Matt Gale

New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial artist Matt Gale is interviewed by Santanu Borah – via Asian Curator

Matt Gale, Soma, Plastic, silicone, steel and living organisms

Matt Gale’s Soma explores the idea of the body as an ecosystem and critically examines the commonly held notions of both bodies and ecosystems as discrete, contained and distinct. It is a gentle tease about our tendency to oversimplify and about the fetish for neatly categorising things, often as a means to more easily comprehend them.

Soma comprises a collection of vessels, some containing living organisms, others containing elements intended to represent either an organic or environmental system. Some vessels specifically reference research into bioremediation (using living organisms to digest pollutants we have created), including mealworm beetle larvae eating polystyrene and a water fern (Azolla) used to cleanse fresh water. Other vessels contain species that challenge notions of what is ‘natural’. The installation plays with the idea of oversimplification with individual species contained and displayed as if in a zoo, but it is problematised by the tubes linking vessels together.

Matt graduated from Birmingham City University. His work Soma can be found at The Row as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial until 24 November 2019.


Our next artist spotlight feature is on Matt Gale, an artist who graduated from Birmingham City University. His work Soma can be found at The Row as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial.

Farwa Moledina, ‘Interwoven’, 2018, Ways of Belonging, Ort Gallery at Midlands Art Centre

We are excited to announce the New Art West Midlands 2019 artists, selected by International Curators Forum:

Betsy Bradley, Hira Butt, Sarah Byrne, Gemma Costin, Anna Katarzyna Domejko, Andreana Fatta, Matt Gale, Amy Guo, Ewan Johnston, Navi Kaur, Shiyi Li, Mengxia Liu, Farwa Moledina, Tayyibah Mota, Laura Onions, Ameera Sadiq, Matías Serra Delmar, Rosie Piercy, Georgia Tucker and Lily Wales.

Farwa Moledina, ‘Interwoven’, 2018, Ways of Belonging, Ort Gallery at Midlands Art Centre 

  • New Art West Midlands returns for 2019 with a new cohort of 20 artists, recent graduates from the region’s art schools and creative Higher Education courses.
  • In collaboration with Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, a new exhibition model introduces artists in arts venues and historic sites across Coventry.
  • Selected by International Curators Forum, a new programme supports creative practice development for the region’s brightest new talent.
  • New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art runs 4 October – 24 November 2019

This autumn New Art West Midlands returns with a new model, working in collaboration with Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art to introduce an exciting group of artists across the city.  From traditional arts venues to unexpected spaces and public places, the exhibition aims to reach new audiences and show the value of creativity as Coventry moves closer to its tenure as UK City of Culture in 2021.

Selected by International Curators Forum, the artists are recent graduates from the West Midlands’ art schools and creative Higher Education programmes. The region has a rich offer and heritage when it comes to art education; New Art West Midlands is a partnership with the leading institutions to celebrate the talented individuals emerging from undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral programmes.

Applications were received from over one hundred artists, representing recent graduates from Birmingham City University, Coventry University, University of Wolverhampton, University of Worcester, Staffordshire University and Hereford College of Arts.

The selection panel included a delegation from International Curators Forum, including Adelaide Bannerman, Cindy Sissokho and Jessica Taylor alongside Ryan Hughes, the founder and director of Coventry Biennial. International Curators Forum’s highly acclaimed Diaspora Pavilion featured as part of the Venice Biennale in 2017, and has informed the direction of New Art West Midlands 2019 as a professional development programme.

In addition to participation in Coventry Biennial, a smaller cohort from these 20 artists will be selected to work with an appointed curator on a yearlong professional development programme. This intensive period will support practice-based skills toward the development of new work for a further curated exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery (Culture Coventry) in autumn 2020. Speaking about the selection and quality of submissions, Jessica Taylor commented: “International Curators Forum is thrilled to be partnering with New Art West Midlands, Coventry Biennial and Herbert Art Gallery on this important opportunity to support a cohort of recently-graduated emerging artists and a curator from the West Midlands.

“We are excited that the Diaspora Pavilion model has influenced the development of this programme, which champions diversity and the professional development of emerging practitioners in the region. The connections made and exposure gained by the 20 selected artists as a result of their inclusion in this Biennial stands to be of great importance during this moment of transition in their careers, and we look forward to working closely with some of the artists as they continue on in the programme alongside a selected curator in 2020.”

Highlights include new large-scale installations, sculpture, photography, video, paintings, drawings and digital artworks, exploring themes of cultural identity, technologies and the environment among others. Sarah Byrne’s (University of Wolverhampton) work reflects on experiences growing up in England as British girl with an Asian mother. Her projections use imagery from her mother’s old photo albums of childhood trips to the Philippines to question the events and exchanges that have contributed to a separation in her two national identities.

“I am a renegade botanist” declares Gemma Costin (Hereford College of Arts). Her travelling seedpod is a repurposed caravan that used to be called home, now transformed into a space to interrogate ideas of nature and biophilia.

Amy Guo (Staffordshire University) investigates the relationship between human and digital technologies. Works consider the ways in which our social interactions with others are mediated through technology and the visibility of our digital selves.

Farwa Moledina’s (Birmingham City University) series of prints on paper and textile are concerned with re-appropriating and reclaiming Orientalist imagery of Muslim Women. In today’s postcolonial, globalised world, refugees, immigrants and persons of dual culture often find themselves caught between tradition, integration and redefinition of their complex identities.

Through film, photography and mixed media, Tayyibah Mota (Coventry University) considers the Hijab. Her work seeks to display the tradition within and opposition to this Muslim practice, whilst sharing personal experiences of some of the British Muslim women who wear them.

Rosie Piercy (University of Worcester) deals with the very current issue of tuition fees and the cost of education in Britain. Her sculpture ‘Forever in Debt’ consists of helium filled balloons highlighting the exact balance of her student loan as they slowly deflate.

Ryan Hughes, director of Coventry Biennial, commented: “We are really delighted by the work we have selected and are looking forward to bringing it to Coventry to share with audiences. The professional development focus of New Art West Midlands aligns strongly with our vision for a social and critically engaged biennial for the region. The unique and inclusive new model they have built will create deeply meaningful opportunities for these artists in the West Midlands and beyond.”

Now in its seventh year, the New Art West Midlands exhibition programme is established as an important aid in developing the careers of artists. With 200 artists involved since 2013, previous exhibitors have seen their work purchased for the national Arts Council Collection and have gone on to achieve solo exhibitions in respected galleries.

New Art West Midlands 2019

Various venues across Coventry, 4 October – 24 November 2019.



Notes for editors:

The New Art West Midlands 2019 exhibition is supported by Arts Council England, Birmingham City University, Coventry University, University of Worcester, University of Wolverhampton, Hereford College of the Arts and Staffordshire University, developed in partnership with Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, Culture Coventry and International Curators’ Forum.


Partners New Art West Midlands 2019:

About Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art:

Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art brings critically engaged, high quality contemporary visual art to the city and surrounding area. Celebrating and promoting contemporary art and artists, the festival is equally rooted in the city of Coventry, its history and its future. The first Biennial took place 6 – 22 October 2017 in venues across the city, the centre-piece being the sprawling CET Building, now under redevelopment. 2019 is the Biennial’s second iteration, with the third taking place in 2021 as part of Coventry’s UK City of Culture year.

About International Curators Forum: 

International Curators Forum develops and offers professional development opportunities for artists and curators, which include curating exhibitions and events that address diasporic culture in a global context; connecting professionals around the world through organised international networking trips and residencies. Past projects include the 2016-2017 international knowledge-sharing platform ‘Curating the International Diaspora,’ and the 2016-2018 professional development programmes ‘Diaspora Pavilion’ and ‘Beyond the Frame.’

About Culture Coventry:
Culture Coventry
is the trust that manages three of Coventry’s finest visitor attractions: Coventry Transport Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of British road transport, including the two fastest cars in the world; the award-winning Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, which celebrates the city’s culture, history and arts; and the Lunt Roman Fort, a fully excavated and partially reconstructed turf and timber fort, including the only gyrus in the Roman Empire. Between them, the attractions proudly tell stories of Coventry’s unique history to over 800,000 visitors per year from around the world.

  About New Art West Midlands:
New Art West Midlands is the contemporary visual arts network for the region. The network plays a leading role in bringing people together to support, promote and develop the region’s contemporary visual arts sector, both within the region and at a national level. They create defining opportunities for artists and arts professionals to develop their practices through a distinctive, critically-engaged programme, including the New Art West Midlands exhibition for recent graduates, and Engine, a region-wide professional development programme for artists and curators. New Art West Midlands is part of the national Contemporary Visual Arts Network. They are supported by Arts Council England and the lead partners are Birmingham City University and The New Art Gallery Walsall. Further support is provided by their partners Coventry University, Hereford College of Arts, University of Wolverhampton and University of Worcester, as well as Staffordshire University.

We are excited to announce the New Art West Midlands 2019 artists, selected by International Curators Forum:

Betsy Bradley, Hira Butt, Sarah Byrne, Gemma Costin, Anna Katarzyna Domejko, Andreana Fatta, Matt Gale, Amy Guo, Ewan Johnston, Navi Kaur, Shiyi Li, Mengxia Liu, Farwa Moledina, Tayyibah Mota, Laura Onions, Ameera Sadiq, Matías Serra Delmar, Rosie Piercy, Georgia Tucker and Lily Wales.

For ten days in July, Nottingham Trent University’s Fine Art studios and workshops host The Summer Lodge. The Lodge started as a means for busy academic staff to reclaim the experience of experimenting with their own practices without constraints or distractions during the vacation. More than a decade later, it has evolved, providing a collective space for thirty invited artists to undertake experiments, pursue new ideas and allow unexpected leaps of imagination.

There is a strong emphasis on a relaxed social/community environment with regular potluck meals (in fact, the Lodge starts with a shared meal), activities and opportunities for new dialogues and critical exchange. There is also a significant emphasis on research. The first week concludes with a symposium addressing a different topic every year, comprising presentations from a range of invited speakers from international academics to undergraduate students, followed by a panel discussion and participation from the audience. The 2018 Lodge provocation was ‘Autotelic/Toward Play‘ exploring ideas around playfulness and experimentation within artistic practices. We explored parallels between the immersion and absorption young children experience in their play, combined with reflection on our motivations when making work and on achieving a balance between working towards resolution whilst simultaneously leaving things open.

My starting point for the residency was examining the influence science has on the cosmetic dream of youthful and transformed skin – I had planned to make some simple salves (incidentally, the university workshop staff couldn’t have been more helpful and encouraging about my experiments). It’s interesting that the freedom to simply play, with no expectation that you need to make or show anything can result in considerable creative results. Making fairly effective salves is remarkably easy – I had a whole range produced after a couple of days and this actually became secondary to curiosity about the application and transformative effects.


Conversations with other participants prompted me to explore the mythology and plant lore in greater detail – the idea that our faith in the modern science behind cosmetics might be influenced by much older cultural paradigms. I researched and collected wild herbs from the local graveyard and botanical gardens and explored how I might harness their (purported) powers into my range of salves. Lodge members were also surprisingly enthusiastic about trying out some of my concoctions, although we learnt (the hard way) that some of the active ingredients like turmeric aren’t that pleasant on skin … The realisation that I needed a stand-in for real skin led to other surfaces that could be palpated and transformed resulting in some training on a sewing machine, which I had never tried before (alarming!).

Aside from being really enjoyable, the residency had a lasting impact on my practice, both in terms of my willingness to play more within my processes of making and also the range of materials I engage with. Certainly my interest in utilising ‘real’ and living materials in my sculptural and installation work started during the Lodge experience and some of the pieces I made and ideas I entertained during that ten day period continue to morph and evolve today.


Matt Gale reports on his residency at Nottingham Trent University’s Summer Lodge last year.