toned down – but it has left me with some unrealistic standards for men, I can tell you.))

Having already assembled my sofa bed and spare bed in turn, last night my cousin came round to tackle the last of the flat: assemble the bed in the main room and the dining table in the study (since my dinner party hosting skills are as limited as my furniture assembly skills, I suspect it’ll be little used, but it’s a gorgeous table – a gift from friends when I moved into my Brighton place – so I was keen not to let it lie idle and in bits), and disassemble some clothes rails that I no longer need (because I have wardrobes, y’all! Wardrobes!) so I could store them under the spare bed and clear the last of the moving in clutter.

This she did in short order, and we had such a riot doing so we ended up joking we should do it for a living – be ‘lady fitters’ helping women assemble their furniture so they didn’t need no man. (We were getting a bit rowdy by this stage, since as well as bringing her not inconsiderable talents, she had also brought beer – take that, John Lewis, your assembly charge doesn’t include those extras!).

We mooted around a few suitable monikers and catchphrases – all, unfortunately, likely to attract the the wrong kind of call from a business card, but hey. (I think in the end the winner was Screwdriver Sisters: tagline, Sisters are Screwing it For Themselves. We’d had quite a lot of beer by that stage).

I even felt quite the sense of achievement at the end, despite the fact that my actual assistance was limited to keeping the beers filled, holding whatever I was told to hold and passing what I was told to pass, while petting her wee dog enough that he didn’t try to jump into the middle of proceedings.  Though I did help cart all the packaging around to hers for disposal in her jeep tomorrow (in years of having men assemble things, I have never had one worry about tidying up afterwards: which makes me think we might be onto something with this business idea after all…)

And so, luxuriating in more space than I have had in about 2 decades, quietly thrilled by the sight of all those wardrobes, I actually slept in my own bed. Now I’m thinking if I could just get some pictures on those walls…

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(Billy the dog – in situ at his place)

 

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The Side Gallery: About the North

Getting my culture on, I popped into The Side Gallery today to catch their exhibition About The North: Imagined Dialogues before it closed. I have long loved the Side. It’s free, holds interesting events that manage to be both locally focused and grounded without being parochial, and it’s small enough that you can take in a whole exhibition before your feet start to hurt.

About the North was a gorgeous show: a mix of photographers, some I had heard of but had no idea had ever set foot in the North East (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bill Brandt), some known for their Northern-focused fare (Martin Parr) and some I was unfamiliar with. Much of the older photography was focused on poverty – indeed, some of it was from projects that had been commissioned specially to illustrate things like housing issues – but it was presented with a warmth and humanity that stopped me feeling like I was gawking.

The exhibition only runs till Sep 9: catch it if you can!