• Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

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A new exhibition is set to pay homage to Teesside’s industrial history and give locals a chance to own artwork through a unique exchange initiative.

This September, new public participatory installation The Exchange will draw on the region’s heritage as an industrial heartland to create ceramics that visitors can not only enjoy at the exhibition, but even take home – for an unconventional ‘price’.

The Celebrating Hidden Middlesbrough Programme led by Navigator North is part of the High Street Heritage Action Zone’s Cultural Programme, led by Historic England in partnership with Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Exchange has been created by artist Layla Khoo and will be exhibited at Commerce House in Exchange Square – the site of the former Royal Exchange – during the Middlesbrough Art Weekender which runs from 22 to 25 September.

Over the past 12 months, as part of The Exchange Artist Residency in partnership with Tees Valley Arts, Layla has created a range of objects incorporating elements of Middlesbrough’s industrial and creative heritage.

The artworks are inspired by both scoria blocks – made from the molten waste produced by the smelting of steel resulting from the area’s famed ironworks – and the tradition of commemorative ceramics from Middlesbrough potteries.

To celebrate the history of the town’s industrial philanthropists and recognise the enduring charitable and benevolent giving of Middlesbrough businesses and individuals alike, Layla is inviting the public to make a special “exchange” to own a piece of art, as 365 handmade porcelain block sculptures will be available to take away. 

In exchange, visitors will volunteer a day of their time to one of a selection of charitable causes within Middlesbrough including Nite Light CIC, Community Champions Middlesbrough and Women’s Streetwatch Middlesbrough, in association with the work of the Teesside Charity. 

This non-monetary exchange will be recorded in a “Share Certificate” to acknowledge and archive the exchange. 

For those unable to give their time, there will be an option to donate the equivalent monetary value of one day’s volunteer cost, which the Teesside Charity will administer. 

Commenting on the project, Layla Khoo said: “Teesside has a long and rich history as an innovative industrial powerhouse, so creating these objects in this location in particular is a great way to celebrate Middlesbrough’s heritage and share it with the community at what was once the town’s commercial and financial heart. As the objects are exchanged, they make their way from this hub of activity and out into the homes of the people of Middlesbrough, commemorating each contribution in a more personal way.”

Vicky Holbrough, Director at Navigator North said, “The outcome of Layla’s residency has been amazing. Connecting arts and heritage to not only inspire people to give their time to local charities but also to enable people to own a piece of art which encapsulates the research and commemorates their act of giving is truly unique.”

Layla continued “The Exchange is a commemoration of the history of Middlesbrough, and a celebration of how businesses and individuals alike are giving back to their own communities. My hope is that all 365 pieces will be exchanged, leaving a legacy of the artwork in a year of volunteered time given back to worthwhile local causes.”

Cllr Stephen Hill, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Member for Culture and Communities, added: “Celebrating Hidden Middlesbrough is a fantastic, innovative idea that allows anyone to own a piece of art inspired by our town’s industrial heritage, while also giving back to their local community.

“Our town was founded on the principles of hard work and philanthropy, and both values are still thriving in the people that live here. I can’t wait until Layla’s beautiful, historic artwork is on display, and I know the people of Middlesbrough will happily rise to her challenge of donating their time to help our local charities in exchange for it.”

Maria Carballeira, Partnerships Team Architect for Historic England said: “Middlesbrough’s Cultural Partnership is delivering an amazing programme of cultural activities as part of the High Street Heritage Action Zone. Layla’s work is a fantastic example of how art and heritage can work together to improve people’s lives, making them proud of their local history and even inspiring community spirit.”

Opened in 1868 and designed by Charles John Adams, the Royal Exchange was built for Middlesbrough’s iron and steel industries of the time, most significantly Dorman Long (later British Steel) who had taken over Bolckow, Vaughan & Co in 1929. In the 1950s, staff produced drawings in the Dorman Long Drawing Office which provided plans for structures across the globe. However, the Royal Exchange stood empty from the mid 1970s until plans to build the A66 road would see its demolition in the 1980s.

For more information on the exhibition and Celebrating Hidden Middlesbrough visit https://navigatornorth.co.uk The Exchange by Layla Khoo in the Commerce House Dome from 22 – 25 September 2022.