Hi I’m Catherine! I’m a Fine Art graduate from MIMA School of Art and an intern at the Auxiliary so naturally I’m very enthusiastic about art and went for a cheeky visit to the Masham’s history class cramming Exchange Exhibition.
Being a visual artist, I was immediately drawn to the large black and white print on the green wall. The 4 storyboard panels of some of Middlesbrough’s most iconic historical events are beautifully captured in a simple line shading and date all the way back to 1881. It’s interesting to immerse yourself in those scenes that took place merely 2 centuries ago and pretend you’re there watching the reveal of Henry Bolckows statue or Albert Parks firework display. This amazing highlight is only one of several in the exhibition as historians and curators may prefer the more subtle display plan.
First walking into the space, you start in the 19th century and are gradually guided back to the present as you make your way through. This carefully planned timeline gives an insightful perspective of the history and progress of Middlesbrough from a coal mining and brick making town to a heritage hotspot. There’s even a little glimpse of the possible future with a mock up of exchange square revamped that I and many others hope comes true.
Peer as well into the perspective of people during the steelworks decline with the enlarged newspaper clip near the end of the space. “A thousand brokers milled below the barrel vaulted ceiling, a thousand deals were forged and struck in steel within its walls. Fortunes were made, fortunes lost.” It reads like a poem, encouraging you to imagine those 19th century brokers performing delicate balancing acts as though it was Wall Street. Can you imagine this in Middlesbrough or your local town today?
It’s a really sad fact but further reading this newspaper, the decline of Middlesbrough’s steel industry is a lot like my hometown Newcastle’s ship building decline. Both fell due to international competition and in the end left a lot of good working class people out of a job. It was a depressing time but it’s something to learn from. This leads onto another interesting fact about Middlesbrough. I never knew that the High Street Heritage Action Zone is 1 of only 69 in England. It’s a rather small number but hopefully the beginning of something great as we preserve more sites of cultural significance. Perhaps there’s some in your local area you’d like to see preserved for the future?
Even if, like me, you aren’t from Middlesbrough it’s still worth the trip whether that be you’re a history nerd or colouring page fanatic (yes they have colouring pages). Your head will explode with the information on offer for FREE but please don’t do that over the exchange square stone. So many people were entranced by that artefact and came in to ask, it was wonderful! Vicky and Nicola, the directors of Navigator North, and all of the invigilators are wonderfully friendly people with so much insight on the area. Don’t be afraid to ask them a couple of questions during your visit and if you happen to have your own stories about Middlesbrough, let them know!
Thanks to Catherine for this wonderful perspective on our most recent exhibition. If you’d like to find out more about Catherine’s work you can head to her website www.cgart.co.uk