Chris Wadsworth
Percy Kelly - Looking East to the Ennerdale Fells
Writer and Art Consultant

20th November 2014


3D printer at the Hepworth

These days it is customary to be warned of flash photography or images that may be found disturbing on television. Why doesn’t this also apply to galleries? My recent visit to the North and North East was a mixture of pain and a pleasure.

To wallow in Hockneys at Salts Mill in Bradford is always a pleasure. Likewise The Hepworth in Wakefield – this time with the added excitement of a 3D printer demonstrating its ability to make teapots providing it is fed with the right information and raw materials of course. This is a glimpse into the future. These things can make body parts, cycle parts, machine parts - anything you ask it to make – but be careful what you wish for.

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is always a pleasure - constantly presenting something new. Their little chapel is a serene thought-inducing space given over to the work of Ai Wei Wei who is under house arrest in China. 

But my headache started on a far hill top.  Two large cubes, one inside the other were silhouetted against the sky, a magnetic force luring us on, inviting approach but it was a trick - as we drew near the wire mesh came into and out of focus as the two grids fought with each other for attention. There was a mesh staircase inside up to the first floor –wire mesh which confused the eye even more as it made a constant effort to adjust and make sense. Jagged lines zig-zagged across them as we approached inducing a feeling akin to sea sickness. Then we noticed 5 frantic magpies trapped in the space between the two cubes. They’re not my favourite birds but we went inside and tried but failed to free them. A call on the mobile brought a man on a quad bike with a large net. This is happening all the time. You could describe it as memorable - I won’t forget the headache - but is it art?

Onward up the M1 North to The Baltic in Gateshead. Apart from an excellent lunch in the sixth floor  restaurant with the best view in Newcastle and the most vertiginous Ladies loo, it was now time for a serious migraine attack.

The first exhibition room we entered was nothing but a pulsing curved floor-to-ceiling red wall – a wall so red it hurt. I fled into the pitch black corridor round the back of it only to be met by rows of flashing screens, bright fluorescent lights and jagged moving grids. Theexhibitions on the  other floors were similar apart from one with a big screen centred on a beehive in a field with not much action. Here the assault was on the ears as the soft humming very slowly increased to an unbearable crescendo.  I’m into bees but this was torture.

Videos appear to be the trend de jour. They jump out in galleries everywhere and they bite. Every Turner Prize short list and every student degree show has multiples of similar screens.

Why? Why should we need to take Paracetamol to an art exhibition?

Is it just me? Should I emerge from a gallery feeling like this?

I escaped to the serenity of Norman Foster’s Sage music centre next doorto the Baltic and then, as dusk fell, sat at the feet of Gormley’s Angel of the North to recover my equilibrium and remember its arrival 18 years ago on a huge low loader on a cold February night with an escort of children and adults excited at the chance to touch his head for the last time ever.

A visit to Durham Cathedral next morning accompanied by a  friend who added to the pleasure with his inside knowledge brought healing to the mind. Yes, there are myriads of patterns; zig zags, dots, circles, hypnotic lines; frescos that were once vividly coloured; tiled floors and banners;paintinmg and sculpture; a mélange of visual assaults. But it is harmonious - it appeals to the senses in a totally different way. Yes, there has been video art in this beautiful majestic place. Bill Viola’s Messenger - a beautiful pieve of film -  was shown in 1996. There has been performance art – I heard Flora Robson in the Son et Lumiere way back in the sixties. There is music most of the time and a display of craftsmanship dating back to Norman times. Yes, there has been discord, there has been vandalism but this is a place of sanctuary and it feels like it.

No headaches here.

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