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A debate about our national identity will be explored in a free weekend of performance, music and art at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead in February.

The Art 50 Weekender will take place at the two cultural venues on NewcastleGateshead Quayside on February 23 and 24. It is part of a national project called Art 50, a scheme commissioned by Sky Arts, working with Storyvault Films, the Barbican, BALTIC and Sage Gateshead.

The groundbreaking project has enabled 50 artistic commissions which examine the question of what it means to be British today, from the varied perspectives of people in cities, town and rural communities across the UK.

On Sunday February 24, Sage Gateshead will host the following Art 50 commissions:

Composer Alex Groves and writer/director Rebecca Hanbury put stories and music together using words written by people from schools and community choirs across the UK. They made it into a songbook called When We Collide, which will be sung for the first time by choirs from the North up to Scotland in the main concourse area of Sage Gateshead from 1pm. 

At 2pm acclaimed collaborators of live music, poetry and visual art – Lyrix Organix – present the premiere of a poetic conversation set to music by Chloe Florence and Laurie Ogden. Supported by Durham Poetry Slam Society, Chloe and Laurie will perform some of their own work before showcasing the new piece created for Art 50.

At 4.30pm a rehearsed reading of the provocative and humorous play And the Band Keeps Marching On by Edinburgh-based, Northern Irish playwright Martha Barnett takes place in the Barbour Room. Exploring British identity from a Northern Irish Loyalist point of view, this darkly comic study of identity, crisis and redemption explores what Britain and Brexit means to this community. It has been researched through interviews during the Loyalist parade season.

At 6pm ‘Backbone of Our Land’ explores the thoughts and ideas of people from and connected to the North on what it means to be Northern.Produced by Folkworks and premiered at Folk on the Tyne, Backbone of Our Land is an hour of music and spoken word. It has been created by poets Degna Stone, Kim Moore and Andrew McMillan and musicians Peter Brewis (of band Field Music), Bella Hardy, Sarah Hayes and Dan Rogers.

At 7.45pm in Northern Rock Foundation Hall DanceXchange presents This is an Island? In May 2018 a group of artists went out onto the streets of Birmingham to discuss the referendum and what it means to be British in a city that voted almost 50/50 in the Brexit vote. In this brand new commissioned work, directed by choreographer Gary Clarke, This Is An Island? uses dance, spoken work, installations and film in a no holds barred version of Brexit through the eyes of Birmingham residents.

During the week leading up to February 24 families are invited to Sage Gateshead to play their part in making a creative Window Wanderland display. Local community artist Ivelina Goverdovskaya will work with participants to transform some of Sage Gateshead’s windows into an illuminated work of art, showcasing the diversity of the region’s musical community. The idea is the creation of artist Lucy Reeves Khan and has grown internationally since it began in 2015.

Abigail Pogson, Managing Director at Sage Gateshead, said: ‘We live at a time in which our identity is a matter for public and private debate and this is so deeply woven into our cultural lives and how we perceive and project ourselves.  Art 50 brings together 50 brand new works around this theme. 

“We are looking forward to the Art 50 Weekender with our neighbour BALTIC and partners Sky Arts and the Barbican at such a pivotal point in our history.”

All events are free but some require a ticket.

On Saturday 23 and Sunday February 24, BALTIC will present a series of new commissions in a free entry drop-in weekend, 10am-6pm on both days.

Three of these have seen BALTIC collaborate directly with artists Barby Asante, Jasleen Kaur and Kuba Ryniewicz to develop projects which is either site-specific or that has invited participants and collaborators from communities in BALTIC’s immediate locality.

Jasleen Kaur investigates cultural inheritance, the slipperiness of culture and forming of identities. Kaur will work together with a small group of second and third generation Sikh’s living in London, who use music and rap as a political tool and voice in a new film, screened in Level 1 cinema.

Kuba Ryniewicz is a freelance photographer, curator and researcher based in the North East of England and focuses on the relation between art and nature in diverse historic and sociocultural settings. His work challenges traditional portraiture and travel chronicle to narrate unheard stories in the context of landscape, history, fashion and culture. In this new commission, Ryniewicz will work with intergenerational groups from the region.

Barby Asante is a London-based artist, curator, educator and occasional DJ.  Her work creates situations and spaces for conversation, collective thinking, ritual and re-enactment. Her projects are centred in performative actions, research and togetherness to think about contemporary geographies, race, gender and social justice; to articulate perspectives that critically reflect on the legacies of slavery and colonialism and to discuss how histories also inform the present.

The Declaration of Independence is a performative forum, mirroring conference and assembly spaces used to negotiate treaties of independence, coalitions, trade deals, manifestos and policies.  Asante’s associated performance on Sunday 24 February, also entitled The Declaration of Independence, on Level 2 will invite the public to make individual declarations and takes throughout BALTIC’s gallery and non-gallery spaces.

Asante said: “I am bringing together groups of women of colour to reflect on how the political affects the personal and how cultural implications of historic declarations, policies and legislations impact on their lives; to consider the possibilities for collective actions for the future and to rethink our understanding of monumental moments in world history such as declarations of independence.”

Alongside these pieces, BALTIC will present the following Art 50 commissions on Level 1:

Common Vision: Brand Identities for Millenial Britain
Common Vision
have worked with millennials from around the UK to create witty products that re-brand today’s Britain by addressing questions such as ‘what does it mean to be British?’ ‘Does a cohesive British identity exist?’ ‘If we had to market our Britishness what would it look like?’

Matty Crawford and Joe Argent: His England
Matty Crawford is a writer/director and 2018 Sundance Ignite Fellow. His short films have screened internationally and across the UK at BAFTA recognised festivals, whilst going onto collect a number of awards. His England explores the story of a young Asian British kid questioning his home and identity, whilst proudly wearing his England football shirt – unaware of the political shifting landscapes around him.

Simon Wade: Huntington Gardens
Huntington Gardens is a short comedy that centres around three families; the Morris’, Rogers’ and Amin’s, living on the same suburban street, and their daily war over who gets the best parking spaces. Filmmaker Wade wanted to try and find the humour hidden in amongst the absurd mess. Huntington Gardens and its inhabitants will act as a perfect microcosm of Post-Brexit Britain, because what could be more British then getting angry about parking spaces?”

Simon Armitage: The Brink
In the new film The Brink, specifically created for Art 50, poet and playwright Simon Armitage explores post-Brexit British identity and meditates on the relationship between Britain and Europe. As the dial on an old Bakelite radio moves from city to city – Brussels, Prague, Lyon – we tune into an impressionistic and imagistic film that combines the poet-presenter along with sights and sounds associated with each nation, mixed with sections of the poem, providing a corresponding narration.

Boy Blue: REBEL
REBEL is a dance and film production featuring young people from London, capturing their opinions, hopes and fears. The film incorporates music, dance and spoken word which explore the idea of Britishness.

Animations: School Britannia
Five poems from the School Britannia scheme that most capture a sense of place will be made into animations by up and coming artists Oliver Pendle, Katherine Hearst, Nick Black, Sophie Johnson-Hill and Flora Martyr.

Naqqash Khalid: Stock

Stock is a genre-bending short film from director Naqqash Khalid, set in the Manchester Warehouse district. The story follows a wholesaler, newly living in the UK, who becomes caught up in an unwanted conflict with the authorities. An absurd, Post-Brexit fairy tale that plays with language and miscommunication.

Gadzooks: Mad Dogs

Gadzooks Animation’s quirky and absurd, light-hearted short stop motion animated film is inspired by kitsch paintings of dogs playing pool as seen in pubs around the country. It features unscripted conversations of people from around the UK on the subject of being British in the post Brexit era. The British – a nation of dog lovers – discuss the quintessentials of British Culture, also manifested in their accents and as regional breeds of dogs.

Nick Coupe, Oliver Clubb, Gulliver Moore and Jenny Bede: Small Town Politics
Small Town Politics is an online sitcom consisting of three short episodes. Inspired by a real-life story, it features a young female mayor in post-Brexit Britain, set in a quaint British town. It’s a brave new Britain and this is an optimistic view from a rural community, full of different types of characters, arguably unrepresented until now.

Sarah Maple: Empire
Sarah Maple is creating a series of paintings that explore the complex role of the British Empire in the construction of Modern British culture and identity. Sarah’s work often draws on her own mixed background and in this piece, she is particularly interested in looking at her family’s history of migrating to Britain as a result of colonialism.

Connor Coulston: Me, Nan and Oldham

Me, My Nan and Oldham is a witty re-imagining of Connor Coulston’s Nan’s front room. Aiming to provoke a sense of nostalgia in his audience, the artist’s work reflects on the memories and ideologies of the white working class of Oldham. It aims to entertain whilst also highlighting the problems faced by those who feel forgotten and left behind in ‘The Most Deprived Town in the UK’.

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