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Exhibition by Northern artists inspired by Chernobyl visit

A visit to Chernobyl by a group of northern artists and designers earlier this year has proved to be an inspirational experience, leading to an exhibition of their works which launches this week at House of Blah Blah in Middlesbrough.

The group of 14 artists – known as the 26:86 Collective – visited the site of the world’s biggest nuclear disaster on the year of its 30th anniversary and documented the visit with film, photos and interviews.

The multi-disciplined body of work – including photography, installations and graphic design work – kicks off a touring exhibition of ’30 Years On – Chernobyl Exposed’ for 26:86 Collective, which opens in the northern art gallery and creative space on Friday 2 December and is open on specified dates until Friday 12 January 2017.

The exhibition is a personal response of each artist to the trip to Pripyat and Chernobyl in the Ukraine, and the research project and exhibitions will help raise awareness of the issues around nuclear energy.

Named after the day and year of the Chernobyl disaster, 26:86 Collective is made up of established and emerging artists and designers across the fields of illustrative and fine art, textiles, graphic design and photography.

Embroidery Artist Claire Baker, project manager and lead artist of 26:86 Collective was inspired by the evacuated homes and the destruction of the interior walls over time, reflecting on those who had to suddenly leave their homes with little notice and only a few belongings.

Claire, a textile programme leader at Cleveland College of Art and Design (CCAD) from Norton, said: “The research undertaken during the trip, which was exciting but also traumatic, has formed the initial work produced and now being showcased by 26:86 Collective. Quite a few members of the group had definite views of what they were going to focus on during the trip but some of the artists reviewed their proposed ideas when they got there and saw and felt emotional connections to what was around them. After spending three full days in Chernobyl, taking inspiration from the isolated community and its abandoned houses and schools, the work we have all produced is in many ways different to our original ideas.”

The Collective has already had a successful first exhibition of photographic and documentary research work as part of the Liverpool Biennial Fringe Festival 2016 in July. Alongside a talk given by Claire at the event, it attracted a great deal of interest and reactions from visitors.

Claire added: “It is very exciting to see the exhibition come together and it will make a fascinating and thought-provoking visit for people, a reminder of what happened in 1986 and the after effects of the nuclear explosion which will be felt for many years to come. We would like people to consider their choices whilst viewing the creative works and we see the exhibition as for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone.”

Joining Claire in the exhibition are her two daughters, graphic artist Laura and photographer Lucy, as well as graphic artist Nicola Golightly, fine art photographer Alyson Agar and graphic and stencil artist, Niall Kitching, amongst others.

Claire is also hosting a visit from Maja Koczova from Slovakia, who works for the CHERNOBYLwel.come Tour Company and who has extensive knowledge and experience of the town rocked by the nuclear accident.

On the exhibition, Maja Koczova said: “I am really happy that I am here because I love Chernobyl and also art, as a creative person myself it is incredibly interesting to see what these fabulous artists have produced after their time in Chernobyl, and how it inspired them.”