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Matthew Flintham exhibition at Newcastle University plots military use of land and space

Newcastle University artist Matthew Flintham investigates out of bounds landscapes as part of a new North East exhibition

Artist Matthew Flintham
Artist Matthew Flintham

Invisible no-go areas which exist across the landscape will be highlighted in a new North East exhibition.

The restricted airspace surrounding military locations has inspired Matthew Flintham, who has been Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence in the School of Geography Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University.

He has plotted the “vast” amount of restricted airspace to create his Martial Heavens exhibition.

There are over 70 airspaces across Britain, all unique in shape, size and altitude, which are used for military activities ranging from air tactical training, transport and surveillance aircraft, artillery firing, small arms training, and weapons testing. Until now, these vast areas have largely been invisible except on charts .

Over the past year, Matthew has worked with academics to identify and catalogue these spaces using a combination of maps, geographic information system (GIS) software and air traffic service information.

A representation of the restricted airspace above Foulness Island military area
A representation of the restricted airspace above Foulness Island military area
 

He has created sculptural works which reflect the shape of the airspaces, including that over the Otterburn Training Area in Northumberland.

They will be part of the exhibition, which opens at the Ex-Libris Gallery, next to the Hatton Gallery at Newcastle University on Friday and runs until January 30.

Matthew said: “I have always been interested in landscape, and in this invisible aspect of the landscape.”

The landscape has been divided up since prehistoric times, with opencast operations around Blagdon and Pegswood in Northumberland allowing archaeologists to find evidence of how Iron Age people parcelled up the land.

From the 17th Century onwards the Enclosure Acts also removed huge areas of common land.

One of Matthew Flintham's artworks in his Martial Heavens exhibition
One of Matthew Flintham's artworks in his Martial Heavens exhibition
 

Two world wars and the Cold War has led to the militarisation of areas of landscape and airspace.

“People are not aware of this invisible stuff which is going on,” said Matthew.

“Rather than looking at visible aspects of military activity such as vehicles, soldiers, architecture and weapons systems.

“I wanted to reveal the hidden, virtual geometries of military airspaces that are all around us.

“The parameters of military activity are precise. Geographical coordinates define and delimit an area of land which is then given a maximum altitude to contain hazardous activities and keep out civilians.

“I was intrigued by the hidden, three dimensional shapes of military danger these parameters create against the backdrop of picturesque landscapes, and began to think about them as huge sculptural forms.”

A representation of the restricted airspace above the Brecklands military area
A representation of the restricted airspace above the Brecklands military area
 

Matthew visited a number of Danger Areas and military sites around the UK, photographing the landscapes and imagining how we might visualise the invisible geometries of defence and aviation.

He also captured digital footage of cloudscapes while on commercial flights across the UK and the English Channel.

Over these he has transposed the plan of every single military airspace and Danger Area in the UK, consecutively revealing each one in a linear sequence throughout a seven minute film.

Dr Alison Williams, senior lecturer in political geography at Newcastle University, and academic lead on the project, said: “It has been an exciting and stimulating experience to discuss academic research with an artist and to see those ideas being transformed into artworks for public display.

“Seeing the invisible hidden military airspaces I have spent three years researching being made more visible to the public and having the opportunity to take my research beyond just academic audiences has been hugely rewarding.”

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