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Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 21:05 GMT 22:05 UK
From Flour Mill to Art Factory
Baltic
Baltic will open to the public at 0001 BST on Saturday

For the last decade, the slowly-evolving tide of cultural change has been turning on Tyneside.

The opening of the Millennium Bridge in 2001 made the rest of the UK sit up and take notice, but it is the latest art venture that has thrust Tyneside into the global spotlight.

The 46m transformation of the disused Baltic Flour Mill into contemporary art venue has provided Gateshead with one of the largest art spaces in Europe.

Hailed as an 'Art Factory' by its visionary director, Baltic provides an imposing and ambitious sight on the south bank of the River Tyne.

The idea is very much based on our aim to make a meeting place for the artists and the public

Sune Nordgren, Baltic director

It has drawn predictable comparisons with the Tate Modern which is housed in a disused power station on the banks of the Thames.

But, director Sune Nordgren explained, the centre is more than just a space to show art.

He has described the concept of Baltic as a "factory" rather than a gallery because it has studios as well as exhibition spaces, and has no permanent collection.

Harking back to the building's original use, Mr Nordgren envisages Baltic as a "manufacturing plant where new ideas will be made".

"Baltic is not only a place of five art spaces... this building has lots and lots of potential when it comes to creating the arts as well," he said.

"We have lots of facilities and opportunities for artists, it is an art factory.

"The idea is very much based on our aim to make a meeting place for the artists and the public."

The imposing red brick building has developed an iconic presence on the riverside since its conception fifty years ago as the Rank Hovis grain warehouse.

Jaume Plensa's gongs installation
Jaume Plensa's gongs require visitor participation

The 42m high silo is all that remains of the sprawling mill since its doors closed for the last time in 1982.

It was ten years later when Gateshead Council first looked at the possibility of converting the structure into a modern art gallery.

Architect Dominic Wilson triumphed in an international competition with his innovative design to transform the warehouse.

He told BBC News Online he was "thrilled" to see the artworks finally in place.

The red brick facade of the massive structure was always intended as a "container" in which to hold the art installations, he explained.

"That is what all this work has been aiming towards," he said.

He was awarded the contract in 1994 and said he had always been mindful of the landmark status the Baltic held on Tyneside.

West elevation of Baltic
The original west and east walls were replaced

"The question that was always asked when we were trying to get funding was 'why retain the facade'," said Mr Williams.

"But local people said the Baltic had such a sense of belonging and such fantastic presence on the river that we had to work with it."

The glass-fronted west and east elevations allow light to flood into the structure and offer stunning views of the River Tyne and beyond.

Mr William said he chose to use oxidising Corten steel - the same used for Anthony Gormley's Angel of the North sculpture - with glass and aluminium panels to complement the industrial facade.

"I wanted to play a game between the old and the new and at the same time strike a balance between the two.

"The Baltic was, and is, an idiosyncratic building and I wanted to work with that."

Turner Prize

Each of the five vast art galleries, spread over five floors, provide a separate space for each installation.

The opening exhibition B.OPEN includes a range of contemporary artists and aims to show the potential of the building and maximise its creative resources.

Artists Chris Burden, Jane and Louise Wilson, Carsten Holler, Chad McCail, Jaume Plensa and performance video artist Eva Grubinger have all contributed to B.OPEN, which opens to the public on Saturday.

Louise Wilson, one of the Turner Prize nominated Wilson Twins, told BBC News Online the Baltic was a welcome addition to their native north-east.

Their 35mm film 'Dreamtime' showing a Soviet rocket launch in Khazakstan set to the strains of Tarkovsky, provides an hypnotic experience at Baltic.

"I think the building has come together really well, it is fantastic," she said.

"Now it is time for people to think about the art."


Click here to go to Tyne
See also:

11 Jul 02 | Entertainment
11 Jul 02 | England
17 May 02 | UK
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