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Kittiwake artwork flies back to Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle

One of the most popular Great North Run-inspired artworks is again drawing crowds to the Laing Art Gallery


Birds may return year after year to the same nest but there’s no guarantee that a work of art featuring a bird will follow suit.

That explains the evident pleasure surrounding a repeat showing of Gone With The Wind, an extraordinarily intricate and fragile looking installation in one of the Laing Art Gallery’s biggest rooms.

Gone With The Wind, which features a kittiwake, was last displayed in this space in 2008 as one of that year’s Great North Run Culture commissions.

Artists – or writers or film-makers – are challenged to respond in some way to the annual half marathon.

No runners in sight in Claire’s piece, nor any sign whatsoever of a human being. But it touched a chord with the people who saw it last time and so Claire was invited by director Beth Bate to bring it back as part of this year’s 10th anniversary Great North Run Culture programme.

Effectively, this meant that Claire had to make it all over again.

“I’ve never made the same thing twice and it probably sounds not that interesting – but I did enjoy it,” she said as Gone With The Wind was unveiled, proving that some things that get blown away do actually come back.

Gone With The Wind by Claire Morgan, on show at the Laing Art Gallery
Gone With The Wind by Claire Morgan, on show at the Laing Art Gallery

The piece, as light as air but describing a titanic rectangle at the Laing, has a definite wow factor. It is seemingly a moment frozen in time, the beating wings of the bird stopped along with the trail of disturbed seedlings in its wake.

After thinking wow, your thoughts will probably turn to the enormous amount of work that went into realising this tiny imagined moment in the flight of a bird.

As well as the stuffed bird – and we’ll come to that – the piece comprises more than 3,000 threads on which are fixed some 10,000 seeds of dandelion, thistle and goatsbeard.

All, apparently, can be found near the finish of the Great North Run in South Shields.

Claire, who was born in Belfast and graduated with first class honours from Northumbria University in 2003, recalled that her first Great North Run idea was to do with the sweat produced by the runners along the 13-mile course.

It proved a little complicated to realise, for which you might be thankful. Instead her thoughts turned to the kittiwake.

“I started to think about time passing or moving through stuff,” she explained at the second unveiling.

“You get these runners who follow the same route each year and I suppose it was inspired by the idea of a runner moving through a crowd.”

Nobody who has run over the Tyne Bridge or walked beneath it can have failed to notice the famous kittiwakes. In this case the bird stands – or flies – as a metaphor for the runners, each in a crowd but strangely alone as they focus on the road ahead.

Colin Davison Artist Claire Morgan, right, with Beth Bate, director of Great North Run Culture
Artist Claire Morgan, right, with Beth Bate, director of Great North Run Culture

Claire, whose career has been marked by success since she graduated, remembered putting in a request for a kittiwake and waiting for the call from the National Trust at Souter Lighthouse, South Shields.

Eventually a dead one turned up. “We waited for the call and then jumped in the car when it came,” she said. “We then put it in my freezer in Heaton wrapped up with towels and plastic bags and newspaper.

“I stuffed it myself. I only started doing taxidermy in 2007 so this wasn’t the best piece of work. I felt really uncomfortable about showing it.”

Since then Claire has become more adept in this ancient art – she even met her boyfriend at a taxidermy conference – so this second showing for Gone With The Wind was a chance to tinker with the bird’s internal workings to make it more bird-like.

Claire, who now lives in London, is much in demand. She has a big solo exhibition coming up in Germany in November and is also working on a piece for a museum in Paris.

  • Gone With The Wind can be seen at the Laing Art Gallery until January 11.


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