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Exhibition: Moral Holiday at NGCA, Sunderland

IT was the summer of love on America’s west coast but here in the North East it was the summer of the balloon.

Edwin Li with his sculptures at the NGCA
Edwin Li with his sculptures at the NGCA

IT was the summer of love on America’s west coast but here in the North East it was the summer of the balloon.

In 1967, a group of festival organisers apparently came up with the incredible idea of making huge floating balloon halls for theatre, concerts, dances and house a botanical garden.

Long before health and safety got a grip on the arts, these Aquadomes bobbed next to the Tyne Bridge before heading off around the region.

The Aquadome Festival travelled around the North East and Yorkshire from July 1967 to January 1968.

Accompanied by black and white images and film footage, the story of the Aquadome Festival is so fantastic that you would love to believe it really happened.

However, it is all the invention of artist Edwin Li, who has “recreated” Aquadomes as part of his exhibition at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland.

Director Alistair Robinson says: “It’s important that the Aquadome Festival might well have happened – in certain parts of the world, similar events did indeed happen. At the time of T Dan Smith, Tyneside was at the forefront of debates about what the future of culture and leisure could be, and how everyone could access the very best, and the most adventurous ideas of the age.

“Edwin’s question is whether both artists and the public were more forward thinking, more adventurous and more attuned to new ideas then than now ... even when the region has a panoply of institutions that any other city in Europe would envy.

“The deeper question he asks is the one Oscar Wilde posed: should artists try to make the public more artistic, or try to make themselves more public?”

Edwin, 28, who studied fine art at Newcastle University, made three different dome structures using fishing wire, more than 1,000 differently coloured balloons and lung power.

Alistair says: “Audiences have loved Edwin’s work, unsurprisingly, because it’s brimming with ideas.”

Edwin’s sculptures can be seen with work by Bruce Nauman, Gilbert & George, Clarita Lulic and David Shrigley in Moral Holiday, an exhibition exploring ‘thought experiments’ which query existing moral order and invert social norms.

:: Moral Holiday is at the NGCA, Fawcett Street, Sunderland, until Saturday, www.ngca.co.uk


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