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A subtle work of art opens new Baltic space

Architecture is the creative discipline we tend to take for granted. A good building, arguably, is one which serves our needs unobtrusively, enabling us to go about our business comfortably and without bumping into things

Artist Sara Barker with her installation sponsored by Ryder Architecture at the Baltic
Artist Sara Barker with her installation sponsored by Ryder Architecture at the Baltic

Architecture is the creative discipline we tend to take for granted. A good building, arguably, is one which serves our needs unobtrusively, enabling us to go about our business comfortably and without bumping into things.

An architect designed Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Dominic Williams, who subsequently picked up a prestigious award for it) to enable artists to exhibit their work and visitors to look at it.

An architect, Peter Buchan, is currently chair of Baltic and runs the Newcastle firm Ryder, which recently redesigned the Gateshead venue’s Level 2 gallery.

The first artist to exhibit in this new space, which used to be a bit of a thoroughfare from the lifts to the Quay education centre, is Sara Barker and it’s not an accident that her work invites the viewer to consider architecture.

Sara, who is based in Glasgow, was commissioned by Baltic to create a new sculptural work in collaboration with architects from Ryder, a firm celebrating its 60th anniversary.

 

She stresses that in fulfilling the requirements of the commission she didn’t have to stray from her interests and principles as an artist. “Peter’s words were, ‘We want to make something of the space, not just exhibit in the space’,” she recalls.

“We started by sitting round a table throwing around ideas and we all agreed that we wanted something that would really reach into the ceiling and create interesting pockets of space.

“I wanted something people could walk through and that echoed the glass in the building.”

Because she was to be the first to exhibit in the reconfigured space, which is now a tall white box, Sara had to imagine what it would be like.

As she explains, the architects proved helpful in this respect. “Because Ryder were making the changes to the space they had a really clear idea of what it would look like and they gave me a model.”

Sara uses various materials in her work and employs techniques borrowed from jewellery-making and the construction industry.

This new piece, its angled lines and textures suggestive of delicacy and strength, comprises glass, brass, copper and painted aluminium rods. The plinth, made of wood rendered with cement, looks as if it weighs a ton but each piece, says Sara, can be lifted by two men. “I’ve been working for about five years with this type of materials but I trained as a painter before working as a sculptor,” she says.

In making the piece she had been keen to reference modernist architecture - a specialist of the founders of Ryder - and also literature.

She shared with the architects her appreciation of the Philip Pullman fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, and particularly the second of the three books.

This conjured up the idea of a knife which, with one delicate cut, opens up an entrance to another world. This sculpture, with its sharp lines across a white space, appears to hold the same promise. It is called, in homage to the Pullman book, The Subtle Knife.

Sara says she always felt she would become an artist, despite the lack of cultural opportunities on the Isle of Man where she grew up. She is certainly making her mark now. See her work at Baltic until March 2, 2014.

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