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A real monster attraction brings AV Festival to a close; A famous building has been taken over by monsters, as DAVID WHETSTONE explains.

Byline: DAVID WHETSTONE

TODAY is the last official day of the AV Festival of contemporary art, music and film and it offers one final chance to venture into one of Tyneside's historic buildings.

The Stephenson Works is where the famous steam engine Rocket was built by Robert Stephenson & Co. The walls resonate with history. But during the festival, the preserved boiler and plate shop has had a very different vibe courtesy of Benedict Drew, a London-based Australian artist.

His installation The Persuaders offers a walk-through experience with some spooky encounters and an unsettling video projection.

Drew was commissioned by Sam Watson and Adam Phillips who set up Circa Projects in 2009 to mount new exhibitions and installations in interesting North East locations.

You may have seen their film presentations in the Stephenson Works in 2010. One, Maze by Stuart Pearson Wright, had Keira Knightley crashing about in Elizabethan dress.

This time you can't just stand and watch. Entering through a door at the bottom of South Street, you climb a short flight of steps to be greeted by three rectangular images, the biggest projected on to the back wall and the others on monitors either side. The biggest image shows a blobby creature - an enlarged piece of popcorn, perhaps, or a bundle of cotton wool - with two hard little circular black eyes.

Each of the monitors shows a slowly rotating monster of reptilian sliminess. One of them will eventually flash words of welcome, such as "Hello".

You exit through a rear door and climb a wooden staircase, there to be greeted by another monitor with an even more disturbing head - half Michelin Man, half Elephant Man - emitting Dr Who-like squeals.

At the top of the stairs the artist's talent for creating arresting effects with basic materials is demonstrated by clever use of a suspended CD.

That little round eyes motif is repeated. You then enter another room reminiscent - to me - of all those stories of being abducted by aliens.

On the floor, back to back, are a posse of projectors, little machines with a kind of R2D2 cuteness. On to the walls around, courtesy of protractors and some cut-out shapes, they project smiley faces which don't make you feel at ease.

Through a passage with two more monitors and a wall projection bearing swirling images of 60s psychedelia, you find yourself in front of another big screen.

It rotates hypnotically - like Kaa the python's eyes in the film of The Jungle Book - and implores you to "breathe in" and "breathe out".

While you find yourself starting to obey, you may be disconcerted to find you're not alone. On four plinths are more of those little monsters but 3D this time. As the film striving to control your breathing speeds up, it becomes more frenetic, hurling out urgent, almost subliminal messages about the downside of city life.

Emerging once more into the light, you will see you've been in a specially-constructed building.

Circa Projects, who are not-forprofit, have commissioned a pair of souvenirs which you can buy if you fancy a permanent reminder of Benedict Drew's way with technology and stationery.

In a limited edition of 50, there's a portrait of that bug-eyed popcorn monster courtesy of the artist and Newcastle printer Jack Lowe.

The Persuaders is on this afternoon from noon to 5pm.

For those planning a last-minute dash around the AV Festival attractions, whose theme is slowness, check www.avfestival.co.uk

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CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Aspects of Benedict Drew's art installation The Persuaders
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 31, 2012
Words:585
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