Coming of Age: Newcastle's mighty Great North Museum explores the art and science of ageing

By Culture24 Staff | 13 January 2011
a black and white photograph of four middle aged women
An image from Nicholas Nixon’s series of photographs of The Brown Sisters, taken annually over the last 33 years© Nicholas Nixon
Exhibition: Coming of Age: The Art and Science of Ageing, Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle, until March 2 2011
A new exhibition in Newcastle is highlighting the challenge posed to society by our ageing population.

Inspired by Newcastle University’s Changing Age campaign, which seeks to challenge negative perceptions about older people in society, Coming of Age uses art and science to explore how and why we age, the affect it has on us and the way lives of older people are seen through the eyes of both artists and scientists.

At the heart of the exhibition lies a collaboration between scientists at the university's Institute of Ageing and Health and artist Andrew Carnie, sculptor Annie Cattrell and artist and physiotherapist Jennie Pedley, who have each produced new artworks for the exhibition.

Built around themes of biology, frailty and vitality, the three artists have responded to the issues raise using different media.  

Andrew Carnie's large-scale film installation reveals the human body as it undergoes the subtle changes which cause normal ageing. The sculptures of Anne Cattrell examine how memory is stored within our brains and Jennie Pedley’s series of short "shadow" films examine the day-to-day processes of scientists investigating ageing research alongside the daily activities of older people.

A scientific look at the biology of ageing also reveals the reason why we age and the effects of genetics and the environment on the ageing process. Further selected artworks show the physical process of ageing, including Henry Moore’s series of ten lithographs, The Seven Ages of Man, and Nicholas Nixon’s series of photographs of The Brown Sisters, taken annually during the past 33 years.

The segment on frailty explores dementia and the age-related diseases and disorders affecting movement, sight and hearing. Visitors can also contemplate Renoir’s sculpture, The Washerwoman (1917-18) and Degas’ Ballet Dancers (1890-1900), together with works which illustrate age-related illnesses such as Maggi Hambling’s portrait of Frances Rose, which shows her arthritic hands.

Vitality looks at wisdom and creativity, exploring how older people pass on knowledge to the younger generation. Very much a celebration of the beauty of old age, this section of the exhibition includes John Coplans’ photographic Self Portrait Upside Down and Melanie Manchot’s Liminal Portraits (1999-2000), which celebrate the older body.

“This exhibition is the first of its kind to explore age and the ageing process in depth,” says curator Lucy Jenkins. “Its aim is to celebrate the achievement that is our increased life expectancy, but also to encourage people to think about the opportunities, challenges and responsibilities this brings to our society.”
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