Cinema pioneer, haunting memories of the Jarrow Crusade and the final days of the last boatyard on the Tyne are just some elements of a moving new video installation.
And the man who has pulled them together to create The Endeavour, now showing at the Tyneside Cinema, is artist Mikhail Karikis.
Mikhail, who describes himself as a Greek/British artist living in London, was commissioned to create the work by the Tyneside, which as well as showing feature films supports moving image art in its new screening room, called The Gallery.
Mikhail has spent a good bit of time on Tyneside recently, researching and making the work.
Going off to meet him in the Tyneside Bar Café, I knew I would get a good story.
Last year Mikhail exhibited a different film work, SeaWomen, at Baltic 39 and gave a mesmerising account of filming the elderly women who deep dive for pearls from Jeju, an island off South Korea.
Over coffee this time, he said: “I have spent quite a lot of time here doing historical research and reading and I was very interested in how shipbuilding seems to have defined the industrial past of the region.”
In artistic research, one thing can lead to another. The starting point here was a diary kept by Dixon Scott, founder of the Tyneside Cinema.
Mikhail, who has had fruitful conversations with Michael Chaplin who wrote a history of the Tyneside, explained how the diary was rescued from a skip when the cinema was being refurbished in the 1980s.
“In this diary Scott described his personal journey, for about 10 years in the 1920s and 30s, in a sort of code. They found a woman in Essex who translated it, or sections of it.
“When I was reading the transcript, I started going into the history of the cinema and Scott’s connection with Jarrow.”
Mikhail learned that Scott ran a cinema in the town, the Kino, which was frequented by local shipyard workers.
“He was so faithful to his customers that he wrote songs for them. At that time cinemas would provide entertainment beyond the films – songs, short performances and even boxing matches.
“It makes sense that in 1937 he had to close the Kino. This was the time of the Jarrow March which Dixon Scott supported financially.
“You can see that I was starting to make connections between the history of this cinema and politics and industry.
“When I found out (again from Michael Chaplin) that the last boatyard in the region was about to close, then I thought I really would have to respond to this – if anything as a homage. This is how it started.”
Mikhail went to meet Fred Crowell at his boatyard in South Shields where he uses age-old skills and tools – plus some tools he made himself when manufactured ones wouldn’t do the job – to build and repair the wooden boats which have been going out of fashion.
The Endeavour, named after the boat being worked on during filming, features Fred and his friends in the boatyard.
Fred works and then, at lunchtime, he is often joined by retired boatbuilders whose ranks he will soon be joining.
Mikhail, inspired by the idea of dying skills, set about compiling a list of some 1,600 professions that no longer exist.
“When these skills and professions were lost, parts of language were lost too. Some words that were once in everyday use now sound like gibberish. I made a poster that has at least half of these professions but I wanted to do something else with them.”
What he did was find a local choir called Noize and persuaded them to recite these “gibberish” words in a rhythmic way to become part of the soundtrack to the piece.
Finally, in the letters of one of the Jarrow Crusaders, he found a list of the songs they sang on their way to London. “I was fascinated that they had a harmonica band and that one of the songs they sang was Swanee River which is sung from the point of view of a black slave.”
He found a harmonica player called Tom Pattinson to add Swanee River to his soundtrack.
Describing the work, Mikhail said: “It is a two-screen video installation with immersive sound. I want people to feel they’re inside the boatyard observing the boatbuilder and feel and hear the rhythms of the Tyne.
The Endeavour is showing at Tyneside Cinema until July 12. Admission is free. Open daily, 10am to 5pm, and on Sundays, 11am to 5pm. Details on www.tynesidecinema.co.uk/art