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Life in a Northern Town – Rene McBrearty // Jill McKnight

18 August 2018 - 9 September 2018

Rene McBrearty // How to Remove a Single Strand Knot
Jill McKnight //  The Many-Limbed Machine of my Ancestral Makers

Preview: Friday 17 August

For the final exhibition of Life in a Northern Town, Rene McBrearty and Jill McKnight reveal hidden histories of female work and labour through the collective experiences of their families and their own individual experience. The work explores themes of identity, memory, family, women and gesture.


How to Remove a Single Strand Knot is a new sculptural installation including the first moving image work by Rene McBrearty. A single strand knot is found in afro hair and sometimes difficult to remove. Within the exhibition removing the knot becomes a metaphor for processing daily micro-aggressions and practicing self-care.

McBrearty’s sculptures reference shirt collars and bodily forms as symbols of an all-consuming work, repeating themselves as a way to be productive. A riso printed zine which includes poetry, images and reference materials, has been made for the exhibition, this is available for visitors to take away.

The work thinks about the hidden labour carried out by women of colour while experiencing micro-aggressions which are everywhere, non-negotiable and relentless. The work explores the labour, productivity and the learning and unlearning of personal histories alongside the importance of sisterhood and community resilience in surviving. It is informed by her own experience, conversations with friends, her grandmother and the novel ‘Sula’ by Toni Morrison.

How to Remove a Single Strand Knot has been produced with the help of: Jola Olafimihan, Hannabiell Sanders, Wanjiru Mugo, Miles McBrearty, Matthew Pickering, Heather Bonnie Reid and Janina Sabaliauskaite.

Image: Janina Sabaliauskaite.


The Many-Limbed Machine of my Ancestral Makers is a new sculptural installation by Jill McKnight. The work will consider unseen experiences of Northern working class women, within a reinterpreted collective history of the North.

McKnight’s sculptures appear to exist in an imagined future without corporeal human forms. This new work uses an array of materials to reference manufacturing machinery and disembodied figurative elements that interact with artefact-like sculptures. A spoken text explores the narratives behind them, alongside McKnight’s experiences as an artist in West Yorkshire with regular visits to family in the Northeast.

McKnight’s ancestors emigrated from Ireland to Liverpool, then Sunderland, where they found employment in Northern industries, including shipyards, fish shops and a telephone factory. Born in Sunderland, McKnight now lives in Leeds, which is characterised by buildings that were once major sites of production, prior to deindustrialisation. This work addesses the hardworking, inventive and resilient spirit of these ancestral makers that contextualise the space in which McKnight now lives, works and plays.

This exhibition has been curated in partnership with Assembly House, Leeds.



Rene McBrearty was born in Birmingham and has lived and worked in Newcastle for 7 years. She studied a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Loughborough University, followed by BA Fine Art at Newcastle University and graduated in 2015. Rene investigates the untold history of her grandmother and family, alongside her own personal history. Recent exhibitions include: Studio is Sudden, CIRCA Projects and Giles Bailey; can i be me, in association with syllabus III, New Contemporaries, Baltic and The Northern Charter; X, blipblipblip, East St Arts, Leeds.

Jill McKnight was born in 1990 in Sunderland and lives and works in Leeds. She studied a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at South Tyneside College and completed a BA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London in 2013. She is a co-founder of Serf, an artist-led community and project space in Leeds and holds a studio there. She is a current participant of Syllabus III, a national, alternative peer-led learning programme, jointly delivered by Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge; Eastside Projects, Birmingham; New Contemporaries, national; S1 Artspace, Sheffield; Spike Island, Bristol; Studio Voltaire, London and Iniva, London.



This exhibition is part of Life in a Northern Town, a series of exhibitions and a programme of events featuring work by emerging and early-career artists living and working in the North of England. It has been programmed in partnership with Assembly House (Leeds), Islington Mill (Manchester), Caustic Coastal (Manchester), Bloc Projects (Sheffield) and The Royal Standard (Liverpool). 

Life in a Northern Town is part of The Great Exhibition of the North 2018.


Exhibition open: Monday – Sunday, 10am – 6pm
At The NewBridge Project : Gateshead, 232-240 High Street, Gateshead, NE8 1AQ



Mon - Sun, 10am - 6pm. Preview Friday 17 August