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


Life in a Northern Town

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

Saturday 18 August – Sunday 9 September
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, gesture and process.


How to Remove a Single Strand Knot includes Rene McBrearty’s first moving image work, which explores the multifaceted roles and identities of one woman. The single strand knot becomes a metaphor for removing micro-aggressions and practicing self-care. Like the knot, micro-aggressions are everywhere, non-negotiable and relentless, they must be; oiled, covered, braided, removed. The learning and unlearning of personal histories and the support offered through community resilience is central to the work.

The installation also features sculptures, part of which resemble blouse collars, and bodily forms, as symbols of women’s work. Drawings act as intimate spaces, where environments are tender and sometimes unfamiliar. Lines and shapes contained on the page are repeated and built upon, referencing a layered network of memories.

A publication produced for the exhibition is available for visitors to take away, it features a playful collage of research material, poetry and photographs, all essential in developing the work.

Rene McBrearty is an interdisiplinary artist, whose practice incorporates performance, sculpture, drawing and installation works. Her practice is an inquiry into softness, power, relationships and language. She draws upon: her own experience, conversations with friends/her grandmother, writers she admires, popular culture references and current affairs.


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 will use an array of materials to reference manufacturing machinery and disembodied figurative elements that will interact with personal, artefact-like sculptures. Spoken text will explore 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 will address the inventive and resilient spirit of these ancestral makers that contextualise the space in which McKnight now lives, works and plays.



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


The Newbridge Project