Harking back to the great exhibitions of yore, this summer Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Gateshead play host to an 80-day celebration of art, culture, design and innovation from across the North, in what will be the largest event of its kind happening in England during 2018. If you’re ambitious enough to plan on experiencing the whole thing, we suggest beginning with each of the festival’s three core locations – Great North Museum, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead – before going on to explore the 30 other venues and public spaces on either side of the River Tyne across which it will unfold.
We’re particularly looking forward to visiting BALTIC however, where not one but 10 solo and group exhibitions of contemporary art will simultaneously be on show, presenting work by a broad range of northern-based artists including Ryan Gander, Tim Etchells, Jane and Louise Wilson, and Turner Prize 2017 winner Lubaina Himid. Look out in particular for Michael Dean: Having you on, featuring a major new immersive installation by the artist, dealing with the themes of language, intimacy and ‘the politics of being in the world’.
Aside from the big names, a series of projects titled Idea of North, presented in pavilions, architectural constructions and guest-curated displays throughout BALTIC’s Level 4 gallery, will collectively offer a playful response to the convention of the ‘expo’ event, whilst exploring the concept of ‘a northern identity’ through photography, music and design. We Are Where We Are, meanwhile, will feature new and existing works by the 11 Liverpool Biennial Associate Artists – housed in, underneath and between treated walls – that offers ‘a dark place for moving forward’.
Unfortunately, it’s hard not to read The Great Exhibition’s overarching ambition to ‘help change perceptions of the North by presenting a new dynamic story of the area’ as rather patronising, and without a degree of scepticism. Yet, BALTIC’s summer offering looks likely to offer a solid antidote to this in the form of a nuanced, multi-faceted perspective on the idea of ‘northernness’ in the context of today.