One of the most quietly successful innovations of the month-long Festival of the North East has been Dear Angel, which celebrates traditional letter writing and its digital age equivalents.
I’m staying quiet but there’s one corner of the current exhibition at the Globe Gallery that can be noisy enough to make you jump – even if you’ve nerves of steel.
“Send Dave a tweet,” calls gallery boss Rashida Davison to one of her staff.
We have just stepped into a small room that was formerly a safe, as you can see from the door, which is pure Fort Knox. The Globe used to be a bank before Rashida and her team started transforming it.
Anyway, we are standing in this windowless strongroom beside a white wooden box with a little slot in the top. Very mysterious.
Suddenly there’s a roar and a whoosh and I jump out of my skin. Out of the little slot flies a slip of paper, which dances crazily before floating to the floor to join a handful of others.
This is the tweet, the silent and instant message of the modern age made noisily tangible. You have to laugh. It’s Steve Jobs meets Heath Robinson.
Rashida picks up my little message and pins it to a board outside.
Displayed thereon are all the tweets that have been sent to @_dearangel since the exhibition dedicated to Stevie Ronnie’s project opened.
“Dear Angel is an artwork that bridges the gap between the written letter as a physical, tactile object and communication technology in the digital age,” says the mission statement.
“It explores the intertwining of technology and literature in the wider framework of our evolving digital society.”
Stevie, who lives in a Northumberland village, wanted to get people expressing their thoughts of home in forms both ancient and modern.
He picked on The Angel of the North as the recipient of the letters, tweets, films and postcards that he hoped people would send.
He then asked Newcastle furniture maker Nick James to construct a purpose-built letter/postcard rack – with inlaid screens for the modern stuff – to form the centrepiece of the Dear Angel exhibition.
Did people respond? They certainly did. And I can think of no better way of killing an hour than by sitting next to the Dear Angel rack and sampling its contents.
There are letters and poems and even cartoons. All are addressed to the Angel and it does make me feel a little nosy to be reading them. But that’s the name of the game.
So here’s one from Leonie Turnbull who writes: “I think the North East is a good place. There’s lots of places to go.
“My favourite place is the Metro Radio Arena. It’s gigantic. Inside you can get lost. Also, there are lots of great people there, such as singers.”
Anna Skelton wrote: “Coming from the south it’s really wonderful to see your welcoming arms (OK, wings).”
A lovely long letter from the poet Linda France, in beautiful handwriting, concludes: “I’m glad you’re there, red and strong on the A1, keeping an eye on us all...”
You are limited to much less in a tweet. One simply reads: “Woosh! and away you go!”
It’s a bran tub, a lucky dip. Once you start reading, it’s hard to stop.
Supplemented by related work by other artists, this is a fun exhibition in a gallery which, thanks to the efforts of Rashida and many volunteers, is now looking the real deal.
Dear Angel can be seen until June 30. Globe Gallery, which is at 53-57 Blandford Square (opposite Discovery Museum), is open Wednesday to Saturday, 11.30am to 5pm. Visit www.globegallery.org or call 0191 597 9278.