Issue 202
March/April 2018

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Apr 27, 2018
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    Cultural readout from Berwick's Bridge Street

    I'VE SET ASIDE binoculars and microscope to explore different ways of seeing. It's been revealing. Like discovering the work of Sargy Mann. Some say his later paintings, produced when he had lost his sight, were his best, relying as they do on memory and imagination.

    Zinging with freedom, energy and strong colours, his inner vision changes perception and understanding, just as Beethoven's late, great works, composed when he was deaf, challenged and changed classical music.

    The Berwick connection? Well, talking with Berwick-upon-Tweed the other evening, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised when she told me about her latest gadget. After all our towns and cities are the product of centuries of human creation.

    Now, thanks to scientists' ingenuity and invention, telescopes, microscopes, radar and X-rays, reveal the unknown and unseen, from the tiniest micro-organism to the largest galaxy.

    Which brings me to the Bridge Street Cultural Barometer, and to Mark Irving's pinhole cameras. A highly sophisticated instrument, the BSC Barometer measures tiny changes in cultural activity in and near Bridge Street in Berwick, and how they affect the town.

    For example, the data tracks the variety, quality, quantity and provenance of coffee consumed, whether roasted locally, and whether from biodynamic or organic beans. Politically and economically correct, it collects information about spend per person, relative value, demographic spread, as well as both instrumental and intrinsic value (thus keeping the Arts Council's bean-counters happy). It tracks the number of people working in the creative and cultural sector – eg artists, writers, musicians, film-makers, ecophilosophers – who are enquiring about, moving to, renting or purchasing property in the area.

    Bringing in new talent, energy, products, services, partnerships, vision, and creations, they might seem insignificant individually. But collectively? A different picture is revealed. Recent additions include coffee shop Mule on Rouge, café The Lookout on Quayside, Audela restaurant, re-vamped and re-sited, second hand bookshop Slightly Foxed, the Little Vintage Shop specialising in retroheritage, and Foldyard's new gallery and print workshop at Number 47, which will feature Morag Eaton and Dave Watson's own work as well as visiting artists and makers.

    But look! The BSC Barometer, flashing green, is now registering osmosis, critical mass and, crucially, a tipping point. Along at Number 25 artist and photographer Mark Irving is exploring yet another way of seeing the world. A master of the art of pinhole photography, he uses simple lightproof wooden boxes of different sizes and designs.

    The long exposures, up to twenty-four hours, reveal a deep, dreamlike, timeless, layered texture to his subjects, as if the camera had been meditating with eyes half closed. So very unlike the celluloid snapshot, or the micro-second of the digital image. This spring he's spending time in another centre of light at the other end of the country, St Ives, planning an artists' exchange programme with Berwick.

    Meanwhile, up Hide Hill, the Brown Bear, a community run pub, hosts cultural events. Recently a quiz night with a difference was created by GÂ ST, Berwick Visual Artists in Residence Dale Fearnley and Laura Mahony. Their residency has also embraced Berwick Rangers football club, and Conga dancing at Spittal promenade amusements arcade.

    It's all part of their exploration and creative response to the town's community, heritage and identity, culminating in an exhibition at the Gymnasium Gallery from March 31to May 20.

    Meantime, across in Tweedmouth, Mary Drummond has moved from Scotland's west coast to set up the Dockside Gallery, another showcase for Berwick's artists. As is the re-launched Borders Art Fair, at Springwood Park, Kelso, from March 16 to 18.

    With support from Will Ramsay (Affordable Art Fairs and Will's Art Warehouse), it looks like it's going from strength to strength – another window on creative talent in the Borders.

    Hang on, the BSC Barometer's beeping again, and flashing orange! Looks like it's been reading the Guardian, and picking up some intriguing signals about the number of illustrators of children's books nearby, but moi, I'm out of time, and space, so more on them next time......


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