Ruth Mitchell

Member Article

Bdaily visits… The NewBridge Project and Response

On Friday night I attended two exhibitions held by The NewBridge Project in Newcastle City Centre.

When the project began in 2010, it set out to provide affordable studio and exhibition space for local artists, as well as filling the increasingly numerous empty business premises available in the city.

Each Artist can rent their own space for just £15 a week as the result of a legislative loop-hole that requires landlords to pay only 20% of usual business rates if they are letting to a charity, providing the property has been empty for three months or more.

The NewBridge project was the first venture of the PopUp Initiative, formed in 2010 by Newcastle University graduates, Will Marshall and Will Strong, and soon after won Best Arts and Business Partnership Award at the Culture Awards 2010.

The project provides up and coming artists with affordable workshops and exhibition opportunities and allows strong creative networks to be built between local, national and international artists.

The ground floor public gallery, Space, provides a permanent platform from which artists are able to curate, exhibit and explore new ways of working.

My first exhibition of the night was Response: A Rural/Urban conversation. The old New Look retail outlet turned art gallery is located near the entrance of Eldon Square, and enticed a good number of devoted art lovers and intrigued late night shoppers.

The space itself, once full of rushed shoppers and fast fashion was transformed into a beautifully light, open and inviting arena which almost felt like it was breathing for the first time.

The subject of the exhibition was more than fitting and the work explored the temporal nature of space by a collective of rural and city based artists.

The work was well presented and engaging, with a mixture of video installation, photography and sculpture bringing together the work of Visual Arts in Rural Communities (VARC) artist in residence Jenny Purret and five artists from the New Bridge Project collaboratively.

The Eldon Square exhibition was the second part of a two part exhibition in which these artists were immersed in the rural setting of Highgreen in the heart of Northumberland National Park, spending three days exploring the relationship between contrasting urban and rural environments. The work was presented firstly at Highgreen before then being dismantled and remade for presentation in Newcastle.

As the name suggests, Response presents work which forces us to question not only the ways in which we engage with our environment but it also consider the idea of how we subconsciously assume the permanence of what we are used to. This very idea made me think of the businesses and brands that surround our everyday lives and how much, whether knowingly or not, we rely on their permanence.

When things start to change we become restless and lack trust in the things we have always assumed would just be there. It seems like quite a romantic notion to think that the creative amongst us should rescue these empty and neglected spaces and fill them with ideas and purpose, as if disguising the holes of an ugly recession.

The second exhibition of the night Construction_ Under was based at the NewBridge headquarters and was an entirely different affair; dark, noisy and interactive. Things just seemed to happen around you as the artists went about their work in half-oblivious recognition of the increasing crowds, all of which added to the construction of a mysterious and dramatic performance that seemed to have no clear transition between acts. The exhibition, curated by NewBridge studio holder Arnaud Moinet was a real treat for the senses, using a broad range of media to continually rearrange the studio space. I felt like I was part of a story with no beginning or end, but it was fascinating.

The Art Scene in Newcastle is a growing one, passionately marching to the beat of its own drum in a very cool and underground way - part of me wants to keep it a secret for myself but then that would be too selfish. In my opinion filling empty shops with the art work of passionate individuals brings life to the high street, is a great way to use them.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Ruth Mitchell .

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