Light Up North: Neon exhibition at Biscuit Factory

Rory Cameron heads to Ouseburn to see if the neon trend should be left in the 2010's...

Rory Cameron
20th November 2019
image: Biscuit Factory
Ouseburn is one of the most beautiful and dynamic areas of Newcastle, filled with a myriad of some of the town’s most interesting pubs, music venues and creative spaces. Sitting near the top of the valley, on the fringes of Ouseburn, the Biscuit Factory has somewhat ridden on the coattails of the area for quite some time. In my opinion, attending an exhibition there feels a bit like the cultural equivalent of dressing up and being taken out for a meal at Town Fry.

And, under the electroluminescent glare of Light Up North’s artworks, this exhibition proved no different. The Biscuit Factory's ‘social space’ was mainly populated by tray-loads of sparkling wine, with the few of us who managed to brave the rain wondering what we were doing there. Should we have stayed at home? Would standing in the rain have been preferable? 

image: 'Just for One Day' via Biscuit Factory

Light Up North effectively combine a mixture of technologies to print digitally edited photos onto foam boards, and adorn them with EL light, (giving it that ‘neon’ glow), bent into an existing design or the shape and lettering of whatever you want, as long as you have paid your electric bills. It would appear that an appetite for neon art has grown significantly, in the wake of artists such as Tracy Emin and Glenn Ligon using neon lights to display their messages provocative and profound. Perhaps the most striking resemblance, is that with Olivia Steele, whose work regularly combines neon with both real landscapes in situ, as well as overlaying it onto challenging photos such as mushroom clouds. 

And indeed, this style has become rather trendy. You can expect to find allusions to this aesthetic at most gin bars, with messages that usually seek to come across as inspirational or fierce. The actual effect, however, is more that of a desperate 40 something searching for instagram likes over a bottle of Echo Falls. 

The effect of Light Up North’s digital bootlegs of pop culture icons like Bowie, Blondie and Elvis, however, comes across as a cheap imitation of Emin, Steele, et al at best. Cheap imitations that will actually set you back several hundred pounds, and tell everyone just how tasteless and tacky you really are. This aesthetic is the ‘Live Laugh Love’ of 2019, so just be thankful the decade is nearly over.

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