If you are in Newcastle I would recommend you go to the Baltic.
Sitting beside the Millennium Bridge over the Tyne on the Gateshead side it is a splendid building which used to be the Baltic Flour Mills and is now the center for Contemporary Arts. I have a love hate relationship with contemporary art I just can’t see the point in some of it, while other bits communicate wonderfully, and their exhibition to mark the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’, or to give it its full title ‘The Origin of the Species By Means of Natural Selection’ which runs until 20th September. This exhibition manages to have works in both camps. The Baltic’s own literature states that it “is a group exhibition of nine contemporary artists exploring evolutionary thinking and the theory of natural selection.”
I am not going to mention which pieces I felt fell into the former category but I do wish to mention two exhibits which definitely fell into the later, they are video presentations and filmed on the Galapagos Islands by the same artist Marcus Coates.
A news presentation in which one of the islands iconic birds, the Blue Footed Booby, reports on the humans on the island. It points out with humour how the invaders have changed the island, how they can not adapt to their surroundings so instead adapt the surroundings to endanger the very things that brought them to that paradise in the first place. How even having adapted the island they still struggle and depend on things being brought from other places. It ends with poignant words about how these invaders could live any where else in the world and survive, and if they were to die out the species would continue to survive. While the Blue Footed Booby, has but one home that has been changed forever. The report was shown on Channel 9 TV on the Galapagos and the news station didn’t seem to get it, and cleverly it is the longer clip direct from the news channel that is shown in the exhibition. As if to underline what the report was saying the couple who were presenting it, a male and a female, then introduce the next news item. The man gets in a fluster while the female anchor gets all serious about an important event that is happening on the island, a beauty contest!
Probably the Galapagos are most well known for their giant tortoises and it is these which Marcus has made a film of and in doing so questions the whole idea of intelligent design. For any species the ability to reproduce is essential yet for the giant tortoises this activity is near impossible and a lot of time and energy is wasted on not succeeding, as the film shows. Marcus leaves you with the unanswered double edged question. Has evolution pasted the Giant Tortoise by; for it certainly hasn’t evolved to make mating more successful and easier; or is the Giant Tortoise a less than intelligent design which has still managed to avoid natural selection?
The other works, which in our opinion, were definitely worth spending some time over were those by Charles Avery, Mark Dion, Mark Fairnington and Hubby’s favorite ‘On the Ark and I’ by Ben Jeans Houghton, a greenhouse full of found items all arranged by colour.
While at the Baltic it is worth going upstairs to see Tilting Planet by Sarah Sze which is showing until 31st August. It might not be your cup of tea when it comes to art, but I fail to see how anyone can be impressed by the imagination which conceived such a large intricate installation.
Unfortunately you will have missed out on Matt Stokes, The Gainsborough Packet, which was another exhibition at the Baltic that when we visited, however if you are in London you can see that at the 176 Gallery in Prince of Wales Road, NW 5.