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Slow motion gigs and cities portrayed as data

Two new exhibitions in Sunderland offer unusual perspectives on the world as David Whetstone finds out

Two of Wolfgang Weileder's citiscapes at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland
Two of Wolfgang Weileder's citiscapes at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland

While most people leapt around and let their hair down at this year’s Stockton Weekender music festival, one spectator impressed the organisers by being “totally invisible”.

This was Graham Dolphin, a North East artist whose interest in music and popular culture has seen him recreating unofficial rock star ‘shrines’ in a gallery and painstakingly inscribing song lyrics on vinyl records.

He was appointed artist-in-residence at the July festival as part of a project called Buying Time, in which curator Natalie Levi partnered three artists with three small businesses.

Dolphin and the Tees Music Alliance were brought together to see what would happen.

“It was groundbreaking for us and a little bit scary,” recalls Paul Burns, Tees Music Alliance director and power behind the Stockton Weekender.

On a busy weekend when pop stars and music fans come flocking, someone who might get in the way was really not wanted. On the other hand, says Paul, they were intrigued to see what “different slant” an artist might bring to the proceedings.

Candidly he adds: “We were a little bit flattered as well.”

And ultimately? “It was a really good experience.” After showing Graham round, he “never really saw him for the rest of the event. He was totally invisible.”

As for Graham, he says he was keen to look at the festival in a different way to the press photographers.

These thoughts are shared on a film which accompanies his installation at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA) in Sunderland.

It is called Coming Together and it consists of two large screens, positioned at angles.

On one screen we see the fans, on the other the musicians – all in extreme close-up and slow motion. A little perversely, you might think, although he did promise to be different, Graham Dolphin’s latest installation is completely silent.

Stills from Graham Dolphin's film installation, Come Together
Stills from Graham Dolphin's film installation, Come Together
 

From his unobtrusive vantage point, the artist was granted access to bands including Spiritualized, Primal Scream and Dexys (Midnight Runners, as was).

The lead singers appear on the left, high, very much mighty and seemingly detached up on the stage as they press their lips to the microphone. The sense of power is heightened by the enraptured fans, smiling so they almost seem to be crying and singing through a thicket of raised arms.

You can sense the energy flowing upwards from right to left, feeding the ego as surely as electricity feeds the mic and amps.

As a rider to all this, I must add that slow motion doesn’t necessarily tell a greater truth. It can load an unconscious gesture with undue significance.

Showing in the main exhibition space at the NGCA is Atlas, a major body of work by Wolfgang Weileder, professor of contemporary sculpture at Newcastle University.

Architecture and public spaces are areas of special interest and this is clear, though not immediately so, in this exhibition.

If you hadn’t been fore-warned by the text outside the gallery you might assume the large, framed pictures were intricate abstract paintings. Through narrowed eyes you can see shades of the Impressionists or John Martin, he of the fiery Biblical scenes.

Close up, though, you sense a mechanical – or at least a digital – hand. We learn that the artist, having created a bespoke computer programme and camera, has spent the last few years making digital portraits of city squares.

If I understand corrrectly (and I wouldn’t put money on it), each picture shows us a slice of time in a particular place. I was reminded a little of those long-exposure photos of motorways where car lights become red and white string.

What fascinated me were the little written explanations beside each picture of what had been going on when Wolfgang was doing his thing.

On the steps of the Sydney Opera House hundreds of people were dancing to the music of Dannii and Kylie Minogue; in the Piazza San Pietro in Rome Pope Benedict XVI was giving his Easter Sunday blessing; in Munich’s Viktualienmarkt beer-swigging Bavarians were celebrating 852 years of city status; and in a square in Warsaw the 14th Dalai Lama was about to receive honorary citizenship.

A sequence of six seemingly coded images recalls a more mundane event in Kyoto: “A young woman with heavy make-up and full shopping bags gets into a car as the department store closes and everybody makes their way home.”

I bet she’d never have guessed she would end up a digitised artwork on a gallery wall in Sunderland.

Wolfgang Weileder, ever the innovator, has shown us a different and very modern way of looking at the world.

Graham Dolphin’s Come Together is at NGCA, City Library, Fawcett Street, until February 1; Wolfgang Weileder’s Atlas until February 6. Details on www.ngca.co.uk

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