Artists Deep Diving into New Exhibition

Posted by: Kaye Russell on 21 March 2023 16:12

A new exhibition exploring South Tyneside's relationship with water and the coast is set to make a splash in South Tyneside this summer.

Blue Futures, which will open at The Word in South Shields in July, examines the connections with the world's largest renewable natural resource - water, local waterways and marine environments.

The Word in South Shields
Councillor Joan Atkinson at Souter Lighthouse
Sandhaven Beach

Artists have been appointed to help deliver the installation, with work already underway within local communities to help develop the concepts and artworks for display.

Among the concepts being explored is energy heritage and the use of natural water resources to create a more sustainable future. The role water plays in coastal communities' 'sense of place' and how coastlines have been shaped over time will also come into focus. The exhibition will also examine people's relationship with the wildlife and biodiversity that rely on waterways and ocean sustainability.

The new installation also connects with the Year of the Coast 2023 as well as the regional Stronger Shores project, which involves restoring marine habitats and looking at how they can help to protect coastal communities from the impacts of climate change such as flooding and erosion.

Councillor Joan Atkinson, Deputy Leader of South Tyneside Council, said: "The Year of the Coast gives us a fantastic opportunity to celebrate our unique and stunning location and our wonderful communities as well as showcase what makes the area so special because of our proximity to the ocean.

"Through Blue Futures we look at new and innovative ways of exploring these special connections in the past, present and in the future. This ranges from the power of water in renewable energy schemes to the protection of our marine life and how they can play an important role in the fight against climate change.

"We are delighted to have joined forces with artists to co-create an exciting new installation that will be interactive, playful and engaging for people of all ages to enjoy. I look forward to seeing how this develops over the coming months, ready for showcasing to visitors to The Word in the summer."

Blue Futures brings together the commissions of three recently appointed artists to form one exhibition.

One part, Be the Sea,is led by artist and post-doctoral researcher at Newcastle University, Louise Mackenzie and Senior Lecturer of Music and Performing Arts at the University of Sunderland, Hayley Jenkins. The interactive project looks at the relationship between humans and non-humans in coastal environments, and how the connections with marine life and other coastal species can be made stronger and more sustainable.

Engagement with community groups involves deep listening walks along the coast and audio workshops to help develop an immersive and interactive audio installation in The Word.

Sound Dig explores Whitburn's coastal community and heritage through stories and sound. The project is being delivered by independent artist Shelly Knotts and University of Sunderland's Professor of Radio and Participation, Caroline Mitchell. It builds on the research work of local community project 'Whitburn Resonance', with work getting underway with local young people this spring.

It encapsulates and maps historical resonances relating to archaeological artifacts and people's memories of the medieval fishing village, ranging from the sounds of local church bells and birdsongs to historic bombings and the Souter foghorn. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to listen, explore and generate their own sound pieces.

Caroline said: "I am delighted that the work of these artists and the communities, organisations and researchers they've worked with, is to be celebrated at the Blue Futures exhibition at The Word. It will be a wonderful opportunity for the public to engage with the innovative ideas and creative works that these unique partnerships have enabled.

"We know that people in the region care deeply about their coastline and this exhibition demonstrates how they have been involved in creative work and community led research to understand the past, present and future of our shores and take action to make them more sustainable."

Northumbria University academic and artist Paul Dolan is developing the Renewable Blue part of the exhibition.

The piece takes inspiration from the Borough's new cutting-edge renewable energy scheme, Viking Energy Network Jarrow (VENJ), through thermal imaging. VENJ, which is currently under construction, will see heat extracted from the River Tyne and exported to local council-owned buildings to make carbon savings and provide energy through sustainable and innovative means.

Blue Futures is a collaboration between South Tyneside Council, CoLab Sunderland and SeaScapes - a Tyne to Tees project aimed at better connecting communities with the ocean.

Dr Suzy O'Hara is Lecturer in Digital Arts and Enterprise at University of Sunderland, Research Lead for CoLab Sunderland and SeaScapes Co/Lab Creative Engagement Project.

She said: "Blue Futures is a wonderful example of how cross sector collaborations between the arts, research and environmental projects can unlock new ways to directly connect local communities with why they should care about their marine and energy heritage, and how we can help protect our marine environments by re-imagining our relationship with our waterways and our surrounding coastline." 

The current exhibition at The Word, 'Soundpit'continues to run until23 April, before it closes to allow the exhibition space to be re-modelled ready for Blue Futureslaunching in July.

Further details of exhibitions and events at The Word is available at

Last modified: 21 March 2023 16:17