Globe Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne
1- 30 June 2013
Presented as part of the Festival of the North East, the Dear Angel exhibition has a rather sweet idea as a premise- what happens when you ask the people of the North East to write a letter to the Angel of the North? But from a simple idea, this thoughtfully presented collection of artwork manages to address a dizzying amount of topics: history; politics; how the advancement of technology has affected communication; and the concept and definition of “home”. .
In keeping with the tone of the exhibition, viewers are presented with a letter on arrival. This letter, it turns out, is highly useful: as soon as I hit the first display – ‘Witch Pricker’ by Victoria Bradbury, which is one of the four artist commissions showcased – I am confused. However, after consulting both the letter and the sections’ illustrations, it becomes clear. Bradbury explores a largely unknown yet interesting aspect of Newcastle’s history, where, in the early 1600s, women accused of witchcraft were lined up in the market square to be pricked: a bleed meant they were innocent; no bleed meant guilty and subsequent execution. To relive this experience, the audience is invited to take a needle and randomly stab at five ‘witches’ – bizarrely represented as five felt strawberries dressed in petticoats. I will admit to feeling slightly ridiculous as I did so, but was encouraged by the end result: the machine tells me I have found two witches, and then informs me that this would have equated to a payment of two shillings – bring on the riches!
Stepping into the next room, I find my favourite section of the exhibition: ‘Broadsides and Ranters’ by Theresa Easton, which effectively blends historical methods of communication with modern political issues. Viewers are invited to leave a message for today’s politicians – Cameron, Clegg, Milliband and Osborne – on a washing-line of red, yellow and orange papers: Easton then takes these words to print and displays them alongside the traditional political proclamations and announcements that line the adjacent wall. These messages show the raw reality of how the government’s austerity measures have affected the North East – “C’mon Ed, speak up!’ “How about just some jobs?”. They also show how, thankfully, children remain ignorant of these difficult times: in wobbly writing, “I am Jasmine, thank you for the chocolate”.
Next is the heart of the “playful and participatory” project, organised by local writer and digital artist Stevie Ronnie: ‘I wanted to work with letters as I miss the intimacy of the physical letter but I’m also excited about the new forms of communication that have replaced it. The final work will bring the old and the new together in the form of an artist book.’ A giant, wooden version of this artist book is exactly what I find, with shelves acting as the pages into which a variety of messages – letters, postcards, print outs of tweets and Facebook messages – are slotted. Pens, paper and postcards are dotted around the centrepiece so that we might add our own thoughts – which I dutifully do. A quick inspection of the messages shows a huge variety, reflecting the huge mix of eccentric north eastern personalities: from one man’s “Thanks for listening, guarding and guiding. I believe in angels”, to another’s “You are big, you are ugly, you look like a shit aeroplane”, I left this room feeling suitably uplifted.
In keeping with the fifteenth anniversary of the iconic Angel, the aptly named ‘Fifteen’ – featuring fifteen photographs of the monument from various angles – by Colin Davison rounds up the exhibition. These shots capture the sheer size, power and importance of the Angel as a North East landmark. My favourite image features the angel’s feet and shadows of visitors on a cloudy day, stressing that, although the weather changes, people come and go, the Angel remains solid, absolute.
Inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels, this showcase at Newcastle’s Globe Gallery marks the unveiling of ‘Dear Angel’. At the end of June, the project moves to Lindisfarne Holy Island, before finishing in Durham. Take my advice: whether or not you choose to leave your mark and participate in the project, Dear Angel is well worth a visit.
Dear Angel is presented as part of the Festival of the North East which runs throughout June. To see what will be coming up, check here: http://www.festivalne.com/