Science in the city (again)

I wrote previously about a visit to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I recently visited again, this time to sing Tippett’s Child of Our Time and the (very fantastic) Berlioz Te Deum, in the rather attractive Sage concert hall. This is just next to the Baltic Art Gallery:

The Baltic is a converted flour mill that seems quite popular with the local birdlife:

I would have described the birds as seagulls, but I read an interesting sign underneath the Tyne Bridge telling me that the bridge is home to the farthest inland colony of breeding kittiwakes in the world. The bridge and ledges of nearby buildings, such as the Baltic, are a substitute for sea-cliffs. I rather suspect therefore that these are kittiwakes. My suspicions were confirmed by this story which suggests that not everyone is pleased to see the birds making themselves at home in the city.
Inside the Baltic Gallery there are several floors linked by elevators and a scary metal stairwell:

I saw three exhibitions. One included some of Harland Miller’s work, large paintings based on dust jackets of old Penguin books, but with a twist. I particularly liked D.H. Lawrence. Dirty Northern bastard and Bridlington: Coastal erosion – not all bad news. Another floor showed Sarah Sze’s work, Tilting Planet. It was a large-scale installation, or series of installations, made out of small, everyday things. I liked the way she created patterns that looked like they had grown organically, like mould spreading. I also liked that contrast between the overall scale and the individual scale (such as thin threads that stretched the whole length of the room).
Finally there was A Duck for Mr Darwin , a collection of works by different artists “exploring evolutionary thinking and the Theory of Natural Selection“. I found it a bit of a curate’s egg. I loved Mark Fairnington’s close ups of the eyes of wild animals – circular paintings with a single eye in the centre. Dorothy Cross’ film Jellyfish Lake was mesmerising, pulsating jellyfish moving through the water. The film Pre-Retroscope by Conrad Shawcross was interesting and clever – showing a 360 degree view taken from a rowing boat. Marcus Coates’ film Intelligent Design was also interesting, showing an attempted mating between giant tortoises on the Galapagos islands. They are remarkable animals.
Personally, I failed to encompass all of the works into one vision of Darwin or evolution. I’m not sure if it was my failure or a failure of the exhibition. But I have my suspicions.
From the viewing gallery on the top floor of the Baltic there are rather fine views of the Millennium bridge. Also called the Newcastle Eye, it is a footbridge of unusual design that can be tilted to allow larger boats to pass under. Here it is at rest:

and here it is raised, with a tourist boat passing underneath:

Thanks to Wikipedia I learnt that

Six 45 cm diameter Hydraulic rams (three on each side, each powered by a 55 kW electric motor) rotate the bridge back on large bearings to allow small ships and boats (up to 25 m tall) to pass underneath. The bridge takes as little as 4.5 minutes to rotate through the full 40° from closed to open.

Finally, we went along to the Centre for Life – nice logo, shame about the sculpture. I can’t help wondering whether there shouldn’t be a moratorium on creating scupltures with a double helix theme.

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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6 Responses to Science in the city (again)

  1. Cath Ennis says:

    All of these things have appeared in the years since I left Newcastle, but I’ve enjoyed visiting them on my too-infrequent trips home.
    The Centre for Life is hilarious – did you walk through the Tunnel of Love or whatever it’s called? There are video screens and information boards showing the mating rituals of various bird and mammal species, and the walkway is flanked by a series of life-size plastic statues depicting the local mating rituals. The first features a man holding a pint glass standing looking at a woman in a short dress on the other side of the walkway. The next pair shows him handing the woman a drink, and it kinda progresses from there… although it is all very family friendly. My husband thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen, which, combined with his awful attempts at mimicking the Geordie accent, attracted some annoyed looks! Luckily my Dad is a bona fide Geordie (I was born there, and spent two separate periods of three years living there, but don’t have the accent) and loudly said “it’s alright, he’s Canadian”, and we escaped a beating. Although I thought trying the accent at St James’ Park was much more foolish, the cancellation of the game just before kick-off (due to alleged snow) had the effect of deflecting attention away from us.

  2. Frank Norman says:

    Cath – I’m ashamed to admit we didn’t actually go into the exhibition. (It costs money, you know!). We were just killing a bit of time before our train was due. We did go into the shop – we’d seen some boys playing outside with dinosaur tails attached and thought they might be on sale there.
    I’ve never tried imitating the Geordie accent, except when singing Gillies Whittaker folksong arrangements. I do occasionally say “toon” or “broon”.

  3. Lee Turnpenny says:

    Oh Frank, you’ve made me wistful. The home of Viz. Lived there for three-and-a-half years (where I did my Ph.D.) – love the place, and am long overdue a visit.
    (Cath, I can’t believe you don’t have a hint of the accent.)

  4. Cath Ennis says:

    I was broad Geordie until I was about 7, but peer pressure and natural assimilation turned that accent into a slightly modified York accent. My second period in Newcastle was followed by four years in Glasgow, which confused things even further, and now I have a mix of a generic Northern English and a Canadian accent, with the occasional Scottish word pronunciation.
    No-one can ever guess where I’m from on their first try.

  5. Richard Wintle says:

    That bridge is completely wacky. I wish they’d build things like that here, although truth be told the local art college isn’t too bad, on the “nutty design” scale:

    Having been to parts of Yorkshire, I can just about manage “Ta mooch” for “Thanks a lot”, but I suspect I would have rather a tough time with pure Newcastle Geordie(TM). I’m willing to give it a go, though, if only to see that bridge up close and in person.
    Oh, and that staircase is terrifying, but has a pleasing, Hogwarts-esque non-symmetry to it.

  6. Frank Norman says:

    @Richard – When you’re on it the staircase seems quite unexceptional, but I agree the view of the whole thing is a bit scary. To me it looks like a picture of some nano-machine.