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Happiness is a New Idea - Tim Brennan: Fortress Europe #82

Tim Brennan: Fortress Europe #82

Exhibition dates: 30 October 2015 - 13 February 2016

Sunderland-born artist and poet Tim Brennan presents a long-form 48-page poem across the three floors of the City Library and Arts Centre beneath Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, where he has also exhibited. Brennan has become known for his performances and photographic works. He has also written poems for over twenty-five years but this is the first time that they have been exhibited as texts in public. In 1990, Brennan began to create a series entitled 'Fortress Europe', examining what political and cultural boundaries separate those territories within the European Union from those immediately outside. He wrote this work in the newly opened City Library. The work is divided into twelve 'voices' that relate to the twelve nations that made up the European Union at that time and which, it was feared, would create a 'Fortress Europe'. Brennan notes that nations are ideas, not natural facts. They are made and live in the imagination.

Over the last two decades, the ideas explored in the series have become ever more potent and pertinent - and indeed more explosive. How do we define who 'they' and 'we' are? What, if anything, separates 'them' from 'us'? Should we imagine idealistically, as President Bill Clinton did in the 1990s, that "there is no 'them', only 'us'"? Brennan has created work for the British Museum and was one of the first nominees for the Northern Art Prize. His works reflect on what it means to have a 'sense of place' in the most profound ways - to be a part of a shared history with others and to 'see the world' in a particular way. Here, his work is part of 'Happiness is a New Idea', a three-year long building-wide exhibition where artists and writers offer us new ideas to realise new artworks both in unexpected spaces and in unexpected ways.


Happiness is a New Idea

'Happiness is a New Idea' is a building-wide exhibition that is a collaboration between the City Library and Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art. It will be realized in quarterly instalments over the next three years from April 2014 to April 2017. Between now and 2017 the building will host new artworks - often of unconventional forms - on every floor. The artworks will not only be on walls, but inside books, in study rooms, on computer desktops - and in other places where one might least expect them.

Many of the artworks explore what our public libraries and galleries have in common. Libraries and galleries are, arguably, the greatest civic inheritance bequeathed to us by our Victorian predecessors. Both are free and for everyone - forever. Both offer everyone the chance to learn about other ideas and other beliefs, from other places and other times. They are the only spaces in a city that require nothing from us but our imagination. Costing us nothing, they ask us what are values are, and invite us into other possible worlds. But in a world awash with things rather than ideas, can we still recognize the difference between value and cost?

The title 'Happiness is a New Idea' celebrates the fact that every visit to a library or gallery can plant the seed of a new idea in our minds. The phrase was coined in the heady days of the French Revolution - at what seemed the first moment at which ideals might become reality, and when it seemed genuinely possible to many that we might envisage each another as equals.

'Happiness is a new idea' is based around the interchanges between text and image, and between artists and writers. In the twenty-first century many artists use text as their main means of expression. Many writers also include images in their books. Both rely on print to disseminate their ideas - whether through texts, photographs, etchings, or engravings. Despite the promise of infinite connectivity that digital technologies offer, print still underwrites our existence. Every legal document, every transfer of property, every Act of Parliament, and almost every book, are made of ink stamped on paper.