Heterotopia: a concept elaborated by philosopher Michel Foucault to describe certain cultural, institutional and discursive spaces that are somehow ‘other’: disturbing, intense, incompatible, contradictory or transforming. Heterotopias are worlds within worlds, mirroring and yet upsetting what is outside.
What better way to finally make use of what has been an empty retail unit in the heart of the Ouseburn regeneration area - a liminal space, if you will - than to exhibit the work of Newcastle University's latest fine art talent in an exhibition entitled Heterotopia which seeks to explore the otherness of certain spaces.
In a group exhibition by a Student Art Collective made up of Dana Goh, Laura McCandless, Harvey Wattam, Julia Bamber, and Maya Aomatsu, the showing at Ouseburn's Bottleworks featured cross-studio work exploring methods of construction using a variety of media. In their exhibition notes, the collective write: 'In playing with both figurative and literal world-building, something new is created in each of our practices, all united by a shared interest in reassembling reality'.
The Collective aims to celebrate a diversity of contemporary art practices through engaging with the community in a number of ways. Through participatory pieces, they develop art together with the public. In fact, the notion of the public extends into the very materials that they use in the production of their pieces, taking from scrap heaps and refuse areas of local pubs and industrial areas; the community material becomes the work itself. The collective aims to use their various artistic practice to platform the sharing of experiences and imaginations. Something which they all personally believe is vital to both art and to the wider community in Newcastle.
Maya Aomatsu's work is in painting and sculpture and centres on collaborating with and seeking boundaries between ‘dual-natured’ characters and the human mind. The exhibition featured bright, personal works that were fantastical in nature. She writes that in her work, 'anthropomorphic characters embody elements within the human psyche and experience, repositioned into imagined landscapes, creating magical realist works that are simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar'. More of Maya's work can be found at @chocoart_maya on Instagram.
Julia Bamber hosted a collaborative event entitled “Rock Chess”. The premise was that there was a selection of rocks ready and waiting to be chosen from, however, people were welcome to collect and play with their own rocks too. With these rocks serving as chess pieces, the piece encouraged the players to look more closely at the rocks around us, engaging our imaginations and memories as we seek ways to remember which rock is which. More of Julia's work can be found at @Iamaxhctiw on Instagram.
Dana Goh's work was inspired by one of the oldest plants on Earth - the Welwitschia plant. She notes that 'its ribbon-like leaves never shed, growing continuously in a manner wholly unique in the plant kingdom'. This is what has inspired Goh in her artistic work. Intrigued by its peculiar, droopy form provoking both fear and amusement, she aims to reinterpret these distinctive qualities, transforming them into mixed-media sculptural forms. Goh's work at the festival featured an array of imagined plant sculptures, characterised by their extended and almost never-ending forms, alongside an imagined encyclopaedia of the plants before you. More of Dana's work can be found at @daiyart on Instagram.
Laura McCandless explores the notion of the 'future woman' in her work. She notes that 'the icon of the ‘Future Woman’ in dystopian media is one of exploitation and objectification, portrayed as desirable due to her naivety.' McCandless' work examines and scrutinizes this familiar trope, and constructs environments that confront viewers with this woman’s pain. Her presentation at the Heterotopia exhibition offered a selection of drawings and a 1.5m tall sculpture that position the 'future woman' from two aspects; respectively, the view of this woman as created by men, and her contrasting representations when fashioned from the minds of women.
Finally, Harvey Wattam's work, produced in collaboration with Ben Poole-Phillips, aims to respond to found and recovered materials in the form of sculpture. These sculptures are temporary, displayed for short periods after construction before being disassembled. This temporary process allows for maintaining the spontaneity of the artwork, effectively blurring the line between work and play. Wattam notes that this process allows them to 'let go of inhibitions by focusing on the intuitive production of art'. More of Harvey's work can be found at @hwattamarts on Instagram.
Heterotopia is a wonderful exhibition of powerful, thoughtful work which challenges the status quo of our own current situations. It makes us think of the earth and our relationship with it; the way that we think and see others; and celebrates the complexity of the human mind. It's great to see talent like this emerging on the streets of places like Ouseburn, and I look forward to seeing much more of it.