The exhibition at the newly named Shieldfield Art Works (formerly the Holy Biscuit) is a result of a period of evaluation and reflection, during which the organisation took a step back from its usual events and exhibitions programme to consider where it has been, where it is now and where it wants to go in the future. This period, which was given the title ‘PROCESS’, involved working with artists and the local community on various projects, the results of which can be seen in this exhibition. Also during this time, a Shieldfield Art Works publication has been produced, with articles written by a number of contributors who have been involved in the journey so far, including writer-in-residence Huw Evans who produced a number of blogs and poems. The publication, which will be launched on 7 June, serves to tell the story so far, and outline the vision and values of SAW; namely Hospitality, Art and Enquiry, and Community Activism.
PROCESS was partly about rest – and while for the staff this was more about a change in focus and activity than being inactive, artist David McCulloch’s display of posters on the outside of the former Methodist church explores this theme. Working with the Holy Biscuit / SAW team during PROCESS, McCulloch produced these poster images using drawings made by members of staff of the rest symbols used in musical scores. The drawings have been manipulated and presented as layers of colours – the yellow, cyan, magenta and black inks that compose all printed material. This deconstructive process demonstrates the necessity of going back to the basic elements or components in order to take stock and see things clearly. In a similar way, Holy Biscuit has been disassembled and reassembled as Shieldfield Art Works.
The exhibition resulting from PROCESS celebrates the Shieldfield locality, highlights the challenges it faces and looks to what could be ahead. The Community focus of SAW is clearly demonstrated with several collaborative artworks resulting from the different groups connected to HB /SAW. One is a group painting by members of Painting for Fun, a free and accessible painting group that has been running regularly at Holy Biscuit (now SAW) for a number of years. Sixteen artists have each completed a panel to form part of a view of Shieldfield, with its distinctive tower blocks. Each panel has its own distinctive style, but each plays its part and they work together as a whole. This piece speaks about celebrating diversity and striving for unity amongst different people.
Artist Andrew Wilson has been working as the Shieldfield Artist-in-Residence since autumn 2018, appointed as a result of a partnership with Newcastle City Council. Wilson has been working with local residents with the aim of celebrating the communities of Shieldfield and sharing the collective history and stories of these people. Activities have included ‘Broadcast Bartender’, an improvised discussion event where people can meet and speak freely in a non-threatening, pub-like setting. A short soap-opera film was also produced, ‘North-Eastenders’ (2019), which can be seen in the exhibition.
Another group who have been involved in creating artwork on display are Dwellbeing, a group comprising local residents and those who work in the area which was formed in response to the issues impacting Shieldfield. Dwellbeing’s activities include holding events and conversations, producing newsletters and making art together. ‘One Hundred and Thirty Million Pounds of Earth’ (2019) is an example of this, a 3D map which visualises the money spent on urban development in Shieldfield over the last ten years. Clay bricks have been formed and stacked, each representing £250,000 of investment. The work has a strong visual impact, as it emphasises the isolation of residents in the central barren wasteland that the money has completely bypassed. The handmade bricks are irregular and imperfect, witness to their careful and personal production. In contrast the slick corporate impersonality of the developers is reduced here to precarious and fragmented towers.
A series of portraits by internationally renowned photographer Phyllis Christopher, offers another vantage point of Shieldfield. Christopher, whose work in San Francisco in the late 20th century focused on making invisible communities visible, unveils the area’s hidden gems. The ordinary people portrayed here, living or working in the Shieldfield area, are given value and made more visible by being photographed in this way. The portraits are accompanied by short statements from the subjects which demonstrate their warmth, positivity, generosity and pride. The images present this unpretentious area honestly, with its lack of wealth and privilege, whilst offering a hopeful perspective. This sense of positivity and hope is also embodied in Mikey Tomkin’s ‘Edible Map’ (2019), which promotes the idea of urban agriculture to enhance neglected spaces. The map imagines a version of Shieldfield where patches of land could be used to grow crops and make the area more self-sustaining.
The Holy Biscuit will officially become Shieldfield Art Works on 7 June 2019. An opening event will take place at the gallery that evening from 6 ‘til 9 pm to celebrate the new name and the launch of the Shieldfield Art Works Publication, which will be available to purchase. Visitors will be able to view the exhibition, hear some readings from the publication and enjoy good food and music. All are welcome!
Shieldfield Art Works Exhibition is running at The Holy Biscuit / Shieldfield Art Works until 6 July 2019.
The launch of Shieldfield Art Works (SAW) will take place on Friday 7 June, 6-9pm. For more info visit their Facebook page.
Sarah Davies is an artist and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne.