In collaboration with Newcastle's new Farrell Centre, Newcastle Contemporary Arts have an illuminating exhibition highlighting the work of Matrix, a feminist design co-operative which worked on radical projects which prioritised groups marginalised by society. The exhibition has been expanded from that shown at the Barbican during 2021; it includes research and projects from academics and activists working within Newcastle and the North East.
The exhibition is housed across two lofty galleries; the first displays drawings, models, posters, plans and also two films highlighting the impressive influence of Matrix, and showcases their projects especially on Gay and Lesbian housing co-operatives, women's organisations and community groups. One film focuses on interviews with architects who worked in the practice, with their thoughts on being in the group and the work they created together, which brought a reflective dimension to accompany the rest of the archive material.
In the second gallery, work from around Newcastle and the North East on themes lifted from Matrix's work which continue to be explored today. Katie Lloyd Thomas, a Lecturer in Architecture at Newcastle University commented how these featured projects "[seek] also to make the built environment a more inclusive and just space for all and demonstrate that Matrix’s legacy lives on.” This intention clearly comes through in the thoughtful and provocative construction of the exhibition space and presentation of the projects: it invites you to participate in this desire for change of the built environment.
Projects include Sally Watson and Alison Stenning's work on Children and Play on the Streets. A chalk hopscotch frame newspaper clippings about proposed (and enacted) play streets around the North East, with chalks laying at the base of their exhibit. There's also zine pamplets about Sheildfield's Dwellbeing project in a cosy corner of the gallery, and down the middle of the room sit Newcastle University academics Armelle Tardiveau and Daniel Mallo's benches constructed for a project working with the community in Fenham to create a Pocket Park contribute to an approachable sense of invitation.
The exhibition is well worth a visit and you can easily spend an hour or two listening, watching, reading and even playing in the two gallery rooms. How the built environment should be designed for the benefit of all will always be a question for everyone who engages with the city, and it's great to see an exhibition continuing to pose these important questions, and even start to offer paths forwards.
How We Live Now: Making Spaces in the North East with Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative is running at 39 High Bridge Street from 6 May until 23 July 2022, showing Thursday to Saturday 12-5pm.