OU blog

Personal Blogs

New photo

The Baltic at Christmas

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Monday, 25 Dec 2017, 08:25

The Baltic at Christmas

We visited the Baltic on Christmas Eve. A strange experience socially – sometimes you just need to see very young children reacting to abstract and conceptual art to see it anew.

The art survived the contact – maybe even was refreshed.

There is much to see and much at which to marvel. As always we track art back to the choices in the arrangement of media. In the case of Susan Philipz’ A Single Voice, that is radical and you need time to learn how to bring together the experience of sound, space (sheer volumes that interact with the Baltic’s own massive architecture) and sight to even begin to organise your experiences of this installation. I’ll visit again. Meanwhile get to grips (at the back of the hall with Philipz’ installation).

You enter a space that is completely dark – experiencing space both as visual illusion and tactile experience, you only gradually learn that some of the space is a cognitive-visual effect when you bang into a padded dark wall that obstructs and guides you – towards a thin light in one of the armatures of the space as a whole. If you survive the visual ‘deprivation’ (if that is what it is) you feel yourself into a room holding the voice of Philipz – here the tactile surface I was still holding onto becomes ridged and softer. Nothing I have ever ‘seen’ has told me more I think than this work about what the ‘visual’ in visual art means.

Then to Starless Midnight, a show in commemoration of Dr Martin Luther King’s receipt of honour from Newcastle University. I was stunned by the ‘Association for the Advancement of Cinematic Creative Maladjustment’ piece (the manifesto is republished by Baltic and can be picked up here – a piece of art that shows textual arrangement can be just that). The heart is in King’s own speech – see book excerpt above. The show is an anthology of cutting-edge art that makes you live and re-see racism and our defences against it.

My favourite piece is an installation centred on Ashley Holmes’ 18-min. film Everybody’s Hustling containing narratives about black working-class male experience in which race is sexualised and which refuses to avoid difficult perceptions about gender that this involves as the depth of a racist social psychology is penetrated. The installation screen is surrounded by 3 black barbers’ chairs themselves surrounded by a fence. Learning to see is daring to go around the screen, sit on the chairs – not all do (such is part of the experience of exclusion) and listen to the installation text). This in itself connects black male experience in the US, where barbers shops became a means of economic survival for black people. And there is much to learn about hair and hair and head shaping as we sit here. Absolutely profound piece I thought.

Likewise a disturbing show by Edgar Arcenaux on Floor 2, where nearly every shibboleth about access and relation to art as exclusive is explored. So much so that some will never see the mirror at the centre of this piece (a ‘centre’ at the margins of the work’s space) because it is occluded by the experience of art’s learnt behaviour of refusing access that has been internalised in most of us.

Don’t neglect the Sofia Stevi show though. Here is feminist art (one piece commenting on Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party) that recasts our experience of Greek classical art with a fun reconstruction of that phallocracy. The point is hard to miss – this shows displays the phallus to undermine it and to (in a beautiful pink painting) replace it. The use of linen hangings as material is a delight to see. Stevi’s experience of Greece is, however deeply subversive of attitudes to art it has been located within in art history, deeply in love and at home with Greece and is beautifully hopeful.


Permalink Add your comment
Share post