Double Dropping on a Phantom Island is part of Life in a Northern Town, a series of exhibitions and events developed by The NewBridge Project and other Northern artist-led spaces to coincide with the Great Exhibition of the North. The programme provides a platform for emerging and early-career artists living and working in the North of England to present their own responses to ideas surrounding ‘Northern Identity’. This instalment – which is curated by Bloc Projects, Sheffield and Caustic Coastal, Manchester – uses themes of Irish pilgrimage and Northern dance music to take the audience on a trip through the haze of myth and memory.
Declan Colquitt and Michaela Cullen have worked together to combine moving image and sound alongside a series of transfers on perspex. Their collaboration also includes a two-part publication that articulates the individual intentions of each artist through a combination of fictions in text and image.
In the language of rave culture of the 2000s to ‘double drop’ can either mean taking a double dose of LSD or ecstasy; or mixing songs together in such a way they ‘drop’ or kick in at the same time. Here we have two artists ‘dropping’ together, mixing elements of their own practice into a shared vision. This crossover, where states of being are examined, may at times seem a little naive. But any cliché associated with altered state culture, ritual and British folk horror is offset by an attempt to look a little deeper at the confusion and failures that followed the highs of these movements, adding some clarity to their nostalgia.
The phantom island in question is Hy-Brasil: a place of Irish legend that appears in the Atlantic Ocean for one day every seven years. A bit like Brigadoon, or a rave out in the Peak District, it is a magical place out of reach to most of us, for most of the time, unless we have access to some secret knowledge.
The film, with visuals by Cullen and sound by Colquitt, is projected onto a large free-standing screen that can be viewed from a set of beautiful blue bleachers that almost dominate the space. They transform the viewing from an esoteric adventure into a more public ritual-experience. The windows have been blacked out like an abandoned space made ready for shady purposes, setting the scene for a makeshift sort of narrative where three scarecrow-like witchy golems go on a mute ramble through the landscape. These three witches refer back to the past, but – as with all magic – the idea is to affect what is to come. They stop to conjure a shamanic playing board, perhaps a reference to divination. It is engaging but the real drama is created by Colquitt’s warped, ambient techno soundtrack that echoes through the space, getting into your head. This is where the work does something.
Perspex sheets hang from the walls displaying images and words transferred like collages. References to Icarus, the boy who tried to reach the sun on homemade wings, and other mythical ‘icons’ such as the smiley face (who is not smiling) act as links to other realms. The content is unclear, incoherent, slurring, out of control like an obscure mucky come down. The dream is over, but then it has been for a while; now it’s time to cast the runes and reimagine the future.
Double Dropping on a Phantom Island, The NewBridge Project : Gateshead, Gateshead, 21 July – 12 August 2018.
Life in a Northern Town has been developed by The NewBridge Project in partnership with with Assembly House (Leeds), Islington Mill (Manchester), Caustic Coastal (Manchester), Bloc Projects (Sheffield) and The Royal Standard (Liverpool).
Lesley Guy is an artist and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne.