Thursday, March 25, 2010

(Too much) sound and vision in Newcastle

Welcome to AV Festival 10, the biennial international Festival of electronic arts, taking place from 5-14 March 2010. The Festival theme is energy: a universal force that connects, transforms and renews life. Exploring energy from scientific, technological, environmental and spiritual perspectives we present work that resonates across NewcastleGateshead, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, and beyond.

Or so it says on the AV festival’s website.

Festival brochures and festival descriptions are always as far removed from reality as you can get.

For me it meant turning up in Newcastle for the afternoon having no idea it was taking place.

Walking down the Quayside after visiting Jane Evelyn Atwood’s charming Women in Prison exhibition at the Side Gallery my dad noticed two girls huddled round a small table inside a dark doorway that was once the entrance to Tyne Bridge lift.

Houses in the huge support stanchion on the Newcastle side of the river, these two students were actually makeshift invigilators to a sound installation inside the Tyne Bridge’s stone-clad iron girders.

It was one of those stumbled-upon discoveries that you never forget.

It was freezing inside the North Tower doorway, dripping with water from high above, damp everywhere. The red box on the table six inches in front of the students was a heater. It’s mid-march but they needed it.

All the time we can hear a low humming noise. The girls said get up there. They said my four-year-old son might get scared by the noise upstairs. My mam was too scared to go up.

Three generations of Cook went upstairs. The stairway opened out into a huge dark hangar space. Several pairs of speakers continued with the humming noise. They call this art? In Newcastle? How do they get away with it?

My son Teddy loved it. He asked if there was a Scooby-Doo ghost in the dark corner. We were about to go and investigate when the sound stopped. I was enjoying that. So was Teddy.

But he wasn’t enjoying it anymore when, suddenly, crackling sound bursts through the speakers. Too loud. ‘I’m a bit scared,’ says Teddy with his hands over his ears. Time to go.

He told the girls what he thought. I’m not sure if they turned it down. I hope they didn’t catch hypothermia. The installation was called Space Against Itself by Will Schrimshaw.

Equally enjoyable, ten minutes later was Jenny Holzer’s electro vocubularic displays over two floors at the Baltic.

Very sparse, very shop window, very dazzling. While I do wonder how an artist gets themselves into a position to sell 50-odd LED signs flickering assorted words at high speed to gallery curators as an artwork, I was impressed with the beautiful colours.

Teddy Cook loved it too. I would have bought him the book if, like everything else in the Baltic shop, it was hideously over-priced. And I had already purchased a Jimmy Forsyth and two Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen photobooks at the Side Gallery.

PICTURED: Documentary evidence of the sound installation inside the Tyne Bridge's North Tower: the girls, Teddy enjoying it, Teddy not enjoying it, Teddy in the Baltic (though this photograph me have to be removed if the Baltic authorities get in touch).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Criminal photography

Or how I chased a teenage boy down the street after he harassed a woman at a cash-point.

I was on my way to the Walrus bar in High Street Manchester with gorgeous girlfriend Anna Byrom. We stopped off at a row of cash-points opposite Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester. It was about 7.30pm. Very busy.

While I was at one cash-point and Anna was at another attempting to take out £30.

As she used the cash-point a teenager, part of a suspicious-looking no-good gang hanging around, pushed into her while waving newspaper in her face. Anna pushed him away. 
He lent back into her and pressed the £200 button as she made her withdrawal.

I was unaware of this until she came over to me. The cheeky bastard teenager went and sat down in a bus shelter facing the bank. An elderly man then approached us saying that the teenager had got the PIN number.

I was having none of this and thought that, if her bank account was too be emptied, I should at least have a photo of the culprit to hand over to the police so they can produce 500 'Wanted' posters. Or something like that.

Slowly, I took my weapon from my bag and attached my flashgun. Quickly, the harassing teenager became a harassed and legged it up the road.

I set off in pursuit. He darted across the road. I sprinted after him. He weaved in and out of our stunned audience. I followed, gripping my camera tightly.

Picking up speed in the dramatic chase, I came round the side of a set of telephone boxes to meet him head-on. With my lens cover already removed I click-clacked him with flash.

He burst into tears.

It wasn’t the reaction I was expecting.

At this point I did not know what to say. Instead of asking him what he was doing I told him, ‘You’d better be careful, you’. This wasn't a scripted encounter.

I then left him to his tears. On my way back to Anna several people asked me what he had done. I told them, though I am still not sure what scam her was attempting to pull-off. Don't they usually just snatch the cash from the hands of pretty girls? Or is the old man in on the crafty plan?

Either way, no-one got any money from Anna and when we told two policeman further down the road what had happened and they asked for a description, I was in full self-satisfied mode as I showed them the makeshift mugshot on the back of my camera.

PICTURED: The pushy teenager I chased through the streets of Manchester.