Blue Futures Exhibition – Thursday 20 July – Friday 1 December 2023

Image: Louise Mackenzie and Hayley Jenkins, Be the Sea workshop (2023), The Wherry, South Shields.

Curated and commissioned by Dr Suzy O’Hara, Blue Futures brings together three participatory projects, BE THE SEA, Renewable Blue, and Sound Dig, that explore our evolving relationship with water and the North East coast. 

Artists have worked with engineers, environmental teams, former miners, residents, and young people to explore our past, present, and future relationship with our marine environment and waterways. The artists used these workshops to develop their ideas and content to create this exhibition, helping us to understand and care for our blue heritage.  

BE THE SEA is a collaboration between artist Louise Mackenzie, composer Hayley Jenkins, Durham Wildlife Trust, and Women’s Health in South Tyneside. Local residents were invited to listen to and record unheard sounds of life in rockpools and the surrounding marine environment, and to make their own sounds in response. The immersive installation invites us to connect to the wildlife and the ocean through sound and listening and encourages us to imagine what it might be like to call the space where the oceans meet the land ‘home.’ 

Created by artist Paul Dolan, Renewable Blue makes connections between South Tyneside’s history of coal mining and pioneering engineers who are leading the renewable energy revolution by using our waterways and historic environment to power our local buildings. The project takes inspiration from a series of cutting-edge renewable energy projects, including Viking Energy Network Jarrow. The energy network schemes use the latest innovative technology to harness heat from the river Tyne to generate electricity and heat to residential and public buildings.  Renewable Blue uses infrared camera equipment that captures heat rather than visible light to go beyond the limits of human senses to better understand the climate crisis. 

Can we hear through time? Sound Dig is a collaboration between sound artist, Shelly Knotts, Professor of Radio and Participation at University of Sunderland, Caroline Mitchell, and archaeologist Robin Daniels, from Tees Archaeology. Artworks have been created working with residents in Whitburn, a medieval fishing village on the coast of North East England.  

Throughout 2021-2023, Whitburn residents have been gathering the sounds and stories of Whitburn through time. They have explored ideas of sound, making various kinds of sound maps, researching local history and the community’s sound-based memories of the village. They also took part in local archaeological digs and graveyard surveys and found artefacts such as coins, shells, and pottery from many centuries ago which may have their own stories to tell about times past. 

Blue Futures is a collaboration between South Tyneside Council, CoLab Sunderland, University of Sunderland, and SeaScapes, a Tyne to Tees project aimed at better-connecting communities with the ocean.  

Blue Futures is part of SeaScapes Colab, a research-led creative engagement programme for SeaScapes.  

Event Details

Date: 20th July 2023

Cost: FREE


The exhibition will run from Thursday 20 July – Friday 1 December 2023

Venue: The Word National Centre for the Written Word, South Shields, Market Pl, South Shields NE33 1JF 

Days of week Open hours
09:00 – 18:30
09:00 – 18:30
09:00 – 18:30
09:00 – 18:30
09:00 – 16:30
10:00 – 15:30
10:00 – 15:30

Time: Daily until Friday 1 December 2023