Northerners may be known for many things, but it is arguably the vitality and fervour of their ‘Northern spirit’ they are most renowned for. And, of course, the colourful and energetic culture that this fuels. Sunderland-born artist Sophie Lisa Beresford celebrates these regional idiosyncrasies in North East Style at Abject Gallery, Newcastle. Drawing on the ‘council estate culture’ she and many others are so proud of, Beresford uses her work to provide visibility and depth to an aspect of Northern culture that is often stereotyped.
A very distinctive sound radiates through the gallery. It is the same frenetic, pulsing beat that emanates from festivals, pirate radio stations, backstreet corners, top decks of buses and pizza shops all across the North. It is the banging sounds of rave music. Most from the region will have encountered it at some point or another, but for those less familiar with the hardcore tunes a filmic piece provides a window into this ‘rewired records’ genre.
The visuals sweep across Northern landscapes, skylines and jubilant crowds with crop tops, whistles and beers. Music graphics, like that of YouTube rave videos, recreate a semblance of the euphoria playing out in the video: a feeling that the viewer can’t help but siphon off. Further encouraging this is a silent disco set up at the end of the gallery, complete with wooden dancefloor, flashing colourful lights and headsets with music.
As the viewer walks around the gallery, an even louder rhythm vies for your attention. It reverberates from a subsection of the space, where a film featuring Beresford and younger children dance to music. Shot in a street of terraced houses, which feels like it could be home to those in the film, they let themselves go to the frenetic beat. The sincerity and genuine joy of the dancers is admirable, and brings undeniable smiles to those watching. Alongside the other works, it paints a picture of what it is like to be part of such a vibrant community and culture.
The other vital parts of the exhibition that complete this picture are those that consider Northern fashion. These works not only represent the clothes precious to the culture Beresford is inspired by but in turn also represent Northern icons. Next to the silent disco, material suspended from the ceiling is made up of Adidas and Kappa tracksuits, an outfit synonymous with rave culture. Children’s Nike Air trainers — blinged up with beads, charms and shells — sit beside Beresford’s Mackem version of a Wonder Woman outfit, complete with ‘black cat’ logo and red and white stripes. And opposite these ornately decorated garments is a black and white tapestry piece adorned with the iconic blue star of Newcastle Brown Ale.
Beresford sets out to purposefully subvert the negative representations of ‘council estate culture’ that are frequently purported through mass media. To challenge perceptions, she uses unbridled passion and energy to reveal the true beauty of this Northern spirit. Her openness traverses social and geographic divides and manages to make everyone feel a part of everything that is going on in the space. We Northerners may have our idiosyncrasies, but nobody can come away from this space feeling alienated, only with a feeling of warmth towards the celebratory element of Northern culture they have been lucky enough to witness.
North East Style, Abject 2 Gallery, 2nd Floor, Bamburgh House, Newcastle upon Tyne, 10 August – 8 September.
Michaela Hall is an artist and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne.