HOW do you get young people involved in constructive activities aimed at benefiting the community? Artist Sarah Blood answered this by introducing flame-working, glass-melting and neon lighting to young people in Cowgate.
For the past eight months, the Newcastle artist has worked with groups of children and teenagers on a project exploring light.
In the final stages of the Cowgate Illuminations project, funded by Wunderbar Festival and Newcastle City Council, Sarah introduced young people to neon art which has crackled in contemporary art galleries since American artist Bruce Nauman popularised it as an artform in the 1970s and 80s.
It’s used by numerous artists including Carsten Höller, who exhibited his Neon Circle at Baltic, and Tracey Emin, whom Sarah has exhibited with in London.
Most recently Sarah showed a glorious 12ft neon angel beside its opposite, made of rusted steel, at Newcastle’s Hatton Gallery.
Her latest project comes to a climax today with the switch on of a large neon star-burst installation attached to the exterior of Cowgate Centre. It’s a festive light-up but there is funding in place to look after and service the installation for five years.
Working with the YMCA youth forum, boys’ group and girls’ group, Sarah held initial workshops in St Peter’s Church, the community centre and at a drop-in on a street corner.
Sarah, who is 37, says: “I was interested in doing as many different workshops which incorporated light as possible. We started off with some broad and inclusive workshops. First of all we coated paper with chemicals and used the sun to create prints, a bit like making photographs.
“We also did workshops involving glow sticks, torches and long exposure photography to create light sculptures in the air.
“They were great and worked particularly well with the boys’ group who have a lot of energy. Taking them into a dark room, giving them glow sticks, switching the light off and saying ‘go’ was good. We got fantastic results.”
As the project progressed Sarah arranged flame workshops for members of the youth forum, using bench-mounted torches to melt glass.
“Quite a few members of the girls’ and boys’ groups turned up and wanted a go. So they all got to melt glass one at a time. It was about experiencing the material. They loved it, came back the next week and wanted to do more.”