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Blue Futures The Word, South Shields, UK 19 July - 29 November 2023

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O'Hara, Suzy (2023) Blue Futures The Word, South Shields, UK 19 July - 29 November 2023. .

Item Type: Show/Exhibition


Blue Futures explores the role that water and the coastline plays in shaping our history, our present and our future. The exhibition is curated by Suzy O'Hara, in collaboration with Anne Fountain and Katy Milne and brings together three interactive projects, BE THE SEA, Renewable Blue, and Whitburn Resonance – Sound Dig. Two projects (BE THE SEA and Whitburn Resonance - Sound Dig) were originally developed as part of SeaScapes Co/Lab (2021 - 2022). Each project worked with local communities across South Tyneside to explore ways we can reimagine our relationship with our waterways and marine environment.

BE THE SEA is a collaboration between artist Louise Mackenzie, composer Hayley Jenkins and the Durham Wildlife Trust. The immersive sound installation explores ways we can connect to the wildlife and the ocean through sound and listening, and asks how might we learn to live with and not just on the coast?

BE THE SEA uses deep listening, field recording and collage to help us focus in on unheard aquatic and environmental sounds from our seascape. A collaborative publication featuring work by local participants invites audiences to engage with their local coastline through a series of ‘Instructions for listening’. Visitors can continue to add their own instructions to this publication over the course of the exhibition.

Renewable Blue is a collaboration between artist Paul Dolan and pioneering engineers leading the renewable energy revolution at the Viking Energy Network Jarrow (VENJ) in South Tyneside. VENJ is a multi-million pound renewable energy scheme that uses water from the river Tyne to power local council owned buildings. The system uses water source heat pump technology (WSHP) which extracts energy from the water and turns it into heat.

Together with former miners, whose labour powered the energy revolution of our industrial past, and young people who will benefit from a sustainable blue future, the project asks how can heat connect people, technology and nature?

Using specialised infrared camera equipment that captures heat rather than visible light, Renewable Blue considers the VENJ development in the broader context of the climate crises. A series of ghostly images turn green trees bright white and blue, resembling a permanent winter landscape. Postcards use black thermochromic paint to hide parts of the image until they are touched by visitors or exposed to heat. The darkness connects our reliance on light for survival, and the daily experiences of coal miners working long shifts underground.

Objects featured in the moving image video are made from 3d scanned objects from the VENJ energy project site, nearby homes, and mining equipment belonging to members of the mining community in South Tyneside. Using visual effects and simulation software, the objects are transformed into liquids, making connections between our histories of energy production and the changing use of the local landscape through our shared reliance on water.

Customised circuit boards replace the usual circuitry and electrical components, with a local map created using data taken from satellites, heat map data generated during the development of the VENJ energy project and a diagram of the pipe network that will carry hot water to residents’ houses. The gesture of creating a board for the exhibition is a hopeful one, and suggests that we have control over which direction technological paths might take.

Whitburn Resonance is a collaboration between local residents of Whitburn, a medieval fishing village on the coast of North East England, sound artist and composer, Shelly Knotts, Professor of Radio and Participation at University of Sunderland, Caroline Mitchell, and archaeologist Robin Daniels, from Tees Archaeology. Together they have created a sound project that explores how a community’s collective memory can resonate through the lives of local people and their coastal environment. The project represents a shared social history to ask can we hear through time?

Throughout 2021-2023, Whitburn residents have been gathering the sounds and stories of Whitburn through time. They have explored concepts of sound, making different kinds of sound maps, researching local history and the community’s sound based memories of the village. The project’s community researchers recorded sounds and stories in locations such as the church, park, community venues and coastal paths. They also took part in local archaeological digs and graveyard surveys and found artefacts such as coins, shells and pottery from many centuries ago which may have their own stories to tell about times past.

All of the sounds were collected in a website called Sound Dig to reflect the sounds and stories of local community members. In the Sound Dig website you can take a sonic journey through Whitburn’s past and present, and visitors are invited to create new sound mixes of the village on an interactive table. The project has also been working with Creative Youth Opportunities to support young people in Whitburn to imagine future soundscapes of Whitburn.

Blue Futures is a collaboration between South Tyneside Council, Co/Lab Sunderland (University of Sunderland) and SeaScapes: Tyne to Tees shores and seas.

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Blue-Futures-1_1.mp4 - Published Version

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Depositing User: Suzy O'Hara


Item ID: 17138
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ORCID for Suzy O'Hara: ORCID iD

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Date Deposited: 04 Jan 2024 14:46
Last Modified: 04 Jan 2024 14:46


Author: Suzy O'Hara ORCID iD

University Divisions

Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries


Fine Art > Curating
Fine Art > Art in Context
Fine Art > Digital Media
Fine Art > New Media
Fine Art > Printmaking

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