Sunday, January 17, 2016

Things you see in Newcastle: "Bones" - recycled vinyl records from the USSR

Last year, Cathy and I visited Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. While there we had a few hours in the centre of the city and visited the art exhibition space linked to the Baltic. The exhibition was 'The art of the needle' - the art of, or inspired by, vinyl records.

As you can imagine from an art exhibition, there was a mix of stuff there. Most of it was easily dismissable hipsterish nonsense - who wants to go to a four hour performance of a DJ playing scratched and warped records? But there was one bit that really captured my imagination - a display of "Bones", Soviet-era bootlegs of banned Western albums, printed on the only ready source of vinyl: used medical x-ray sheets.

With the records back-lit, you can see what recycled vinyl looks like. I imagine the audio quality is terrible, but really, these are display pieces.

This prompted me to think about 'art'. There were plenty of intentional art pieces in the exhibition. People had gone out and purposefully tried to use vinyl records or record sleeves to make something else. But none of those things wowed me the way these did. What I find interesting is that these discs are repurposing something else - in this case medical images that are no longer needed - and in the process are creating something unique and, in it's own way, beautiful. But they are a by-product of a process of sharing art and weren't intended as art themselves, and yet, they were displayed in an art exhibition and were easily the most evocative exhibit.

So, what does that tell us about art? That the best stuff happens by accident? That art is a by-product of inventive minds solving problems? That artists are often trying too hard to make art, instead of focusing their intentions on making something useful that turns out to be art?

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