Saturday, 1 September 2018

Jill McKnight - The Many-Limbed Machine of my Ancestral Makers - as part of Life in a Northern Town - NewBridge Project

For the final exhibition of Life in a Northern Town, Leeds-based artist Jill McKnight has been paired with Newcastle-based artist Rene McBrearty. Both artists draw upon their individual and family history and experiences to explore themes such as identity, memory, family, women and gesture.

McKnight has created a sculptural installation in which a number of large scale mixed media sculptures are accompanied by a spoken text that visitors can listen to on telephone headsets. Through listening to the text, we are provided with a potted version of McKnight's family history. 

"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."

As we walk around the gallery listening to the spoken text and looking at the sculptures we are introduced to anecdotes that explain the significance of some of the elements featured within the sculptures. For example, the fact that McKnight's nana opened and ran a popular fish and chip shop that sold wet fish by day and takeaway fish and chips by night influenced her decision to make a sculpture using giant laser cut acrylic fish and chip shop disposable forks.

The dedication, commitment and hard-working nature of McKnight's ancestors has certainly been passed onto the artist. This is evidenced in the spoken text and is directly visible in one of the sculptures. In the spoken text she gives a detailed account of some of the time consuming menial tasks such as arranging economical transport for the work from Leeds to Newcastle and ordering materials online, that she does as part of her art-making process. I'm sure that many an artist listening to this will let out a groan in sympathy or nod their head in agreement as they hear about McKnight's exhaustion, and frustration with online shopping.

If visitors need further proof of McKnight's artistic work ethic they will find it in a sculpture made from printed CV's and job applications. Again, McKnight reveals the reality of being an artist - the need to have paid employment to be able to afford to practice as an artist.

I hope that I haven't given the impression that this is a 'doom and gloom' exhibition. The text is humorous and the sculptures are bright and playful. They clearly demonstrate that along with the hard work that goes into making the work, the artist gains pleasure and satisfaction from what she does. Long may that continue!

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