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Art Editorial

greatexhibition.jpg Making an exhibition of ourselves

The Great Exhibition of the North is the biggest event held in England this year and it’s taking place over 80 days starting with a spectacular opening weekend in June. Should be canny.

Let’s not concern ourselves about where the north of England actually begins just here. Because what is certain is that our region is unarguably ‘up north’ and all of the great towns and cities of the top half of the country will be celebrated across Newcastle and Gateshead for 80 glorious days beginning on Friday 22 June.There is an incredible amount of stuff going on including exhibits, live performances, displays of innovation, new artworks and other experiences, all telling the story of how our inventors, businesses, artists and designers have shaped our present and are proving an inspiration for the future. But there’s no need to feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff to see and do, because the organisers have sorted out three handy trails across Tyneside, each of which begins at one of three iconic venues: Great North Museum, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead.

I think I’ll kick off my own personal quest by tackling the Get North Innovation Trail, as this is where one of the biggest draws of the festival will reside: Robert Stephenson’s Rocket. On loan to the Discovery Museum this iconic steam locomotive will be returning home as part of an exhibition that shows how this historic engine’s ground-breaking design heralded the birth of passenger railways. You’ll also be able to travel back to the 1820s, via the wonders of virtual reality, to experience the sights and sounds of the early steam age with a fully immersive experience produced by Northern tech masters Hedgehog Lab. The Innovation Trail will also have a plethora of other things to see including Self-Build Utopias at Northern Stage. Here different artists will create exhibitions, installations and performances that imagine a more creative, sustainable future. At the Urban Sciences Building you will be able to feel and hear what it’s like to work 110 meters above the waves at the top of one of the world’s most advanced offshore wind turbines by wearing an Immersive Hybrid Reality headset, which will let you experience an ultra-realistic environment. Local LEGO® artist Steve Mayes will tell the story of Northern innovation at the Mining Institute in over 40 intricate models, with a 3D timeline featuring everything from Stephenson’s Rocket to Rolls Royce, The Beatles to the Great North Run. You’ll be able follow in the footsteps of Sunderland’s Sir Joseph Swan at the Lit & Phil, where he first demonstrated his incandescent light bulb in 1880, then see what the North has planned next for the bulb with a demonstration of new ‘miracle material’ graphene. Women will take centre stage in The Hexagon Experiment, which will be a six-part series of Friday night experiments celebrating the North’s explosive creativity and revolutionary history. This will feature collaborations between six artists and six scientists and shine a light on the contribution made by women in science and the arts. The Life Science Centre will, of course, be very much a part of this trail with their latest blockbuster show, Robots – Then and Now, taking you from 16th century mechanical automatons to today’s humanoids.

I might, however, begin my investigations with the Get North Design Trail. On this route you’ll be taken on a journey through the many different aspects of the design process with one of the highlights being 1up North at the Computer Information Sciences Building at Northumbria University. This will look at the video game industry, which is now recognised as a highly innovative part of the UK’s creative economy. Teams from the north have long been the driving force of video game development and here you’ll be able to meet developers and play games from retro classics to cutting-edge virtual reality titles (free to attend but you will have to book tickets). Other highlights of this particular trail will include Winged Tales of the North (follow this playful and imaginative street art trail across the Ouseburn valley which has been inspired by the flash fiction of David Almond); and design innovativecraft at The Biscuit Factory (get stuck into the world of contemporary crafts with this major exhibition and series of spin off activities). 

Or is the Great North Art Trail going to be my first port of call? This route will be overflowing with goodies and I’m particularly excited to experience Aeons: A Sound Journey for Newcastle on the Quayside. Here you’ll be able to grab some headphones and then set off along the riverside with a world of sound in your ears, with songs and stories of the river with stirring pieces from Opera North, accordion wizard Martin Green and singer Becky Unthank. A series of sensors will trigger each sound section, linking you and the music to the landscapes and history around you. Imagine! Other highlights of this trail will include Life in a Northern Town (experience life in the north from the perspectives of some of the north’s hottest new artists); About the North: Imagined Dialogues (including some of the country’s most compelling documentary about the north of England – Side Gallery); and intu’s Little Black Graphene Dress (witness a fashion and science breakthrough – the world’s smartest and toughest little black dress at intu Eldon Square).

As well as these trails the three festival hubs will also have a packed programme. At Sage Gateshead Lauren Lavern has curated a series of gigs featuring some of the best musical talent to come from the north with a line-up that includes Nightmares on Wax, Nadine Shah, PINS, Kathryn Tickell & The Darkening + Rachel Unthank & Paul Smith, and one of my favourite artists, Róisín Murphy. Sage Gateshead will also have a young people’s programme, opera, Folk on the Tyne (with The Unthanks, The Wilsons and The Young ‘uns) and plenty more besides.

As you’d expect BALTIC has a huge amount going on including Newcastle-born Michael Dean who is known for his immersive sculptural installations exploring language, intimacy and the politics of being in the world. You’ll also be able to witness the return of Friedrich Engels to Manchester – in the form of a Soviet-era statue – in Phil Collins’ Ceremony, a film documenting its journey across Europe and installation in the city.

Which Way North is a visually bold, theatrical takeover of the Great North Museum which will take you on a memorable journey to experience the revolutionary north under one roof. This museum-wide exhibition is inspired by The Blazing World, one of the earliest works of science fiction published in 1668 by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. Here you be able to discover stories that take you to space with Helen Sharman, along Cumbrian valleys with Postman Pat, to the early days of Pop Art in Newcastle with Richard Hamilton, the last days of Liverpool’s John Lennon, and to gaze upon George Stubbs’ world famous portrait of the Yorkshire racehorse Whistlejacket.

Naturally the whole thing will commence with a huge party on the opening weekend with visitors being able to experience the UK’s largest water sculpture on the Quayside, a brand new film about a journey across the north of England, music commissions and a live presentation by Lemn Sissay of his newly created anthem for the north. 

We’ve merely scratched the graphene surface of everything this is happening during the 80 days of this festival so be sure you visit the website, below, to catch up with the entire programme.

The Great Exhibition of the North, Friday 22 June-Sunday 9 September. Free to attend but pre-booking is required for selected events and ticket fees may apply for selected associate events. getnorth2018.com