BALTIC, EatNG, what do I think of my friend Pybus

Friday, May 8, 2009 7:06 | Filed in Beer, Local Interest, Newcastle United, Reviews, The Pickards

It was one of our “family outing thingummies”.

There’s currently an event on in NewcastleGateshead (the gestalt entity formed from Newcastle and Gateshead councils to promote events across the two) called EAT! Newcastle Gateshead, which is not, as it may initially sound, a command to consume the region, but is instead a festival of food.

IncrEdible North East (flickr)

This started on the 2nd May and runs onward until the 17th, but it was on the 2nd that we decided to go. There was a free event on in Baltic square called IncrEdible North East which basically involved a lot of stalls selling different foods, some storytelling activities, some sporting and nutrition things, and other exhibitions.

Add this to the fact that there were exhibitions on at the BALTIC mill art gallery that I wanted to see, and we seemed to have the perfect family day out plan. Visit the food thing, visit the art gallery thing. Two birds, one stone. What could possibly go wrong?

Well… we got there, parked in the car park, and headed down to the market square: me, the GLW and the kids BTP and SWP, where we had arranged to meet up with Grandma J and Grandad B. They had got there ten minutes earlier than we had and so had already picked up a leaflet to see what was available.

As we headed over to find one of these leaflets for ourselves, the GLW noticed a football related thing, where Newcastle United coaching staff would talk to kids about proper nutrition. This was aimed at primary school children, but at the upper end of it (i.e. ages 8-11) but as they weren’t too busy, they were happy to let BTP (5) go in, although his little brother was a bit too young.

Beer - Allendale Black Grouse, and Allendale Curlew's Return (flickr)

No problem: we took turns ‘keeping watch’ outside the tent, while the rest of us went wandering off with SWP across the millenium bridge and back again; finding oversized jigsaw type things where you have to put the cuts of meat back onto the wooden animal (yeah, it seemed odd to me too), and, in my case finding a stall from the local Allendale Brewery where they were handing out little glasses (very little glasses — about half a mouthful) of their beers in order to try and entice people to buy some later.

Of course, I wouldn’t fall for a ploy as simple as this, and the fact that I bought a bottle of Allendale Black Grouse and a bottle of Allendale Curlew’s Return later on was entirely coincidental.

Inflatable Monty Magpie (flickr)

BTP’s half hour of listening to soccer coaches impart useful nutritional advice (“you shouldn’t eat ice-cream every day” — as if he’d get the chance!) also came with a couple of opportunities to win Newcastle United related prizes and he was absolutely delighted as he came buzzing out with an inflatable Monty Magpie that you can place over your hand and wear, presumably at home games for those children who have a Dad is willing to be seen next to someone waving one of them about.

Anyway, he was absolutely thrilled with this and we were just wandering away when one of the ladies from the tent came running up to me and said “didn’t he tell you he’d won a pair of match tickets?”. That’s kid’s priorities for you: £60 of free football tickets impresses no one: £1 worth of inflatable magpie and you’re over the moon…

So far, so good, eh?

Next it was the BALTIC itself. Sarah Sze’s Tilting Planet exhibition had been very much enjoyed by @infomixer, so that seemed worth a visit.

It was an art installation, using junk items as the raw material (empty water bottles, drawing pins, matchsticks, bits of paper and so on). It really was quite impressive. There was a variety of colour, of different items juxtaposed together; it was interesting llooking how the things were put together. And I’d managed to avoid questioning why they had been put together until I read the blurb on the wall outside.

…Sze’s expansive sculptural vocabulary uses these items constructively to precisely build structures that defamiliarise our preconceived ideas of these objects

BALTIC: Tilting Planet

And at that point the whole thing came crashing down on me. Yes, it’s interesting. Yes, it’s different. Yes, it shows you can create different shapes, patterns and sculptures which are pleasing to the eye out of commonly discarded things. But this really is nothing new.

The bloody Wombles (thieving, tax-avoiding buggers or no) had this corner covered in the 1970s with their “making good use of the things left behind, the things that the everyday folk leave behind” shtick. And it’s not high-falutin’ high concept art. It’s interesting, it’s clever, but if you feel the need to use phrases like “sculptural vocabulary” and “defamiliarise” to describe it, then it’s just a pretentious arty circle jerk.

I still enjoyed the art: it’s just the pretentious wank surrounding it I objected to.

The next exhibition was…

A Duck For Mr. Darwin (flickr)

…which was a selection of different small exhibits concerning the natural world, or that of the Victorian naturalist. There was a video of a naked woman in a lake full of jellyfish (pretty jellies, and a woman with no clothes on both fine independently, but I’d not have considered putting them together), a video of some giant tortoises shagging (or “playing”, if there are kids within earshot), some various paintings, a rowing boat with a video display of what a rower would see rotating around it (quite bizarre but actually quite captivating).

On the next floor down, there was a strange styrofoam sculpture called “Overhang” simply made out of large styrofoam blocks stacked together in a way which looked like it was liable to collapse under its own weight at any moment but was surprisingly still vertical.

And then, on the last floor, was The Gainsborough Packet. This is a 9 minute long folk song with accompanying video inspired by a letter a John Burdikin wrote to his friend Pybus in 1828. Folk music is not, really, in any shape of the word, my thing, and so I had the intention of watching it for about a minute — just to be polite — and then wandering off.

Only after a minute, I thought that I might as well stay for one more minute, and everyone else was staring intently at the screen also. And then some seats became available, so we sat down. And sat, enthralled through the rest of the entire performance, as the artist Matt Stokes (who created the thing) and the singer Sam Lee (who, as the singer, was somewhat essential to the the song) related the tale of John Burdikin to his friend Pybus.

It was bloody brilliant. And The Guardian enjoyed it too. The only drawback is that it is only on at the BALTIC until the 10th May, so you’d better get a bleeding shuffle on if you want to see it. On the other hand, it is also being shown at 176 in London until the 28th June, so if you’re at that end of the country, you’ve got a little more time to pop along.

And, obviously, this is where part of this post title comes from, as the song contained the frequent refrain, “what do you think of that, my friend Pybus” (or possibly “that, then,”).

Gateshead Millenium Bridge: starting to open (flickr)

And that was the BALTIC. Brilliant: you won’t always like everything you see there, but there’s generally something you’ll like, and it’s generally something different that you wouldn’t tend to see elsewhere…

We’d timed our trip to the BALTIC extremely well: we left the BALTIC just in time to see the Millenium Bridge start to raise up…

This is quite an impressive sight, watching an 800 tonne 126 metre span glide seemingly effortlessly through about sixty degrees of arc.

Gateshead Millenium Bridge: half open (flickr)

There’s not really room here to include all eleven photos of the Gateshead Millenium Bridge gradually opening and the fishing boat (part of the Eat Me! Drink Me! festival thingummy) come through underneath it, so I’ve instead just included one where’s it’s only just opening, one where it’s half open, and one fully open here, although if ’tis your sort of thing to watch the Millenium Bridge opening, more of the photos can be found in my Flickr ‘Newcastle and Gateshead’ set.

Gateshead Millenium Bridge fully open (flickr)

After this, we popped along to the stalls again to buy some Sea Bass for tea, along with some Beer Bread, the beer highlighted before, and pick up a couple of ice creams for the kids before heading home. We had considered getting a squirrel to eat, on the basis that none of us had ever eaten a squirrel before and as it was claimed to be a grey squirrel (although in the packet with the fur removed it wasn’t really that easy to tell) then I’d be doing my bit for the red squirrel population, presumably. Only by the time we went to someone else had got it.

Then there was just time for a quick pose on the Gateshead Millenium Bridge with four other bridges in the background, and then it was time to go home…

BTP on Millenium Bridge with four other bridges in the background (flickr)

…so, it pretty much turned out that nothing went wrong and we all had a lovely time…

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