I never tire watching peoples’ faces as people walk past the decorated glass mural that frames Café Artum. Taking centre stage for Friday evening in the cosy-café on Steelhouse Lane, three local musicians performed for The Process, Stage 3.
“If it’s been done before, should we even attempt again?”: a snapshot of a conversation I had with Tom Glover this week. Tom joined the Project Birmingham community last year as we were gearing up for our biggest event so far, helping to launch the gallery space at the incredibly popular Medicine Bakery + Gallery.
With a passion for writing and a shared desire to create a more accessible art community, Tom has contributed a number of works to our blog. Most recently, he interviewed the up-and-coming Farwa Melodina following her recent exhibitions with Medicine x Ikon Gallery “Forward” and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG’s) “Women, Power, Protest”.
Catching up with Tom this week to discuss the piece and where he wants to head next, he raised his frustrations with the apparent lack of simple, effective art publications in the city. Making the comparison to some of the art scene in other cities, there seemed to be a void for regular communication that provided a concise, enticing and accessible summary of Birmingham’s current exhibitions. It’s not that it isn’t being done, nor hasn’t been done before. It is simply, in the view we concluded this week, not being done as effectively as it could be. And heck, it’s not always about being first - it’s about being the best. Ask AltaVista (Google it if you have to and you’ll prove my point).
One of the examples we discussed was the Metro’s advertisement for Rachel Maclean’s sensory-overload of an exhibition “Too Cute”. Described (in short) as the perfect thing to do on a rainy day in Birmingham. Whilst avoiding the rain/sleet/snow is certainly a perk for any indoor activity at this time of year, it is not the real reason this exhibition is a must see. Once you have walked through the traditional gallery, in the BMAG, your world is turned upside down with the brash, nausea-inducing pink hue. Reflecting the sickly-sweet babyfied filtering of real issues, with complex emotions reduced to 2D emojis, Maclean brandishes every form of medium to reveal the truths she sees in today’s society.
Revealing truths is the fundamental value of art. Concepts about the human condition; about suffering, about emotion and experience, are replicated a millions times over in a thousand different forms. It ensures that these truths are not forgotten. As a consequence, these ideas are not original, but no less important. Recently, and quite significantly, the “Women, Power, Protest” exhibition demonstrated that experiences of repression, and objectification, as well as emancipation, courage and solidarity of feminism today. Each piece as powerful as the last. And in congruence they shout a louder message.
Dropping Tom back off at his home, we concluded that whilst there much to consider before a starting point could be found, we were confident that this idea would succeed. Therefore, I wanted to write this post for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, a question to you: how would you like to be informed of everything going on in the Birmingham art scene? Consider what medium and how often? Answers on a post card (or email) please.
Secondly, I think Tom’s vision for such a publication is worthy cause. If you have any advice, or you would like to help produce the content with him, please get in touch and we will connect you. We will be at our next event on the 12th April at Café Artum. Come say hello and bring your ideas and enthusiasm for the greatest city in the UK.
Thanks for reading, if you made it this far.
Taking the politically charged imagery of the hijab, Farwa has centred a number of her works on, in her opinion, the misconception that shrouds this article of clothing. ‘Forward’ and ‘Women, Power, Protest’ both show variations on her piece ‘Not Your Fantasy’, where a girl in a hijab is shrouded in vibrant, exotic fabric and surrounded by a white expanse, sometimes peering from behind, sometimes staring into the middle distance. Look closer, and the fabric reveals the words ‘Not Your Fantasy’ stitched throughout the piece, damning you for daring to take this near inspection.
Project Birmingham is seeking to reinvigorate the city’s cultural consciousness.
As you step from the bustle of New Street and climb the wooden stairs through to the Medicine Bakery, continue on to the gallery space inside and enjoy a spectacular exhibition free of charge; a feat made possible by Project Birmingham.
Eight pieces from emerging local artists pack the gallery space, breathing new life into the former Royal Society of Birmingham Artists. The combination of mediums and styles on display serve to reflect the vibrant and varied nature of life within the second city; as photography shares space with poetry, illustration faces film, and painted doors fill the area in between.
In addition, you are invited to contribute your own interpretation of the city. There is the opportunity to share your favourite spots, eateries, retailers and music that represent Birmingham to the all-encompassing you. As a result, a ‘sense of place’ is created by the local public, as well as the artists. There is also the chance to support local artists and businesses; the gift shop is full of products created by local artists, such as t-shirts and postcards, alongside locally brewed beer.
The exhibition is immediate. Your eyes are drawn to the 160-year-old industrial cell door that once resided in Winson Green Prison, placed at the centre of the room and surrounded by quotes from a former guard, hanging from a canopy of wire. As you venture through the room, navigating past the individually painted wooden doors, it becomes evident that the cohesion of the exhibition mirrors the cohesion of the city itself. Past and present are thrust together; decades-old photography is displayed next to contemporary images and illustrations of the city, the cell door from the 19th Century is enhanced by the presence of the wooden doors, each painted with separate interpretations of what modern day Birmingham is like to live in. The history of the city is utilised to celebrate life within Birmingham.
Birmingham’s rich artistic and cultural heritage is also commemorated. An investigation into the prominent Birmingham Surrealist Group lines the wall alongside a film exploring the historical and contemporary understandings of the hijab. You are encouraged to take your time with these works, as each provides an interesting and unique viewpoint on the history of the city. Both pieces represent the varied communities and experiences that influence the creativity that is on display within the walls of the gallery.
Regardless of how diverse the art is, each piece presents an understanding of the city that serves to unify the exhibition and showcase the promising talents that Birmingham has to offer.
- Tom Glover
Photography by Izabel Sladecekova & Laura Chen
In the 1960’s, Hope Drew’s grandfather walked around Birmingham and photographed some of the most iconic aspects of the second city’s skyline. Years later, his granddaughter decided to follow in his footsteps – literally. The startling contrasts between the images captured have been printed for the public to see, thanks to Project Birmingham’s organised artistic event in the Medicine Gallery.
With the apparent link between powers of persuasion and our thirst for nostalgia, is it any surprise that illustrative art forms are becoming increasingly popular? The clarity and, to a degree, simplicity through which it incept an idea has a certain charm. Happiness can be instilled in an audience with the smallest of pen strokes and a helpful dose of bright tones. More precisely, it is the power of the message that it communicates so boldly that carries such strength in this medium.
A short compilation of one the best events we've had.
Thank you to all involved - we did the city proud.
We saw it all. The misplaced notes,
The peep show quotes, the jokes,
The croaked highs, applause and sighs,
As we listened to something new.
Something that harked backed to 80's greats,
Retro royalty with millennial momentum,
In your ear industrialisation,
The hammer that forges future sounds,
Rumbling and tumbling from Birmingham ground,
From strummed marshals and bass that beats and pounds,
Ripples through the cut, the black veins,
Blaring from cars or rattling window panes.
Syncopated flow of funk
The be-wild-er-ing lyrics
Three lads from suburban-city pads and mad dreas
Humility encased by the second-stitched seams,
Box shirts and rolled up jeans,
Functioning adults still living out their teens.
And yet their analog approach, for how they played and the way they wrote
With digital genius captured something bespoke, and so familiar,
Like you might have heard something similar in another life or time,
Where a memory or or place to be is composed into the score.
Harmonious, solo, sharp or flat,
You speak to yourself and you talk right back
Another brick for the palace of futures, (Or mausoleum of memory)
Scrap books or NME, Eagle and Ton then Glastonbury.
- Michael Delaney
The hum of the train tracks
The whistle in the air
Gentle wheels roll and hiss
Sounds of inner city bliss
The hum of ever flowing traffic
The rush of lights and lines
Bodies and engines roll and rattle
Willing soldiers in daily battle
The hum and hustle of the city
The people zigzag maze
Rich pulsating city beats
On the second city streets
The hum of trades a thousand
The bustle of Bullring markets
Rising birds sing lazily
Days pass by so hazily
The hum and hiss of twirling locks
That water pressure gush
Industry and innovation
In the centre of the nation
The hum and zip of business
Rising towers of silver blue
Linger and glimmer midair
Shining ruthless laissez faire
The hum and echo of factory streets
Initials and names on doors
Windows shine as do the jewels
Through the years of craft and tools
The hum of learning on rooftops
The view from new Lego Library
Stand and stare for hours
Skyline of pylons and towers
The hum of the city of Birmingham
Rising again to crescendo
The city’s alive, come inside
Brimming with pleasure and pride
- James Cronin
These broad shoulders carry the inflated chested, nocturnal self invested.
Gentry and femininity, chasing liquid anonymity,
Just another night at the races, so many faces, shinny shoes and smart laces,
Friendly banter, it's not racist
Don't worry I'll get this round, let's get ready to rumble, 11 more before your down,
Put that shit week behind you and wash away that frown,
And excuse me mate we'll have a few more shots, G
Get them down and move on there's lots of hot spots
Of course fella, take a look at my licence,
Just here to break bread, no intention of violence,
You won't be hereat the end of the night
Knock together a few heads, bang down a few have a laugh with you, get mashed up pulled up feel up and hurl up,
Then cash out hang about with these louts,
Nothing wrong with a sing a shout,
A call out to Kolo and YaYa, screeching Will Griggs on Fire,
humming Sinatra, having it my way,
nothing wrong with a night out I say
Now Where did I check my coat,
Or did I leave it with the bloke,
I'll find it in a minute this tune gets me stoked,
full throttle and mind absent,
Must have been that last lot of absinthe,
But light a fag and take a drag,
Hold the urge to purge fighting sensory lag
Pushing through the sea of Calvin clones, the skimpy darlings interested in their phones
I might wonder over to Brindley place,
I fancy a slim companion dressed up in something lace, with a 20 inch waist, and half decent face as long as she's up for a cuddle back mine or her place
So let's move up a gear engage the clutch,
Cut my brakes this ones for the Dutch,
I'm sorry to bother you my dear,
I'd just like a quick whisper in your ear
- and a brush of your thigh,
I think you have such pretty eyes,
Let me take you to the bar, what can I buy?
Leave you friends at the table and kiss them goodnight
Tell me what you do for a living,
Tell about the bitch at work and all the chat she's been giving,
All saint and no sinner,
Never enough home cooked dinners
Funny you only seem to find dickheads
Too much sneaking from behind bins and hotel beds,
Quick trip to the gents,
Little splash of water and return to sense,
Drop a quid in the dish for a dose of store bought scents,
Class by the glass, confidence for rent,
Happiness by the pound, but you'll find misery for mere pence
Stare in the mirror -
focus on the moment,
Tomorrow exists for my atonement,
I'll return to the mainland and tackle the Solent,
But until the sun begins to rise, I'll just fit in with these guys and gals,
Make my acquaintances, befriend a few pals
Staggering from door to door,
Chip shops and concrete floor,
More rot for the core,
Before a black cab curtain call
But that's an evenings entertainment,
No offence intended and no harm meant,
Tomorrow's a distant reality,
And the allegations of tonight typical fallacy
Renting joy, the cheap booze and the easy lay,
Push through the 9-5, I'll see you again Friday.
- Michael Delaney
Blocks of grey and black and grey
Sit beneath grey skies
Towers of white amidst the green
The world through a Brummie’s eyes.
Disused, misused space to let
Glimmering towers cast shade
Of which our city is made.
Roaming streets and crossing squares
From Digbeth to St Paul’s
The city throngs and thrives
In its energetic sprawls.
And new life breathed in recent months
Into hearts and minds of some
Birmingham the Midlands hub
If you build it, they will come.
And build again the city will
It will rise not disappear
A culture with a legacy
The place to be is here.
- James Cronin
Second city sunshine
On the coast of Spain
Life is rich and calm and warm
Not an inch of rain
Flags of red and yellow
Fly in every square
Life is proud and bright and hot
Passionate with care
Proud of where they’ve come from
Life is then and here and now
From the rest of Spain
Life is hope and strength and wit
Barca will sustain
Steady as the tide
Life is want and will and wish
Strength of civic pride
Second city grayscale
Far from any coast
Life is dour and dark and real
When it rains the most
Occasionally St. George
Drapes from windows high
Life is tall and hard and cool
Image to defy
Proud of where we’ve come from
Living in our past
Life is dirt and brick and rust
Never going to last
Uprising of some
Life is us and now and here
Signs of change to come
Brummies brim with passion
Shout it far and loud
Life is this and one and all
Stand up and be proud
- James Cronin
There and back again
On the same click clacking train
Dissecting humble territories
A page of national allegories
The mark of every civilisation
A country's heart of industrialisation
Conventions and inventions
Mighty roads and disparate stations
Sheltering people in desperate situations
Passed by suits of higher expectations
Financial, law, governance and retail
Landlords holding out for future resale
The second city is up and coming
Just waiting for HS2 to be up and running
A couple more gentrified bars and flats
And the London piper will be bringing the rats
And under the new crumpled canopy
Commercial commuting and cctv
the train hoppers and the drop shoppers
The nine to fivers and the pill poppers
Existing together impossibly
A social standard of hypocrisy
Long lasting, contrasting
through the IRA bomb blasting
This old shoddy modern city
Is begging to be forged by more than privacy
Stretching for open waters and cultural piracy
I will take what is mine from the good and the bad I see
And I will write it on pages
Edited suitably for the digital ages
Like the lunar men before me, Old Bill and the Blinders
My words are more than nostalgic reminders
The even streets between south and north
the uneven tow paths through Great Britain's source
Lifeful art painted in colourful greys
Loss and gain all nights and all days.
Hey, Birmingham's the answer
They're ready to dance with the amps up
And when they get that space it's the Limelight
You can see that its gonna be a good night
And that they pump the music its beating
The place you want to be meeting
I guess that food gettin' eaten
Celebrating an amalgamation of Birmingham's often overlooked talent of chefs, musicians and artists, founders of Project Birmingham Rob Ashby and James Cronin put the city's culture in the limelight.
With no idea what to expect, we piled into the car armed, as all good journeys should be, with an 8 pack of Corona. Some brief traffic and a toll road later, we arrived in the surprisingly sunny city of Birmingham. It often feels like the city gets a bad rep, with people wincing at the name, screwing up their faces at its mention: 'Why are you going to Birmingham? It's grim.'
This stigma is the stimulus behind Rob & James' venture; they want to bring together a collection of the second city's finest cultural creativity to prove that Birmingham is more than just curries and a questionable claim to hold more canals than Venice. (Technically true, proportionately inaccurate).
For us, this negative attachment was quickly relieved as we relaxed with drinks in James' flat with the sun shining through from the balcony. Weather can easily change the mood, and this summer day led pleasantly into an inspiring night. 112 space was a short walk from the centre, where we stopped to get supplies for this BYOB event. The venue itself was well located: private but not isolated, secluded but not cramped.
A painted wooden door led us to the courtyard/smoking area which would later provide grounds for drunken yoga workouts and slurred conversation. Up the warehouse steps took us to a long rectangular room bordered with a buffet table, original artwork, sofas and a DJ area. Naturally heading straight for the food, we were presented with a mix of Catalonian style dishes that had been put together by friends of the organisers. Served on a pay-as-you-feel price rate, it was lovely to snack on tomato tostadas and chickpea salad as we settled in to the evening.
It was clear that a lot of thought and effort had been put into the night, as food was carefully chosen to fit the theme of doing something different: cured meats, feta sandwiches with caramelised onions and DIY chicken skewers, which were roasted peppers and onions with a toothpick to hold everything together. For those who are always found in the kitchen at parties, this table cut out the middle man and meant no FOMO as you could snack along without missing any of the action.
Light music and a click-frame projector provided the background for initial mingling and introduction to the venue, with the sofas helping to give a relaxed feel to the night. The capacity was max 65 which meant that there was space to dance and air to talk which was a refreshing change from the average sweaty club or gig night. Even so, the place was comfortably filled with a well chosen guestlist which made the night feel that extra bit special and unique. The guys had clearly worked hard to make the night exclusive yet welcoming, and they succeeded.
Music began around 10pm, by which point the liquid supplies we'd brought were taking positive effect and induced some floaty dance moves and encouraging cheers towards the different acts. An emotional cover version of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' brought everyone together swaying and singing along harmoniously. I personally may have found this slightly exaggerated but this was clearly an issue of cynical nature as the entire crowd happily belted out the lyrics free from any sceptical inhibitions.
The 2nd act was an upbeat indie guitar and soloist John Hemsoll, whose happy tunes were not dissimilar to those of Jake Bugg - so a friend commented. Merry and inoffensive, we shuffled away and gave due applause and whistles after each song. The temperature was warm and the room was full of excitement so the outdoor smoking space was a cool breather between sets.
Later into the evening, the lights dimmed and the gallery became a dancefloor for us to boogie away to the rare groove sounds of Futurepast Zine before calling it a night just after 1am. Limelight brought an eclectic mix of individual talent nurtured by group skill to an interested crowd of party-goers and fun-lovers. Event two: a success. Looking forward to the next round.
Limelight 2 // Project Birmingham
112 Space, 111-119 Bishop Street, Birmingham