Happy Birthday BALTIC
By Adam Clery on July 16, 2012 in Art & Design
Friday gone, the region’s home for contemporary art celebrated its 10th birthday. But with every body now looking forward to what the next decade wil bring, we thought we’d turn the clock back and ask some of our intrepid writers what their favourite exhibitions have been over the years.
Susan Hiller’s ‘Witness’
Words: Andrew Openshaw
Finding ways to avoid studying for my final university exams, I ventured down to the BALTIC at some point in May/June 2004 and was lucky to catch the Susan Hiller exhibition. Not really sure what to expect, I remember walking into a very dark room in the centre of which were suspended dozens of tiny metallic looking discs, arranged in a circle, and lit by a low light. Approaching the installation, you realise that each disc is in fact a speaker, attached to a very fine wire.
Literally walking through the suspended speakers, brushing past each one, you begin to hear snippets of conversations being broadcast. Leaning your ear into the speakers, one by one, you hear people recalling their alien abduction experiences. Some sounded fraught and frightened others funny or just plain weird. The idea behind the piece was to highlight the strange but often beautiful ‘poetic imagination’. Immersive, tactile and unusual this was my favourite BALTIC experience.
Spencer Tunick’s ‘The Spencer Tunick Instillation’
Words: Liz Longley
“Mum look you can see everyone’s bits!” was all that my sister and me had to say about the New York-based contemporary artist Spencer Tunick’s exhibition at the BALTIC in 2006. Being only 10 at the time, I found every picture hilarious, the very idea of 1,700 people wandering around the Quayside naked just seemed completely ludicrous at the time.
However looking at Spencer Tunick’s work now, it makes a lot more sense and isn’t one big rude joke. He has spent several years working directly with urban landscape using the nude body to transform whichever site he chooses to capture whether it’s in Melbourne, Barcelona or Newcastle. The American artist’s largest UK project to date came 12 years after his first nude installation – featuring 28 naked bodies lying in front of the United Nations building in New York.
Since that first giggly trip I have been back to the BALTIC countless times, although nothing has quite stuck in my mind quite like the image of almost 2000 people standing completely unclothed outside the Sage. For me, it’s not just about how shocking it is to see so many people doing something that is most often seen as mad. It’s about noticing the beauty in the contrast between natural and man-made, when bare-skinned Geordies meet the huge and intricate buildings along the Quayside.
Sam Taylor Wood’s ‘Still Lives’
Words: Hollie Galloway
Still Lives was a huge collection of work in which every single piece was absolutely beautiful, definitely one of the most inspiring displays I’ve ever seen, and few shows have been as memorable since. Taking influence from masters such as Rembrandt and Caravaggio, Sam Taylor Wood made a truly mesmerising, contemporary collection of work. Through film and photography she captured different moments of ‘living’ in such a stunning and memorable way, I never wanted it to end.
The most stand out part of the exhibition for me was also one of the most emotional pieces of work I’ve ever seen. A wall, about the size of the side of my house, filled with different sized images of people, mostly famous people, all crying. I could’ve stared at it for hours (I might have actually). The show also featured the silent film of David Beckham sleeping, which was pretty famous at the time.
Yoshitomo Nara + Graf’s ‘A-Z Project’
Words: Steven Lee
People. You mention “modern art” to them and you can see their face change in a bad way, whilst they mentally picturing someone gaffa taping fleshlights onto dogs and attaching strapons onto cats, setting them all loose in a room, blasting them with strobe lights, dry ice and dance music then calling it ‘Fears of sexual inadequacy in a night club’. But show them a painting of the North Shields’ quayside in the 1860’s and they get it.
However, I remember wandering into to the exhibition space so see that the brilliantly happy Yoshitomo Nara had decided to build a village that took up the floor space as part of his A – Z Project. I thought this was brilliant. I thought this hit the perfect mark for being publicly accessible. Constructing a village in the space for you to wander around then making creating a whole set of pictures and portraits in a distinct but easy to get style. The art was happy and optimistic, based on cartoons, pop-culture and rock and roll. It was impossible for me not to wander around without having a massive smile on my face and the feeling that it would all work out ok in my heart organ.
Yoko Ono’s ‘Between The Sky And My Head’
Words: Lauren Stafford
Yoko Ono’s ‘Between The Sky and my Head’ was her biggest exhibition for a decade. In a major retrospective, The Baltic played host to an expansive range of her work which dated back to the 1960s. Before her relationship with John Lennon, Ono was already highly regarded in artistic circles and, in 1966, they allegedly met at the Indica Gallery where she was preparing a show. Her connection to The Beatles and her relentless campaign for peace meant that her cult celebrity status preceded her visit to Gateshead.
‘Between The Sky and my Head’ had a lot to live up to, and it did. In a show which appealed to all ages, many of the pieces were interactive, for example, ‘Wish Tree’ asked members of the public to add their own unique messages of hope to the branches. A video screen displaying ‘Cut Piece’ showed her performance at Yamaichi Concert Hall in Kyoto (1964) where she invited the audience to approach the stage, one at a time, and cut away a segment of her clothing which they were later allowed to keep. This early video served as a reminder that Ono is a cultural pioneer in her own right, not only championing world peace but the cause of female artists.
On Kawara’s ‘One Million Years’
Words: David McDonald
A lot of my friends hate contemporary art, they claim that they ‘just don’t get it’ and admittedly it can be tricky for someone not well versed in modern art to gain a significant response from say, watching a video of a dead donkey in a field (Steve McQueen).
But with On Kawara’s One Million Years, you don’t just get to witness the work, the whole idea is to become a part of it. One million years involves a male and female taking turns to read out the years from 998,031BC to 1969AD (dedicated to all those who have lived and died) and from 1993AD – 1,001,992AD (dedicated to ‘the last one’). Kawara’s work often looks at the passage and passing of time, but by taking the plunge and volunteering to be one of the readers the work becomes all consuming and inescapable.
You lose track of time, the numbers lose their relevence yet this is juxtaposed with the eyes of onlookers all around you making your awareness of your moment in time as acute as it’s ever been. You don’t just become consumed by the concept of the piece, you are the concept, and that makes On Kawara’s simple idea an absolutely stunning piece of art.
- The Turner Prize Café – The Ultimate Artisan Roast