Walking up the cold empty street in Gateshead, where The Newbridge Project’s new gallery space occupies an empty shop, you feel enveloped in stillness and isolation. The warm glow of the gallery is like a safe haven, with artists and makers spilling out onto the street. Upon entering the gallery you are greeted by Annie O’Donnell’s ‘The Hoard (How to make Dadaist poem)’ (2017). This communal piece invites visitors to compose their own poems using words cut from newspapers. Many have already accepted the invitation; their fractured lines spread like bones across the wall, creating a skeletal image of all that has happened in the past year.
Sitting inconspicuously above the other works is the structural nest ‘corvid’ (2017), which is named after the crow family. O’Donnell explains that her maiden name is Crow and that the piece references her interest in family. Of late there appears to be a reignited interest in our histories: whether this is derived from events such as the centenary of the First World War, or from a sense of unease about our society’s future, is difficult to say. But a nest is like an anchor; it helps us stay rooted and enables us to weather the political storms we face.
O’Donnell was previously a dancer, elements of which seep through into her work, most notably in ‘Aureole 2’ (2017). These three works require the audience to navigate their way across the gallery floor, pulling them away from the edges, and pushing them centre stage.
Musing on the works, I look out of the floor to ceiling windows and across the street. The church looms high in the darkness, but it is the bright blue neon Nobles Amusements sign that draws the eye. It connects with the reflected blue of the works inside the gallery; producing an unintentional metaphor on the relationship between external forces impacting the gallery space, and vice versa, which is made all the more severe given the social and political critique that underpins the works on display.
Katy Cole’s collages take inspiration from space and the dystopian work of JG Ballard, producing insightful images into what our future could be. Photographs taken from National Geographic magazines build an image of an orderly queue waiting to board a spaceship, presumably for Mars, raising questions as to whether we should populate another planet when we seem so incapable of looking after this one – what right do we have? These dystopian and post-apocalyptic futures have, over the last few decades, become more commonplace, and worryingly so when we find ourselves no longer frightened by such images.
One could quite easily talk about the Dada movement, or how the range of materials used divert from the traditional, but it becomes more interesting to look beyond the obvious. The link between the artists’ work is perhaps not abundantly clear to begin with, but underlying each of the works is a sense of movement. O’Donnell’s sculptural pieces choreograph the way in which visitors navigate the space, leading us on to Cole’s orderly queues waiting to move from one planet to the next, and then we arrive at Tulloch’s striking political collages. It is here that we find works such as ‘The Guardian, Thursday 15 June 2017’ (2017), which depicts the towering inferno that was Grenfell Tower, overlaid with a cut out easily identifiable as Theresa May, who at the time was criticised for her lack of movement in the face of such an atrocity.
Indeed, how can anyone in today’s social and political climate not talk about movement? It touches upon all our lives and can leave us feeling isolated and bewildered. The works on display here, however, have quite the opposite affect.
Indicator (Katy Cole, Annie O’Donnell and Sarah Tulloch), The NewBridge Project : Gateshead, Gateshead.
9 December 2017 – 20 January 2018.
Andrea Allan is an artist and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne.