A grey hut is proving a puzzle to visitors at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art – but for Alnwick artist Peter Hanmer it is ‘a dream come true’.
The mysterious structure is a central attraction in the latest exhibition at Gateshead’s big international art gallery.
It is called Digital Citizen: The Precarious Subject and it focuses on fake news and the perplexing nature of much internet content.
Assembled by curator Alessandro Vincentelli, who lives in Hexham, the exhibition includes the work of nine artists and one art collective.
Many of them have exhibited widely overseas.
For Peter, exhibiting at one of the biggest contemporary art galleries in the world is another notable step.
It comes after the 26-year-old was voted Gillian Dickinson North East Young Sculptor of the Year at the Cheeseburn Sculpture Garden, near Stamfordham.
Peter was studying for an MA in fine art at Newcastle University when he submitted his Cheeseburn proposal and he duly won the £6,500 top prize, enabling him to make it a reality.
His Plato’s Lair was a popular and dramatic installation all last summer at Cheeseburn.
It was inspired by a story in the Greek philosopher’s famous Republic, published in about 350BC, which explored the notion of justice and the ideal state.
It tells of prisoners in a cave whose idea of reality is flickering shadows from a fire that they see reflected on a wall.
When one prisoner escapes from the cave, he is blinded by natural light and retreats inside.
Peter laid out his 3D representation of this dystopian scenario in the cobwebby old potting shed at Cheeseburn and replaced the fire with a rudimentary cinema screen.
It featured a cast of strange beaked figures, all adapted from models bought at car boot sales or on eBay.
Sharp-eyed visitors will have noticed some Doctor Who figurines among them.
“One of the people I invited to see the piece was Alessandro and he came along,” recalled Peter at Baltic.
“After that, we corresponded and he told me about this show and thought the idea of Plato’s Lair would fit in well.”
Unusual in that the exhibit involves no digital technology – just a projector made from an old lawnmower – it does suggest people have been susceptible to plausible lies for much longer than the internet has been around.
Peter said he had thought hard about how Plato’s Lair should be recreated in the pristine confines of Baltic and hit on the idea of the hut.
“Visitors have to look in through the windows to see the scene in a contained environment.
“I don’t have as much space as at Cheeseburn so the scene I have focused on is the lawnmower cinema, with the characters watching flickering images on a screen.
“It took a lot of planning. I wanted the hut to have brick cladding to make it look like the potting shed on the inside.”
Peer through one of the openings – one at child’s height – and you will see a dictator presiding over the beaked captives who are mesmerised by the screen.
Helping Peter to set up before the exhibition opening was his mother, Alison, who said he had wanted to be an artist since attending Duchess’s Community High School in Alnwick.
“He was inspired by some of the teachers in the art department and also the English department. He knew what he wanted and just worked and worked at it.”
Peter studied for a first degree in fine art in Farnham, Surrey, before going to Newcastle University to do his MA. “The tutors there have been hugely supportive,” he said.
And next? “I’ve been maximizing the success of Cheeseburn and am delighted to be exhibiting here,” said Peter.
“I’m applying for lots of things and trying to be as busy as I can as an artist.”
l Digital Citizen – The Precarious Subject, including Peter’s work retitled Plato’s Lair (Redux), is on at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art until June 16. The gallery is open every day from 10am to 6pm. Admission is free. For more, www.baltic.art