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Coast magazine | The Lobster Shack

My article in Coast magazine this month

Cath Campbell

Ideal Mexico

If you know Newcastle you already know the work of Cath Campbell.

And we said nothing, all the day

Escapology crowns the Northern Stage building, Detour at Four Lane Ends animates the façade of the multi-storey car park and, in collaboration with Miles Thurlow, she asks us to question the world around us with the work No No No No No, that graces five archways of the railway viaduct next to the Tyne Bridge.

Yes. That’s Cath Campbell.

A member of the Contemporary Art Society Campbell ‘makes sculpture, drawing and large scale architectural interventions, which attempt to reinvent our associations with the built environment.’

Her first solo exhibition Ideal Mexico has just opened at The Workplace Gallery in Gateshead. The gallery, housed in The Old Post Office, is a listed 19th Century red brick building with high ceilings and twisting staircases. Room after room is filled with Campbell’s work and the questions she poses about the ubiquity of the up market lifestyle offered to us by travel and lifestyle guides.


On the opening night of her exhibition Campbell explained why the creation of the delicate collages Hotel Series was the springboard for the exhibition:

“I was looking through travel guides of hotels in cities all across the world and I noticed that the same colour schemes had been used in the interior design of every one. It struck me as interesting – and slightly odd. That’s where it started …”

On first glance the collages look like tiny constellations of stars. Tilt your head and you can almost make out Orion’s Belt in one, The Plough in another. But the meaning of the series lies beneath its shapes. Each dot of colour is placed on white paper in the same layout as the original photograph and in each case Campbell has only selected one blue, one yellow, two browns, and a black. The titles of the works, The Skylofts, MGM, Las Vegas, 2012, Superior Room, Melrose Arch Hotel, Johannesburg, 2012, Suite 105, Art Hotel Corona D’oro, Bologna, 2012 hint at cities filled with exoticism and glamour and yet the places a visitor might stay in are essentially as uniform the world over as a fast food restaurant.

In stark contrast to these delicate collages Campbell has created a series of dramatically enlarged found images which have been UV printed onto powder coated aluminium; titled For I have known them all already, known them all # 1-6.

For I have known them all already, known them all #1-6

The images, which hang in the first room of the gallery, draw the eye like a series of giant Polaroid pictures, their crisp white borders like the edges of some giant glossy travel guide or magazine clarified and highlighted by the removal of the majority of each of the images. The colours that remain create abstract shapes and suggestions of form.

“Cutting away the photograph like that made the work more architectural. I know what was there – but someone seeing it now doesn’t know – although they might feel that the space is ‘familiar’. The size means that the pixels of the original image have been blurred and made more abstract. The light seems watery… and I was interested in that – in the painterly margin that was left behind.”

The work And we said nothing, all the day is displayed in the same room and takes its title from John Donne’s poem The Ecstasy. A series of high gloss photographs taken of photographs and stacked along a narrow shelf And we said nothing, all the day began life on Campbell’s dining room table:

“It’s about appropriating the images, presenting them as my own. You can see the shadows I threw across the surface as I photographed them, see the glare where the flash has bounced back off the page.”

By photographing images published in travel guides Campbell not only appropriates the idea of the location as a place to aspire to visit, she appropriates the work of the travel photographer who, by definition, takes more than a mere snapshot of a destination. It’s as if she has returned from a global trip armed with a collection of holiday photographs that other people would actually want to see – shadows, reflections, glare and all.

And we said nothing, all the day

Alongside these photographic works, Campbell presents a series of new sculptures. A cable car is recreated and presented in stunning detail, a tiny flight of stairs made of cast metal stands seemingly suspended in thin air, a lighthouse, set in the middle of one of the upstairs rooms, dominates the space despite its diminutive size.


Lighthouse, detail

The gallery guide to Campbell’s exhibition says:

“ ‘Ideal Mexico, a chance but fitting title taken from the model name of the old central heating boilers in the gallery building, invites us to question the relationship between reality, desire, and experience; challenging the superficiality and formality of our insatiable appetite for images depicting and describing how our lives could be in an ideal world.”

Explaining the idea behind Hotel Series takes time and requires layers of understanding. Finding sufficient words to describe For I have known them all already, known them all # 1-6 is hard. This exhibition works on many levels, it plays with our understanding and our interpretation of the world we live in. It makes us think and it makes us question ourselves and our beliefs about our aspirations – and that is always a good thing.

Go – and give your mind a workout.

Ideal Mexico: 11th February – 17th March 2012

Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 5pm (Or by appointment)

Cath Campbell was born in 1972 in Ilkeston, UK. She lives and works in Newcastle, UK.

Workplace Gallery was founded in 2005 by artists Paul Moss and Miles Thurlow. Based in Gateshead UK, Workplace Gallery represents a portfolio of emerging and established artists through the gallery programme, curatorial projects and international art fairs. Workplace Gallery is currently at The Old Post Office, Gateshead; a listed 19th Century red brick building built upon the site where the important British artist, engraver and naturalist Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) lived and died.



Centre for Life, Newcastle

A merry band of happiness promoters is bringing the documentary film, ‘Happy‘, by Oscar nominated Director Roko Belic, to the North East. It will be screened for one day only at a ‘pop-up cinema’ at the Centre for Life in Newcastle on World Happiness Day, February 11th.

On the same day the film will be enjoyed in communities across the globe, from Sao Paulo to Singapore as people celebrate what it means to be happy, who is happiest and how we can contribute to the happiness of others.

World Happy Day logo

World Happy Day

Despite the credentials of the Director, the film does not currently have a distribution deal through cinemas and can only be seen at special screenings like this one. It is being hosted by a small group of North East based supporters of happiness, wellbeing and positive psychology who hope it will inspire viewers to join them in a new movement to promote happiness in the region.

Featuring real-life people and stories, the film brings to life the findings of research into well-being and happiness and shows us that good family, social and community relationships, rather than wealth and status, are what really make us happy. We see the story of a beautiful woman named Melissa Moody, a mother of three who had a “perfect life” until the day she was run over by a truck. Disabled for nine years and disfigured for life, amazingly she is happier now than before her accident. Manoj Singh, a rickshaw puller from the slums of Kolkata, India who lives in a hut made of plastic bags with his family, is found to be as happy as the average American.

Children in India

Children in India

While making the film Roko Belic learned a lot about the nature of happiness and what is important in life. In an article in The Huffington Post Belic said [1]:

I learned something simple but completely illuminating. Research showed that just about all happy people have strong relationships. They are healthier and have happier children. They are more likely to find a creative solution to a problem and to help a stranger in need. Happy people have fewer conflicts and are less likely to commit crimes, pollute the environment or go to war. In other words, just about everything I cared about, everything I wished I could change in the world, was improved with being happy.”

Children from Denmark co-housing community

Children from Denmark co-housing community

 The greatest lesson I learned while making this film is that my pursuit of happiness is not about me. It’s about our relationships and how we help each other. It’s about us.”



Paul Hemphill, one of the organizers of the Centre for Life screening said:

 “Our event will be so much more than a typical cinema screening. The doors will open an hour beforehand for the chance to chat and make new friends over a drink. And then afterwards, for those who want to stay, there will be time to discuss the film with a panel of local experts. We hope that the whole event will be an incredibly rewarding and potentially life changing experience for everyone who attends.

Local business owners Mike Cockburn (Sogno), Paul Hemphill (Horizons Life Coaching), Jan Etoile (Etoile Enterprises), Justin Souter (Souter Consulting), and Emily Sweetman (Emily Sweetman Limited) are the organisers of the event. Each of them has an interest in coaching, personal development, training, wellbeing and organisational improvement.

Screenings take place at 3pm (Doors open 2pm) or 7.30pm (Doors open 6:30pm) at Centre for Life conference centre, Newcastle on Saturday 11 February 2012. Tickets cost £10 or £7.50 (concessions).

Life conference and banqueting centre

Life Conference and Banqueting Centre

Matinee tickets are available from http://happynortheastmatinee.eventbrite.com and evening tickets from http://happynortheastevening.eventbrite.com

More information can be found at: http://www.worldhappyday.com

 Once Upon a Time

My Naughty Little Sister - and Friends

One of my earliest memories is sitting on a train (I think it was heading towards Leeds) and listening to my mum reading ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea‘ out loud to me. The carriage was full, the night was drawing in and at one point in the story (I suspect it was when the naughty tiger had ‘drunk all Daddy’s beer) I looked up to see that we had been surrounded by all the other children in the carriage. They listened as I did, their eyes wide at the story of the naughty tiger who had popped in for tea.

After the post-Christmas influx of toys and games and books this year I decided to have a proper sort out of my children’s bedrooms and as I did so I found myself being transported back nearly forty years. Tidying and sorting out may have taken longer (make that a good few hours longer) – but was made far more enjoyable as I pulled out the stories of ‘Milly Molly Mandy‘ and ‘My Naughty Little Sister‘ that I loved as a child. Do you remember Billy Boy Blunt and Little Friend Susan? And Bad Harry with bunny eared slippers in the snow? How about Burglar Bill and his dramatic romance with Burglar Betty?

The drawings in my well-thumbed copy of ‘Bread and Jam for Frances‘ seemed as real to me as I sat, surrounded by bin bags and boxes, as they did when I was five years old. I could even remember the rhyme that Frances, a young badger who has decided that all she really wants to eat is bread and jam, sings as she skips … “Jam on biscuits, jam on toast, Jam is the thing that I like most.”

Bread and Jam for Frances

Bread and Jam for Frances

These books with their battered covers and occasional jam stains are to my generation (I’m nearly forty) what ‘The Gruffalo‘ and ‘The Diary of a Wimpy Kid‘ will be to children today.They are vivid and bright and have helped to inform our view of the world so that we understood it that little bit more. New experiences like friendships, familial relationships, new foods and the great outdoors were handled with gentle humour and wit. Although I’m still not quite sure what I’d do if I tiger ever knocked at my door for tea – would you?