All That is Solid Melts Into Air, Jeremy Deller, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne

All That is Solid Melts Into Air, an exhibition curated by Jeremy Deller (Britain’s representative in the Venice Biennale last year) explores the impact of the Industrial Revolution on contemporary British society.  Deller combines contemporary music, archival film, historical artefacts and written text panels to forge connections between materials and finding new meanings in familiar objects.  This exhibition is a personal, intuitive journey which reveals how the trauma of urbanisation and modernisation has affected the culture of this country, from our music to our shopping habits.  However, the exhibition is an extensive survey of our cultural heritage and how every aspect of British life has been informed by the Industry of the country.  Because of the enormity of Deller’s project, I will only attempt to write about a small part of this remarkable exploration.


This exhibition opened in Manchester last October, and has travelled through Nottingham and Coventry before finally arriving in Newcastle upon Tyne.  This last stretch of the journey is being shown in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle’s city centre, a gallery which features a notable historic permanent collection, including John Martin’s 1852 painting, The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, a biblical illustration of Gods destructive power; a glowing pit of fire as a whole city are punished for the sins of its people.  This incredible apocalyptic painting, familiar to Laing Gallery audiences, is the first that we see as we walk into Deller’s exhibition.


John Moore

‘The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah’ John Martin . 1852


The red light and smoke of Martin’s historic painting is cleverly paired with imagery of the steel industry, exemplified in Steel, a British Council produced educational film made in 1945, which depicts men producing steel in a factory.  In this film, displayed on a large monitor in the space, bright orange molten metal bubbles in huge crucibles while showers of sparks fly over the heads of the workers who stare into the hell-like mouth of the intense, fiery heat.  Martin grew up in the rural Northumbrian countryside, but it is easy to see the influence of London in his painting; the smoggy urban landscape of the capital and the glow of industry are definitely in this painting of the burning city.  Bringing the imagery up to date is the jacket of Unleashed in the East, the 1979 Judas Priest album, where the band are shown standing in smoke, amber lights illuminating them and their instruments.


Deller draws comparisons not only between the imagery of the theatrical Victorian painting, the heavy metal album artwork and the post war steel industry, but he also uses Martin’s painting as the starting point for other associations.  In the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the people of Gomorrah are punished for their vice and their desire.  Just as there were similar moralistic Victorian concerns about excess and sexual desire leading to sin and disease when Martin was painting, so we too, in contemporary society, worry about the physical and ethical effects of our consumerism.  This anxiety is reflected in Ben Roberts’s large photographic print Amazon Fulfilment Centre, Towers Business Park, Rugeley (2013).  This image shows the vast interior of an Amazon warehouse where unskilled workers appear tiny among the expansive shelving units, each one filled to the brim with stuff.  The text panel mounted underneath this image explains that most of these staff members are on zero hour contracts and work for minimum wage.  To the left of Roberts’s image is a poster, the rules of Church Street Mill in Preston from the nineteenth century.  The very first rule feels particularly poignant.  It reads that factory workers must ‘give one month’s notice, in writing, previous to leaving his or her employment …but the Masters have full power to discharge any person employed therein without any previous notice whatsoever.


Deller’s careful juxtaposition of materials draw worrying links between the rights of mid-Victorian factory workers and the current working conditions for low level employees.  All That is Solid Melts Into Air is a carefully curated exhibition which is full of incredible objects, ideas and artworks, effectively exploring British culture and the roots of capitalism in this country.  The works read like a  piece of research, a visual essay where you can draw your own associations and conclusions.  If you’re in the North East between now and October 26th, this is an opportunity not to be missed.

Grey Up North

London is firmly established as the heart of the art world in this country: with over 1000 permanent art spaces and more artists per square mile than anywhere else in Europe, this huge, thriving, creative hub of a city seduces and fascinates us Northerners.

But the North of England is working hard to make a name for itself as a creative hotspot. Medium sized, post-industrial cities like Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield are rebranding themselves as centres for creativity. Big, publicly-funded galleries, as well as smaller, independent art spaces and studios are popping up all over the North, and from them a distinctly Northern style seems to be emerging.

Middlesbrough’s mima is currently showing ‘Chance Finds Us, a project initiated by Anne Viebeke Mou and Nick Kennedy in 2010.This exhibition showcases eight artists, including Viebeke Mou and Kennedy, based in the North East of England who share similar approaches to the art-making process. The exhibition, according to mima’s curator Alix Collingwood, is a “fantastic opportunity to highlight the wealth of talent and the calibre of artistic thinking that is present in the North East”.

The artists represented in this exhibition use routine and repetition, devising strategies or appropriating frameworks within which they can explore chance and serendipity. Drawn grids, mathematical instruments and imposed rules juxtapose intuitive mark making, random encounters and unpredictability.

James Hugonin art

Courtesy the artist and Ingleby Gallery

Inside the gallery space, the silver-grey light mimics the overcast, gloomy weather outside—a typical day in the North, and the perfect backdrop to the vivid colours of James Hugonin’s ‘Binary Rhythm’. Hugonin’s large paintings are composed of tiny rectangles of colour, picked out from the Northumbrian landscape, and their is a quietness to their vibrancy. Meditative and deliberate, this work systematises and slows the wild and constantly changing colours of the countryside.

Apart from Hugonin, most of the artists showing their work in this exhibition employ to a very minimal colour palette: Anne Viebeke Mou’s faint graphite drawings on paper seem to be particularly modest works. However, closer inspection reveals that her drawings have been made up of thousands of tiny marks. In 2011, she and Hugonin jointly won the ACE Award for Art in a Religious Context, where they were both commissioned to design stained glass windows for St John’s Church in Northumberland. In their works in this exhibition too, a spiritual devotion seems to be apparent in the ritualistic, devout mark-making, and in the light which seems to emanate from the pieces. These artists are influenced by Northumberland’s beautiful countryside, something that I don’t think the London art scene would understand. The English Landscape? Yuck! It’s a heavy topic, reserved for musty old art historians. But Northern artists aren’t let off the hook so easily, they are constantly confronted with the awe-inspiring sublimity of the land which surrounds them. This force has no concern for whether on not it is cliché: it simply persists. These artists have the challenge of addressing it, and speaking from where they stand.

The art scene in the North of England is definitely on the rise and with it is a distinctive voice and style. In fifteen years we will be able to define exactly what that is—but for now, you can just come and feel it forming for yourself.

Middlesbrough’s Institute of Modern Art is in the centre of the town; it’s family friendly, and wheelchair accessible.

‘Chance Finds Us’runs until 4th September.

Learn To Be Happy

Its that time of year.  Degree shows are, for a BA Fine Art student, supposed to be the accumulation of everything you have worked for throughout your education; the beautiful and resolved results of your hard work which confidently asserts: I am An Artist.  I am ready for you, world!

Everyone in art school knows the legend of the Young British Artists (YBAs), who hosted the notorious Freeze exhibition which attracted the attention of Charles Saatchiall while many of them were still students studying at Goldsmiths. 

Oh, youll nominate me for the next Turner Prize? You flatterer!

I think many of us secretly believe that we will be snapped up at our degree show Private View and will be whisked off our feet by some Scandinavian gallery manager who wants to photograph our work for big coffee table books; or perhaps the editor of Frieze magazine; they might want to feature you in an article about the next generation of art graduates

Whats that? You want me to represent England in the next Venice Biennale? You charmer!

You may think Im exaggerating, but the little mounds of bespoke business cards bearing websites and contact details illustrate my point.  And of course, weve worked so hard and overcome so many obstacles,(and painted so many bloody boards white!) it feels only fair that we should be rewarded for it. 

According to David McLeavy, an ex-Hallam Fine Art student, the truth of the matter is that the sudden rise to artistic infamy doesnt really happen, at least not very often in regional cities like Sheffield.  The YBAs are an exception.  But that doesnt mean that there cant still be success for us, the recently graduated.  I first met David McLeavy when we both worked at Lush Cosmetics: I had just started my first year in Sheffield and he had just finished his degree and was working in order to fund his studio at S1 Artspace which he had won through a bursary scheme.  That year, Dave learned how to juggle working at Lush with his artistic practice, alongside setting up a new exhibition space in Sheffield, Snig Hill Gallery.  Since then, Dave has curated shows, facilitated new collaborations between artists, and founded Young Artists in Conversation (YAC), a project where interviews with up-and-coming artists are recorded and archived online.  Dave, with several exciting projects already under his belt, typifies successful graduate

When we leave the relatively comfortable safety net of university life (cheap bus fares, 10% student discount at Topshop), it can be hard to adjust to life outside the bubble.  We have to get jobs, pay council tax, be grownups.  Nationwide, there are schemes through university or galleries which can help graduates to bridge the transition from art school into the real world, and for those who have secured schemes like this, you may already have contacts and even an upcoming show.  But sometimes art practices can be forgotten while we get our lives sorted out; sometimes we fall in love or start a career in a totally different sector; perhaps we cant afford to rent a studio and dads garage just isn’t hitting the spot.  But there are different kinds of success, there are different races to be won. 

I felt more satisfaction hosting the Degree Show Private View, handing out cocktails and icing fairy cakes, than I did actually making and installing the artwork in the show.  Success should come hand in hand with happiness, so for me, success will not be as an artistit doesn’t make me happy.  Out of all my peer group, I think only a small handful intend to make art in the future: many are going on to teach, some have got jobs lined up already and one is starting a family.  But in different ways, we have all succeeded; we have all found out what art means to us and we are all closer to finding out what brings us happiness.  Its the time for existential thinking, but also the time for end-of-degree partiesmaybe you cant have the former without a healthy dose of the latter.

Nina Canell, Near Here

Nina Canell, Near Here

Camden Arts Centre, London/BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK


Even though I lived in London for a year when studying for my Foundation Degree, I had never been to Camden Arts Centre before. Looking back, I wish I had known about this gem: not only is it an exciting hub of contemporary art but it is also a perfect excuse for a day out in sunny Hampstead.

After eating the most amazing salad in the world in the downstairs Café (seriously, I could write a whole review on the salad), my boyfriend Joe and I made our way into the gallery space. Although perturbed by the invigilators who monitored every step we took as they followed us through the gallery, we were able to ignore them as we were immediately intrigued by contents of the light-filled room: Nina Canell’s ‘Near Here’.

Swedish artist Canell has, according to the blurb on the wall, made a series of sculptural works which ‘respond to the architectural environment of Camden Arts Centre’. The scientific laboratory aesthetic of fragments of electrical cabling set on concrete plinths or inside glass vitrines are muted by areas of domestic carpet which are the same cream colour as in my boyfriend’s mum’s house.

The long black pieces of cable are covered with water in blue-y glass vitrines. At each cut end, we can see a cross-section of hundreds of tiny copper wires, insulated with different coloured plastics. As we walk across the room, the surface of the water wobbles and ripples as though there is still electricity coursing through the thick cable. These remnants of electrical current are echoed by the process of the floor work, ‘Near Here (One Microsecond)’, where the artist has passed 1,000,000 volts through photocopying toner during one microsecond. The result, a dusty black flash of lightning, recalls the force and power of energy, but seems absorbed by the carpet underneath.



Photo Credits: Nina Canell

Canell seems to choreograph her audience in the gallery space: I have to stand right up close to see the individual fibres of ‘Blue (Diffused)’, a shredded sock which now resembles a petri-dish of cell culture; but when I look down to see ‘Forgetfulness (Ether)’, an Ethernet cable suspended in water in a small vitrine, close to the floor, it is invisible. I am forced to step back, but carefully so I don’t knock the other work which is clustered together.

This trepidation is fully realised in ‘Amender’. In this work, a hidden magnet holds nails which form a chain dangling down. These nails which hang at eye level are simultaneously threatening and precarious; their vulnerability makes you want to hold your breath so you don’t disturb the invisible force which stills them.

This exhibition makes me think about transmission and electricity and how it has been domesticated in our homes. Plug sockets, light switches and Ethernet ports are a familiar sight in our homes, but their underground arterial network is unknown to us.

‘Near Here’ in Gateshead is a much more sparse, pared-down show than in Camden Arts Centre. Just four works occupy the gallery space of BALTIC, a converted flour mill on the Newcastle/Gateshead Quayside. Stepping out of the blue-y glass lift, you are immediately faced with Canell’s second incarnation of ‘Near Here‘, and in particular, the huge sculpture consisting of hundreds of handmade neon strip lights. These lights are filled with gas which, when ionised by electricity, causes them to emit a fluorescent, off-white light: each glows a slightly different hue, depending on the ratio of different gases in each glass tube.

This work, ‘Overcoming the Current Resistance‘, was originally designed for a derelict powerhouse in Sydney, Australia, where the tower of light illuminated the dark, industrial setting. BALTIC, though once a working mill, is now a clean white cube gallery space; here, the blue-yellow-pink-white light is subtle and subdued, changing according to the light conditions outside the gallery. The overwhelming scale means the electricity running through the sculpture is almost palpable; an invisible buzz seems to surround the work.

Image Credits: Nina Canell: Near Here

Photo Credits: Nina Canell

In Camden, the carpets paired with Ethernet cables made me think about the electricity that has been made safe and accessible in our homes; how used to it we are and how we rely on it in our daily routines. In front of this vast work, however, I am faced with something far less familiar and far more powerful: the formidable force of electric potential.

You can see Near Here at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Arts until 20th July. BALTIC has an excellent Café and shop, and brilliant views of Newcastle/Gateshead Quayside. You can access their incredible library resources for free, and their staff are amazingly helpful and always willing to chat to you

Dust, Wu Chi-Tsung

Following Wu Chi-Tsung’s 2006 residency at Site Gallery, Sheffield, the artist has returned with Dust, a mesmerising video installation where a live feed captures and then projects, large scale, images of the dust in the gallery space. Chi-Tsung finds the small, uncontrolled moments of serendipity and coincidence; translating them through video or light and re-presenting them in the gallery space. In Dust, the camera and projector work together to show what the human eye can’t see, and the tiny particles of human skin floating in the air are elevated to sparkling sequins; from repulsive to seductive.

Dust Wu Chi-Tsung

Image Courtesy Of Site Gallery

 In an adjacent room in Site Gallery, Chi-Tsung presents Crystal City 003, an incarnation created from the shadows of plastic containers, cast by a moving LED light.  Presumably influenced by his time training as an architect, the Crystal City is reminiscent of a CAD drawing or a floating gods-eye view of a toweringly tall sci-fi cityscape.  Alluding to new building developments in inner city areas of contemporary Asia, and perhaps critiquing the materialism and commercialism that comes hand in hand with technological progress, this work quietly and meditatively divulges another world beyond the ordinariness of its individual components.

This is a recurring idea in Wu Chi-Tsung’s work; in Rain (2002), made when he was a student in Taipei, raindrops appear to flash across an image of a bridge.  Simply by setting the shutter speed extremely high, the downwards line of a raindrop that we usually see because of the slowness of our eyes is revealed as something very different—now each individual raindrop has been captured mid-fall, sparkling across the screen.

It is these very simple procedures that stand out in Chi-Tsung’s works; and here in Sheffield it seems that he has simplified his practice right down to the bare bones.  This work is comprised of the particles that before the nineteenth century were considered the smallest substance—marking the boundary between the world we see and the world of the unknown—Dust.  The mysticism of dust, apparent when you catch it twisting and spinning in the golden sunlight pouring in through a window, is condensed and epitomised in this work.  Galaxies of green and blue flit and flicker across the wall as they continually move in and out of focus.  We are charmed by the romance, the magic, and the very special quality of this created world that is simultaneously real and unreal.

Visiting Sheffield for the day? Site Gallery on Brown Street is only a couple of minutes walk from Sheffield train and bus stations.  The gallery is wheelchair accessible, and also houses a small shop and café, which serves lovely homemade cakes and frothy coffees.  It’s very close to SIA gallery, Bloc Projects, Millennium Galleries and Graves Gallery if you fancy a cultural day out.

Sheffield native? Why not try Site’s free reading groups on 17th April and 1st May, or try breathing meditation set against the backdrop of Wu Chi-Tsung’s beautiful installation? Full details are on Site Gallery’s website,

Wu Chi-Tsung Dust

Site Gallery 4th April – 31st May 2014

Opening times: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-5.30pm


Written By Posy Jowett