Allenheads Contemporary Arts
North East England

From the industrial revolution to dereliction and the subsequent rebuilding of the community, the remote village of Allenheads (high in the Northumbrian Pennines) has frequently been at the vanguard of social, technological and industrial developments and declines. Peppered with disused mine shafts, abandoned railways and the now idyllic, overgrown slag heaps, it is a potent location for examining the future through the lens of history. It is here that the 3 artists in Residence David Lisser, Alan Smith and Liam Murray, pose the question What will our future look like? And then What role will humanity play – individually and collectively – in creatively reimagining and building that future?

Sheltering from the icy, snow lined landscape outside, I squeeze into a dark corner behind a rickety coffee table, shrouded in a tartan table cloth. All of a sudden the deep, heavy sound of breathing erupts from the rafters, filling the innocuous, pleasant little village café with suspense. High on the café’s wall, beyond the wooden rafters, a projection of stars pierces the dark. As the coffee machine hums and teaspoons clink on teacups a distant orchestra gradually rumbles into the awareness of the café’s occupants, intensifying until it becomes a triumphant, dramatic fanfare. Just as two unsuspecting cyclists, replete with neon lycra suits and streamlined cycle helmets, enter the tiny café the date “2045” roars into sight. This is the beginning of Alan Smith’s film 2045 a dystopian vision of the future based on close observation of the familiar and everyday and narrated by a sound track culled from an array of science fiction films. The film oscillates between long, contemplative shots of inane objects, suspended or empty domestic scenes, and shaky B-movie-esque commotion. Objects such as a zip, a showerhead, or two misshapen tomatoes acquire a mythological dimension as totems (or relics) of mankind’s innovation and as motifs for the proliferation of nature and natural farming amidst the collapse of humanity. The film climaxes with a deliberate nod to Silent Running (1972) as its frequented motif, the domestic poly-tunnel, floats off into space, carrying within it the edible plants Smith has nurtured there.

The future necessity of sustainable and feasible alternatives to the current global food economy is directly challenged in David Lissers’ work The Midgecatchers House. In a poetic confabulation of fact, fiction and local myth, Lisser invites the audience to imagine a future in which gas and oil reserves have been exhausted and in which many larger animal species have been hunted nearly to extinction. In this context, those individuals who manage to remain at frontier communities such as Allenheads must find alternative, sustainable sources of protein. One possible answer is contained in this nomadic house of recycled materials which – on first impressions – resembles a hybrid between an allotment shed, a primitive static caravan and a DIY rickshaw. Presented as a sort of vestige from a future, nomadic society, the caravan contains within it all the necessary equipment and instructions for a midge-based diet from nets for catching, home-made pestles and utensils for grinding and cooking, to sacks of pre-made midge flour. Peering in through the dusty window of The Midgecatchers House I can make out what appears to be a charcoaled cake but quickly realise (upon spotting the accompanying recipe for a “simple half-pound midge loaf”) what it is actually comprised of… Approximately four cups of dried, ground midges.

Presented by the unimaginable vastness of the universe Liam Murray cites Sir Isaac Newton’s seemingly self-consuming dictum ‘Hypotheses Non Fingo‘ ‘I Feign No Hypotheses’. In a drawing which appears to fix a glimpse of the infinitely shifting, incomprehensible universe, that statement seems at first reading both laced with irony and incomprehensibly circuitous. But this immediate interpretation is gradually dissolved by the unfolding spectacle of Murray’s meticulous drawing. As the viewer’s eyes readjust to the fine marks and subtle shades of the drawing’s surface (just as they do when staring up at the night sky) the reading of forms begins to shift; what was once a dark patch of starless galaxy becomes a planet, then a spaceship, then the pupil of an eye from behind which we are gazing out at this ethereal glimpse of the infinite. The circular format of Hypotheses Non Fingo is highly reminiscent of the lenses through which science grasps at the imperceptible regions of the universe; from the infinitesimally small to the incomprehensibly large. Murray’s relation of the universe, however, is one perpetually mediated by the drawn mark; it reminds the viewer that what we see is not the real reality but one, just as the universe depicted by astronomy and astrophotography, transcribed and ciphered through a human (and therefore limited, fallible) system of signs.

The Future 2, 3, 4 presents the work of three individuals attempting to envision and explore their own concepts of what the future may look like. What is lasting about this show, however, is the way in which it challenges the viewer to go beyond the limitations of the human ability to imagine; to uncover universal significance within the local and particular, to challenge current trends and ways of thinking, and to recognise that the future is happening now, and that we’re all a part of it.