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Visitors play part in show

PEOPLE are being invited to become part of the drawings at an exhibition with a fresh approach.

A new exhibition in South Shields is just perfect for the panto season, as Richard Bliss explains.

PEOPLE are being invited to become part of the drawings at an exhibition with a fresh approach.

Galleries are usually places where the public is instructed not to touch. Not in South Shields. Artist Keith McIntyre and visual arts development officer Essen Kaya want people to play with the works of art.

“Oh No He Didn’t … Oh Yes He Did” is the latest exhibition at the Sandford Goudie Gallery in the Customs House.

The exhibition is hard to pin down. It’s a series of drawings, but the drawings are actually giant cut-outs, or maybe they’re props or sets? They could be backdrops or traditional drawings to be hung on a wall?

“I want people to come into the gallery and pick up the pieces, talk to me, interact. I want people to take photos on their phones. I want them to make their own memories of the exhibition,” says Keith. “The conversations I’ve already had in the gallery have affected what happens in the final exhibition.”

Keith has nurtured some the region’s finest artistic talent, having taught for many years at Northumbria University. Now appointed as reader in visual arts, he has more opportunities to develop his own work.

This exhibition springs directly from work Keith undertook on a production called Unconquered. The play was seen by Essen at the Customs House.

Essen says: “In Unconquered, Keith’s drawings were not just two-dimensional things, they were characters in the piece. They created this intriguing, film-like atmosphere that was both disturbing and completely drew you in. I didn’t want to wait to work with Keith, so I invited him to work with us during our pantomime season.”

As a result, the exhibition has a strong sense of a carnival. The pieces seem to be at once both costumes and drawings. Lying on the floor of the gallery they look like intricate black and white drawings, but once they are picked up, they seem to transform into costumes, buildings and characters – much as actors come alive once they are ready to go on stage.

Keith says: “I loved panto as a kid, all the shouting out, the participation. It’s not what you’re supposed to do in the theatre. This exhibition is the same, it’s like a pantomime, it breaks the rules. The exhibition only comes to life when people are in the room, when they are actually touching, posing or playing with the drawings.”

He is passionate about making art that people enjoy.

“I want people to play with the art, to put their ideas into the art. A lot of contemporary art gets stuck up its own backside. Things like the Turner Prize, artists making art for a tiny group of people who are only interested in a tiny group of artists. I love doing things that get people really involved in their imagination. I did some work where kids could pick up one of my drawings of a microphone and step inside a drawing of a TV. Something brilliant happens when people do things like that.”

Keith’s enthusiasm for breaking convention is shared by Essen. Originally trained as a sculptor, she has recently returned to painting as well as running the Sandford Goudie Gallery.

She says: “I love creating exhibitions that get all sorts of people into the gallery. Having Keith here, and letting people see how he makes his work, breaks down barriers. We don’t usually see the process that an artist goes through to get to the finished piece.

“I hope people will feel some connection to Keith and therefore to the work. I want them to feel intrigued by the process so that they will come back to see the final exhibition and other exhibitions in the future. Engaging with the audience is really important. I want to help create a dialogue between the artist and the audience.”

It’s no surprise that the Customs House has signed up to the exhibition so wholeheartedly.

“This is a unique time of year in the theatre,” says Peter Durrant, director of operations. “Everyone is working together – box office, front of house, the education team, the visual arts team. Panto is so visual, it’s an assault on the senses, so this exhibition is perfect.

“Twenty-five thousand people will come to see the pantomime and most of those customers will also experience the exhibition. That’s a massive new audience for visual art in the building.”

Oh No He Didn’t … Oh Yes He Did is at the Customs House, Mill Dam, until January 12. The gallery is open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 8pm, and Sunday from midday until 8pm.

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