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The Magnificent Culture Beast: A Visit To Orbis Project Space

Updated: Nov 12, 2020


Achieving inclusivity and a positive shift in the art world, a change that happened over the years with the idea of what the essence of a gallery is, has brought euphoria and potential. Although the impressive, grand institutions are supremely required and respected, all that’s needed now is a small space and big imagination. We have witnessed the likes of old-disused shops, office buildings, and outdoor spaces allow keen artists to share their creations with a wider audience. I’m all for it.


To some, Commercial Union House may be classed as a grey eyesore and concrete beast, causing a stir when it opened in 1971 for lacking empathy and with the style of buildings surrounding him. To some, he is an integral part of Newcastle upon Tyne’s rich heritage and indeed, a thing of beauty. Even if that is one step too far, what it represents now is nothing short of excellence. Where the building sat empty and lost, the visceral potential was spotted to create a vibrant arts community space.


Running the show is Orbis, a not for profit organisation, who manage the eight floors, offering not just room, but support and development. They tend to a range of practices from fashion design, to writing, to art, and sustaining communities is at the heart of their goal. At the moment, they are utilising the space by operating Orbis Project Space in the reception area, giving another example of what a gallery can look like and their objectives. Artists are exhibiting their work for two weeks in these testing times, with passers-by able to peek in and learn about the creators and the building’s aims.

Political print master Johnnyx was up first using techniques of détournement and bricolage to create multi-layered pieces reminiscent of Warhol that express themes such as Brexit and environmental concerns. Presently, when you visit, you will see Sian Jordan’s watercolours, ink, and mixed media work adorning the walls with her scrumptious, sensual masked figures, often with sleek black rabbit ears awarding the ladies behind the mask superpowers yet retaining femininity. The next showing is from Felix Culpa, followed by Rock & Rose.

With over 350 creative practitioners plus thousands of visitors benefitting from the House, it is something that the good people of Newcastle can easily support by going along and enjoying the noteworthy structure. You’ll soon pick-up the promising electricity in the air. As a city, we are lucky to have such an accessible area, with members and attendees who champion each other, and I, for one, shout from the rooftops about it; it encompasses what our home means: liberty and rejuvenation.


Article by Beverley Knight

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