Border Ballad

The film is being made for forthcoming trial installation. I want some sound – so  I am using two complimentary border folk songs.  The first, Waters of Tyne,  I ‘collected’ from Hexham Library – recorded in this post.  I need a compliment from the Scottish tradition.

The Border songs and ballads have a romantic veneer.  Romance in terms of the emotions portrayed but also a minor glorification of the historical violence of the border.  This was codified in the first half of the 19th century –  ‘Walter Scott (1771-1832) was the first to attach cultural-historical significance to the border ballads.’

Scott repurposed marching songs and made up some of the ballads to contribute to his purpose of Scottish cultural creation.

I need  Scottish and English readers now.

Border Ballad by Sir Walter Scott

Arch, march, Ettrick and Teviotdale,
Why the deil dinna ye march forward in order!
March, march, Eskdale and Liddesdale,
All the Blue Bonnets are bound for the Border.
Many a banner spread,
Flutters above your head,
Many a crest that is famous in story.
Mount and make ready then,
Sons of the mountain glen,
Fight for the Queen and our old Scottish glory.

Come from the hills where your hirsels are grazing,
Come from the glen of the buck and the roe;
Come to the crag where the beacon is blazing,
Come with the buckler, the lance, and the bow.
Trumpets are sounding,
War-steeds are bounding,
Stand to your arms, then, and march in good order;
England shall many a day
Tell of the bloody fray,
When the Blue Bonnets came over the Border.

Mat Collishaw’s Black Mirror

Matt Collishaw created an exhibition – Black Mirror –  at The Borghese gallery animating 3 Caravaggio paintings behind two way mirrors to create a new space – a place between fixed painting and real life. black-mirror-006

This had been prefigured by an earlier work by Collishaw in 2013 – East of Eden, which depicted a writhing snake moving on an lcd screen behind darkened surveillance glass, the effect is an animated painting, a mythological idea, the moving painting.


Collislaw talks in a video to accompany the Borghese pieces of how the framing of the paintings, change our view.  He uses a melancholy black glass, emphasising the black space in Caravaggio’s paintings, the space between life and death.  The reanimated models, digitally move, sway and even wink, they must have originally twitched in Caravaggio’s studio as he painted them, creating the fixed moment ‘like a photograph’ of the original paintings. As Collishaw says this is a kind of ‘Necromancy – to cross the border between life and death’.


At the border

On ‘Good Friday’ the border at 7.20am is cold, the light struggling through to illuminate two laybys, stone walls, the flags of two countries, double sided stones and thin fences tramping off along the hump of hills.

Video recorded in 2 minute segments, rotating the view and listening for the birdsong.  Each chosen viewpoint included the flash of passing cars, heralded by the whine of engines against the hill followed by the drop in pitch as they fade back down the hill, in earshot for so much longer than in eyesight.

I also recorded the first 5 exposures shot on large format camera.  An aesthetic object in a less aesthetic landscape.

The border piper is sick of being the subject of debate, his opinions never broadcast, but his image used to illustrate a thousand press reports over the last few years.

Mistakenly perhaps, this photoshoot minimised the presence of people.


More boundaries

Thinking about the obtrusive fencing found throughout the footwork of Lee Friedlander in his urban street scenes, but it is everywhere.  These edited phone and DSLR shots record obstacles in the way from Paris’s Eiffel Tower to Hexham’s Tyne green.

Paris, with mirror displacement:paris fences-1

Tyne Green’s earthworks.

fences blackandwhite edits-3

Post and chain link:

and passive agressive signage:

The new fence

Recorded on film, some images of a new imposition in our landscape.  This new fence has no real explanation, dividing a field for no clear reason.  There are still no stock to control or different crops to separate and no obvious change in ownership.  The fence cuts through the landscape, cuts paths, creates a slowing, restricts movement, perhaps innocently and without real damage, but it is a possessive act by persons unknown. Defining and restricting space like the photographs of Lee Friedlander.


Sticks, Stones and Little Screens

Two books out of the library on Lee Friedlander are very helpful in looking for an aesthetic for ideas of border and enclosure.


The Little Screens, by Saul Anton, precisely describes the importance of a series of photos by Friedlander, here seen as  “One Work” –  part of a series of analytical titles  under the title After all books, published by  the University of the Arts, London and MIT, 

The work captures the disjointedness of space that the images on television cut into a room or updated and in our current world, the distortion of the Black Mirrors that are our phones and iPads.  The Little Screens have more accidental life than the formal motel bedrooms in Friedlander’s survey, but this is an imposed attraction, in the photos eyes watch furtively, hands threaten with guns, bodies are draped to sell products.  The parody of our unthinking gaze, ignoring the surreal clashes created, ignoring the disturbing imagery, sharply critiques our acceptance of this visuall distortion in our safe and neutral spaces.

Strong raking compositions are a feature of Sticks and StonesThe Fraenkel gallery’s comprehensively visual catalogue of Friedlander’s architectural photography for their 2004 exhibition of this important group of work. There are 196 square format images that record the specifics of american urban space.  People seem to feature only by accident. Individuals are described  through the division of city or small town space, the marked out garden boundaries or the high security fences that define an individual property.  The imposition of street furniture, poles, signs, lock and control the compositions and our ability to look inside them.  The  focus on the wasteland, the broken and the abandoned in many of the pictures, reflects the wastefulness and closed down feeling of these privatised but often neglected cityscapes.  Even where individual buildings dominate, most often a blank or unwelcoming wall turns ‘homes’ into forbidding ‘fortresses’.

The book layout is a double page with minimum borders, so each square format image reacts to its neighbour – the horizons are angled and do not flow between the two.  The packed angular forms, nothing is every straight vertically or horizontally, jar and clash with each other and create a sense of forcefully flattened space, blocked or partioned, access prohibited where it is hard to move forward or access the space depicted.

Somehow some of the captured space of reflected screens as seen in the dark mirror experiment, I want to combine with the contested and excluded spaces of the Brighton Baths or Tynemouth Pool or other more local boundaried spaces.


Anton, S. (2015) Lee Friedlander, The Little Screens. London: After all Books.

Enyeart, J. (2004) Lee Friedlander, Sticks and Stones, Architectural America. Fraenkel Gallery: San Francisco.


Museums in Paris

Perhaps it is unfair to self criticise the choice of museums on our annual Paris Trip from School.  It is an amazing array of work to share with young people in 4 short days…..

A selfie taken in an ancient Egyptian mirror in the Louvre

It did make me think about the museum as a depository of things to store and share…

Visiting a museum is a matter of going from void to void. Hallways lead the viewer to things once called ‘pictures’ and ‘statues.” Anachronisms hang and protrude from every angle. Themes without meaning press on the eye. Multifarious nothings permute into false windows (frames) that open up into a variety of blanks. Stale images cancel one’s perception and deviate one’s motivation. Blind and senseless, one continues wandering around the remains of Europe, only to end in that massive deception ‘the art history of the recent past’. Brain drain leads to eye drain, as one’s sight defines emptiness by blankness. Sightings fall like heavy objects from one’s eyes. Sight becomes devoid of sense, or the sight is there, but the sense is unavailable. Many try to hide this perceptual falling out by calling it abstract. Abstraction is everybody’s zero but nobody’s nought. Museums are tombs, and it looks like everything is turning into a museum. Painting, sculpture and architecture are finished, but the art habit continues. Art settles into a stupendous inertia. Silence supplies the dominant chord. Bright colors conceal the abyss that holds the museum together. Every solid is a bit of clogged air or space. Things flatten and fade. The museum spreads its surfaces everywhere, and becomes an untitled collection of generalizations that mobilize the eye.

I had never been to the Musee Orsay before, and was stunned by the sense of battery farm for famous art, the giant reclaimed station dominating spaces, but maybe the whole experience was reduced by the cumulative tiredness of a residential school trip. The reflected light of a glass case or the view from behind the clock having more of an impact on a tired mind.


Society Realiste


Laura Henno’s work

Laura Henno: From the series ‘Lands End, il desert rosso, 2009



Ballast Hill


Researching the history of Ballast Hill – as a possible site of a Plague Pit from the 17th century as a possible source for material for a piece for the forthcoming Plague exhibition.

Ballast Hill started life as an area of waste and dumping ground in the 16th century on the outside of the Ouseburn on Newcastle city’s then Eastern edge. Ships returning to Newcastle after delivering coal to London or further to Europe carried ballast or ‘balance’ to keep their keels in the water, this was a waste material that was cleared out to allow new coal to be reloaded. It started to be used informally as a burial ground.

It later became a formal non conformist burial ground and then when decommissioned, turned into an open area of green space, gravestones now laid down as pathways.  It is an anonymous place until you look beneath your feet. Like a slight absence tucked away behind the new university accommodation and graffiti garage walls.


 I have put together a timeline – there is a sense of a very informal burial ground for the poor outside the city walls in the 17th century.  The gravestones laid on the ground are actually from a century later – earliest I saw was 1737? –  Later the burial ground is fenced and formalised – to keep the pigs out!  This is all from after the time of the Black Death and into the time of Cholera.  It is like there is a layer below those mournful stones of even more anonymous immigrants from ships all over Europe and the Scots – buried in with the trash, and possibly a plague pit in 1636 ?  The map of 1788 shows Ballast hill quite a way out – disconnected from the city.  Is Ballast hill a story of immigration as much as plague?
The horror of the plague pit – the sense of anonymous burial and the shame of this echoes through the centuries.  We now associate it with genocide (I have stood on the mass graves in Kigali, Rwanda) Holocaust, Bosnia.  Also the digging up of these places to provide evidence.  The Ebola and aids mass graves have a more cohesive story – a more positive ‘spin’ perhaps……
I think that I somehow want to mark and bring to the surface the people of Ballast Hill from before it’s time as a graveyard, but they are probably unrecorded….Could I /we bring something to the space and record it?

Gravestones laid out in pathways.


Moving inscription to a couple and ‘several of their children’


the old boundary


rubbings being taken by Judy Thomas as a record of the inscriptions


mirror displacements project the view towards the city


bridges in the distance

Cathedral and Plague

First visit to Newcastle Cathedral in anticipation of a possible exhibition in association with a conference on Plague and Civil War due to take place in April in St George’s Chapel in the cathedral.

Plenty to catch the eye.  Not least – The Thornton Brass:

an extraordinary detailed and large brass originally from the tomb of Roger Thornton and his wife Agnes, he was mayor of Newcastle in the 15th Century.  The classic shape of the medieval figure is repeated in small outlines of the seven sons and seven daughters of the couple at their feet and the surrounding saints.




Tyne River God


The Tyne River God is an odd object, hanging in acres of white wall space in Newcastle’s civic library.  I had long been meaning to visit as an engraving of the head or mask is on the frontispiece of the edition of Carmichael’s engravings in ‘Pictures of Newcastle  that I had been studying in the autumn.

It was carved as a printer’s sign for Aaron Richardson in 1827, becoming an emblem for Andrew Reid and Co. right up to the 1960’s.  The carving is a copy of  a stone original on the front of Somerset house(1786).  It depicts the early industries of the river, coal in a basket with pickaxes, fish nets and possibly corn.


The idea of a sculpture of a Tyne River God, comes from classical and neo classical sculptural traditions of depicting the spirit of a river.  In the case of the Tyne,  this theme was further updated by David Wynne who was commissioned by Newcastle City Council for a monumental sculpture for the civic centre.  His dynamic Tyne River God is  dramatically posed pointing from the side of the building, his shaggy hair shadowing a dark and broody head all stained by Tyneside weather, seeming to summon water or coal from the very ground.


It is nearly 50 years since the sculpture was commissioned, David Wynne sadly died in 2014, never really accepted as a leading sculptor, irrespective of his many major commissions. 

What would a contemporary Tyne God would look like?