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It’s magic with a capital M at Newcastle's Toffee Factory

An inflatable gallery takes us to the very edge, as Toni Marie Ford finds out

Big M arts instillation by Isis Arts
Big M arts instillation by Isis Arts

Tyneside's bricks-and-mortar venues at The Late Shows last month were joined by one made of more fragile materials.

The Big M, an inflatable exhibition space, was erected beside The Toffee Factory in Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley, to the delight of glow stick-wielding Late Show visitors making the most of a weekend of late opening.

The glowsticks have long since lost their glow and Newcastle and Gateshead’s permanent venues reverted to normal opening hours, but The Big M is back, having embarked on a summer tour as part of the Festival of the North East.

Said to collapse down small enough to fit into a transit van, the fantastic plastic structure contains three cinema-style flat screens onto which interactive film and media work can be projected.

Curated by North East digital art darling Kelly Richardson, The Big M’s current exhibition, entitled On the Precipice, is a contemplation of the impact of human history on our natural environment.

It features artworks by internationally renowned digital artists. Along with Kelly, who is from Canada but lives in Whitley Bay, where her Mariner 9 creation was a popular attraction at the Spanish City, they are Gordon Cheung (UK), Alexandra Crouwers (Belgium), Jenn E Norton (Canada), Jillian McDonald (Canada/USA), Emily Richardson (UK) and Brigitte Zieger (Germany/France).

The Big M is the perfect environment for On the Precipice – an inside space outside.

It was a bit blowy at the Ouseburn during The Late Shows, but the typically northern weather blowing in through the entrance made the screens shimmer and bend, actually enhancing the effect of the atmospheric works on show.

The flickering, holographic, electric blue trees of Kelly Richardson’s Erudition may be digitally created, yet they swayed on screen like very real trees from the force of the very real wind.

Judging by the week we’ve had, blustery weather might not be a problem in Gateshead today (fingers crossed).

Emily Richardson’s Petrolia is post-apocalyptic yet unnervingly familiar. The landscape’s clouds are not simply condensed water, but smoke and industrial steam. The light has a sickly, unnatural glow and metal structures dominate the coastline.

From the unnerving to the downright terrifying, Jillian McDonald’s Valley of the Deer channels 70s horror flick The Wicker Man, featuring humans wearing animal masks in inhospitable and remote locations in an exploration of the natural landscape and our place in it.

All the work in On the Precipice offers a unique imaginary landscape, ranging from the ethereal to the haunting to the frankly disturbing.

The Big M is in Saltwell Park, Gateshead, today from 11am to 5pm and at The Links, Whitley Bay, next Saturday and Sunday, also 11am to 5pm.

For the full list of dates and venues see www.isisarts.com

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