An intriguing hybrid of art gallery and touring peep show is set to get people talking at county shows and agricultural fairs across Northumberland this summer.Gallery of Wonders, curated by Newcastle University fine art lecturer Irene Brown, is a modern-day cabinet of curiosities.
Reminiscent of travelling booths and side shows at fairs, when items of curiosity such as waxworks of famous people and strange misshapen creatures were put on display, the aim is to evoke a sense of wonder for the extraordinary as well as encourage people to reassess how they view contemporary art.
Juxtaposing the exotic and the amazing, the scientific and the fantastic, the tented gallery will fire visitors’ imaginations.
“When you first enter the tent you don’t know what you’re looking at – it’s that moment when you draw a breath because it’s like nothing you ever encountered before,” says Ms Brown. “It’s also very stimulating and you are drawn to it, wanting to find out more.
“We’re not talking to a usual art audience - it’s taking art out into a rural environment where most people come to exhibit their livestock - but we also want to entice them in to engage with contemporary art. A lot of people think of contemporary art as just Tracy Emin’s bed and it’s all abstract or intellectually obscure, but it doesn’t have to be.”
Ms Brown, who grew up in rural Wales, has fond memories of exploring curiosities as a child and their ‘slightly disturbing but absolutely compelling’ nature. “Art is not necessarily the first thing you think of when you enter this tent, it’s about engaging with what you see,” she says. “I’ve created something that I love, and I hope it will appeal to others too.”
The black tent is covered in eyes, several of which have kaleidoscopic lenses inside so visitors can peer both in and out. Inside, there are five new artworks ranging from holograms to taxidermy. It includes work by artists the Quay Brothers, Tessa Farmer, Polly Morgan, Aura Satz and Matt Collishaw.
Ms Brown also has one of her own artworks inside, a collection of glass bottles filled with water, with coastal scenes projected into them. It stems from her love of the history of science and the great explorers that crossed the oceans on voyages of discovery. In one, a re-animated Whitley Bay lighthouse, created from a single photograph, shines its beam out into the night.
“These are internationally-renown artists that we’ve been very lucky enough to persuade to let us cart their artworks around the countryside in an old horsebox,” she says. “Many artists are precious enough about their work being loaned out to an art gallery, let alone a tent in a muddy field, so we are extremely grateful to them all – we simply could not have done this without their support.”
Local artists Peter Sharpe and Carl Von Weiler, both from Hexham, are also part of the team setting up the travelling exhibition, which is a collaboration between Newcastle University and Arts&Heritage.
Performance artists Dennis Jobling will be the ‘barker’, responsible for promoting the exhibition and encouraging people into the tent. As part of creating the sense of taking part in ‘something special’ visitors pay £1 in exchange for a handmade optical illusion card that will allow them into the exhibition.
Gallery of Wonder, a study of wonder and how contemporary art practice relates to science, has been on going since 2010. There have been over 30 exhibitions in the windows of Newcastle University’s Fine Art Building, as well as a cabinet within the Great North Museum: Hancock and this is the first time it has gone on tour. ??It will be contained in a repurposed horse box, which has been painted dark grey and covered in stencils of eyes and symbols relating to mathematics, philosophy, life and death, astrology and anatomy.
The Gallery of Wonder tour dates are: Northumberland County Show, 25 May; Woodhorn Miners Picnic, 13 June; Powburn Show, 1 August; Spittal Seaside Festival, 8 August; Falstone Border Shepherd Show, 22 August; Alwinton Border Shepherd Show, 10 October; Newcastle University campus, 16 October (tbc).
This touring exhibition is supported by Arts&Heritage, Newcastle University's Institute for Creative Arts Practice, Arts Council England, Northumberland County Council and Berwick Visual Arts. It follows on from Arts&Heritage’s successful The Great Boxing Booth Revival, which travelled to Northumbrian and Cumbrian fairs and fetes in 2012.
published on: 18 May 2015