|22 September - 18 November 2006|
|Preview: Thursday 21 September 6:00 - 8:00pm|
'The NORTH' is a constellation of objects and images which take us on a journey through northern England and Scotland to unpick 'the idea of north', to use historian Peter Davidson's phrase. Since 2002, Brennan has undertaken walks throughout northern Britain that expand upon his performance works. The two new bodies of work which have come out of 'performing Northumbria', respectively photographs and watercolours, explore the relationship between geography, personal memory, and social history.
"Romanticism", the artist has remarked, "is an incomplete project." Inspired by J.M.W. Turner's watercolours created on tours of Great Britain, Brennan's images similarly re-imagine the north, albeit with reference to its existing representations. Here, he investigates how 'the idea of north' might be portrayed anew, in part by looking back at its histories, and in part by observing what has been written out of those stories. The artist's argument is that we might adopt a 'progressive regionalism', in which difference and distinction can be rethought, and the associations between place and identity recast.
In anewseries of ten photographs, Brennan finds wholly unexpected atmospheric conditions in sometimes ordinary, sometimes spectacular locations. Each of Brennan's photographic works have been created using only the most intentionally rudimentary, yet universally available image-making equipment: a lowresolution mobile phone camera. Working within these self-imposed limitations allows the artist to foreground the unexpectedly warm light and colour that characterise what the artist calls "greater Northumbria". Rather than encountering cold or industrial landscapes, Brennan's camera records warm-toned colours which allow us to see 'the north' in both a literal and metaphorical new light. Enlarged beyond pixellation, each of Brennan's photographic works becomes blurred into an impressionistic fugue of colour, akin to Turner's proto-abstract watercolours where form is dissolved in light to become pure colour.
Whereas Brennan's photographs re-examine the landscape at a microcosmic level, but on a grand scale and through the most basic means available, his watercolours reverse this equation. Taking images from the Hubble Space Telescope as a starting point, Brennan creates a new mode of the sublime which elides the local and the universal. These 'space-scapes' are only visible through the highest photographic technology. Perversely, recreating them as hand-painted miniatures allows new frames of reference to come into play. The constellations' jagged forms and jewel-like colours unexpectedly resemble objects much closer to home and from the region's industrial past. Presented amongst a series of 'spar boxes' - framed 'landscapes' of semi-precious minerals, recovered by miners and preserved for posterity, Brennan's images suddenly recall deep space under; rather than high above ground, and the colossal energies contained within it.
The exhibition begins with a little-known work by an artist singularly associated with 'the north'. L.S. Lowry's 1966 'Self- Portrait', loaned specially, is one of the most original and unorthodox portraits of the 20th century: it depicts a solitary pillar, stood in a mid-grey North Sea. The 'pillar' resembles the eroded rock formations at Marsden Bay near Sunderland, the city which Lowry visited annually into old age. 'Self-portrait' here, provides an index to Brennan's considerations - it is a form of displaced figuration, and autobiography pursued by other means. Here, representations of place and people are inseparable.
'The NORTH' will tour to Spacex Gallery, Exeter from 16 December 2006 - 24 February 2007.
Supported by University of Sunderland, Arts Council England: North East, Spectrum Imaging and with thanks to the Hancock Museum, Newcastle and Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.