Lawrie Coombs applauds the work of Newcastle’s Side Gallery
Operating in the shadow of Tyneside’s burgeoning official cultural quarter, Side Gallery operates as a radical space bereft of the level of financial support available to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art or the Sage Gateshead music venue.
As part of the Amber Collective it promotes independent, radical and quirky expositions of cinema and photography. Side Gallery has consistently sought to chronicle unheard voices and perspectives, highlighting working class struggles and experience.
Since opening in 1977, Side Gallery has highlighted the theme of landscapes, witnessing the ex-industrial nature of the North East, positively marking out the flourishing of humanity against the odds.
Whilst a full range of the North East working class experience has featured over the years, from emotive images of the construction of the Tyne Bridge to iconic camera work chronicling the 84-85 Miners Strike, it would be very wrong to view the Side Gallery as promoting the whimsical flat cap nostalgia that yawningly features within Newcastle and Gateshead’s Arts scene. Side Gallery has shown a commitment to internationalism through the lens of the marginalised, regularly highlighting exceptional work from across the globe
The current Fields of Vision exhibition explores ideas and realities in northern urban and rural landscapes, critically in the context of the north being looked down as “the other” by bourgeois metropolitans within the central power structure of this country; this imagery is willingly exploited by the local professional Geordie culturati, who swapping champagne flutes for pint pots arguably buy into this notion.
The exhibition contrasts 60s concrete flyovers with the coal cast, where forgotten boots and trainers are set in glazes of copper and as far removed from the traditional British seaside themes as it is possible to be.
Photography from several decades past, highlight the constant reconstruction of society and of the working class experience within this. Bridges across the river Tyne feature as does the struggle of nature against dockland in Wallsend; we are presented with notions of working communities making lives on what can often seem to be lunar type landscapes, whose richness exists against so-called chic sophistication of our rulers and political and economic dishonesty.
Other images movingly portray the panoramics of Teesside industry and industrial/nature confrontation across the north from Tyne and Wear to the Lake District. I was particularly struck by the eerie punctures of smoke across the Weardale, evident during the foot and mouth crisis, and the suggestion of ecological apocalypse in the tender portrayals of open caste mining.
Socialists and working-class activists should support this small oasis cum celebration of independent working class culture, complete with well worn rickety stairs, funky postcards and locally produced film.
• Fields of Vision is open until 1 October.