Nicola Maxwell: 'The Backhouse Enquiry'
Exhibition dates: 17 July - 17 October 2015
The exhibition will be displayed site-wide throughout the City Library and Arts Centre.
Nicola Maxwell's project presents the results of a year-long photographic investigation into Backhouse's archive in Sunderland Museum's collection. It takes the form of a trail of images stationed throughout the City Library and Arts Centre, leading to a collectors' editioned book that visitors can handle themselves, as if an exhibit or precious and rare specimen.
Today, the grounds of Edward Backhouse's family home, now called Backhouse Park, opened to the public in 1923 and still exists as an arboretum that includes many of Sunderland's largest mature trees. Sunderland Museum has become one of the most popular museums in the whole country measured by civic population, attracting over 300,000 visits every year.
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.
Image: courtesy of Nicola Maxwell