Re-meeting Newcastle, Lydia Catterall

Date: 22-25th June 2017

Guest: Lydia Catterall

Description: Much of what happens at HMO is about the moments before, after, or in between the plan: the tea break, the washing up,  the walk into town, the ‘one more drink’ before bed.

Over the last couple of years we have been getting to know Lydia Catterall, an artist based in Leeds.  We initially met when Lydia was working at East Street Arts and she very quickly became our friend and creative conspirator.  Now that she is working independently, our paths began crossing even more – meetings, meals, train rides, conferences, parties, research trips – but there has always been a task in hand and we hardly spent time just hanging out.  The invitation to Lydia was about just that, an opportunity to spend some time together without any specific objectives or expected outcomes.

Below, Lydia has put together some reflections and images from her time in Newcastle.


Re-meeting Newcastle

“I’m in Newcastle; a city I visit all the time, but never for more than a night and always with a specific reason. Thanks to a generous offer from HMO, I’m here for four days with an artist residency hat on. I’ve asked friends, old and new, to take me on the walks that are part of their everyday. I’m asking strangers to mark their favourite spots on a map. I’m taking the left turn I don’t know and seeing what’s at the top of that hill over there. The city already looks different.”

I really believe we’re missing a trick.   Artists are complex humans. The world through their eyes, ears and brains is fundamentally different: It’s separated into threads, considered in fragments, and woven back together differently. Alongside artists, we have the opportunity to imagine beyond what we have and, even better, live it out loud.

“The Literary and Philosophical Sciences Library: The kind of magical place that makes your tummy flip. A tucked away door and an unexpected sweeping staircase take you into a room full of every book you could hope to pour over and a ceiling you can’t stop gawping at. A tiny hatch serves tea, coffee and anything by Tunnocks. Old, young, male, female, black, white, all sat together to study/chat/write/ponder. Overheard conversations include what it means to grow old and whether sunflowers or tulips make a better gift. A rare and special place.”

Imagine if we made the most of all the artist had to say and allowed the spaces and structures around us to soak it up. What would our streets, shops and social spaces look like? Where would power lie? How might we behave differently? What would we value? Would our voices be louder and clearer?

“Grainger Market: My favourite in the world (honestly) and somewhere I can’t come to Newcastle without visiting. Today I ate the best mushroom and egg dumplings I’ve ever tasted and got a little lesson in filling and folding the perfect parcel. Then I savoured rich, forkfuls of Northumberland crab and picked up veggies to make dinner for my host. Happy days.”  

My actions as an artist are fuelled by the specifics of places; the people connected to them, the cultures that have grown out of houses/streets/cities, and the structures that exist to be followed or challenged. These specifics shape the conversations I have, the meals I share and the relationship that’s created. And, for me, the relationships and connections are the most important part.  

“My host loves avocado, eggs and having breakfast for dinner. Her partner does not. So what did we do on a night that he was out at a gig..? Avocado fritter recipe courtesy of Anna Jones. Kohlrabi, carrot and apple slaw, something I threw into the mix. Fizzy conversation and many laughs all our own work.”  

I am an artist, but I’m also a collaborator, a listener, a connector, a researcher, a cheerleader. From where I’m sat, I can see a clear and intricate picture of thoughtful, responsive and necessary work going on all over the country (and further afield). I want to support these people and projects to be as connected, informed and resilient as they can be so that the communities they help to shape can benefit from them in the long-term.

“Morning sunshine, strong coffee and two types of food book. The more I flick between the two, the more they feel like versions of the same thing: Recipes for time with other people.”  

Your relationship with someone changes once you’ve eaten together. Food is wrapped up in stories, the basis of memories, a way of showing love, an outlet for creativity and a language we all speak. It needs no translation, it may invite explanation and it certainly encourages exploration. It’s a necessity, an economy, a currency and a celebration. It’s Dad’s apple crumble, fella’s scrambled eggs, sick-day banana sandwiches and leaving-work cake.  

“Today’s first walk was a peace walk. Three local churches and the local mosque walked together to the local festival as an outward sign of their commitment to championing diversity. There was also a rally today: This felt like a more self caring way of saying the same thing. Today’s walk with a local started and ended at Heaton Perk. I met three parks, several goats, the famous shoe tree, a lesser known chapel and a very special oak sapling. We chatted food, friends, dance and death and the sun was unexpectedly warm.”  

At a time when reductions, restrictions and cut backs are being made, beyond our immediate control, the something we can choose is our response. Who do we know? What assets do we have? How can we use these things differently? How can we feed an economy that values skills, time, generosity and resources beyond cash?  

“Last night I was introduced to someone I ‘HAVE to know’; turns out I really do! We shared a communally created Mexican feast with red wine and plenty of laughter. It was easy and joyous despite lots of discussion about the things that make us sad and heavy.“  

There are awkward aspects to being both a host and the guest. There are so many ‘should I-s’, ‘could I-s’ and ‘would they like-s’ to grapple with. There’s the splitting any labour and costs down the middle, the not wanting to turn up empty handed, the negotiation of the morning bathroom routine. But, when the initial invitation is based in simplicity and generosity, it sets a tone of openness that can only lead to good things and conversations that become more than the sum of their parts.  

“This morning, we enjoyed a slow, berry pancake-filled breakfast in the sun and made plans for next time. I had one last root through the house library before we walked another different way into the city, adding another route to my repertoire and joining another few dots before I hopped on the train to Leeds. Whether you call it a residency, a retreat or just a few days away, it’s ridiculously brilliant to step out of your everyday for a bit. And even better if you use it to get to know someone else’s.”

Lydia Catterall is a visual artist based in Leeds, UK.



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