The fur trade is always a hot topic – with animal activists and fashion addicts constantly at each other’s throats in the media because of it. Most of us will remember Sophie-Ellis Bexter holding up a skinned fox for a PETA anti-fur campaign a few years ago, and we’ve all heard stories about activists throwing red paint over models in white fur coats.
Similar to most people, I’ve never actually taken much notice of these sorts of things. I always thought it must be an exaggerated cause by do-gooders trying to shock people into signing petitions. Until recently, the fur trade was something that I had placed alongside fox hunting and animal testing – horribly cruel, yes, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’d never actively checked a shampoo bottle to make sure it hadn’t been tested on animals.
Heading into the depths of Digbeth in the few weeks of my first year, I quickly became a vintage enthusiast – it’s cheap, it’s different, and it’s usually great quality if you know what to look for. Shopping was no longer a depressing trawl around Topshop pining after things I could definitely not afford. But still, as far as I was concerned, real fur was for the rich and the fabulous – a far cry from a student like me with barely enough money for a return-ticket to Selly Oak. The closest I’d ever got to fur was a shaggy pair of moon boots that I had worn to death in year four.
During a regular shopping trip, I headed to one of my favourite little shops in the city centre – Vintage on Ally Street (down the first side road on the left as you head down Digbeth high street). I picked up a really cool jacket – a denim splash-dye number that I fell in love with instantly. I tried it on and it fitted perfectly. Barely even inspecting the collar, I headed to the till and thrusted a grubby tenner at the lady who owns, and runs, the shop. As I handed over my money, she casually said, ‘I should let you know that it is real fur on the collar.’ I didn’t think much of it, and proceeded with the transaction. My reasoning in that moment was that the animal was already dead – and if this jacket was not worn, it had died in vain. Surely, that was a reasonable argument to buy it?
For a fair few months I felt tremendous wearing my jacket. Friends would touch the fur and ask if it was real, to which I would proudly inform them that it was. Many recoiled in disgust, but I felt glamorous and fashionable so for some time that was enough to keep it as a firm wardrobe favourite.
My opinion took a dramatic turn recently when I was doing my daily trawl of my Facebook newsfeed. A friend had shared a video entitled ‘Olivia Munn exposes Chinese Fur Trade.’ I would advise that anyone who stumbles across this video should not watch it unless you have a very strong stomach. By the end, I was in tears and felt physically nauseous after seeing terrified animals being electrocuted, choked and even skinned alive. The sheer disgust and anger that I felt after watching this absolutely revolting and shocking cruelty to such beautiful, innocent creatures stayed with me for several days. I grabbed my jacket and when it started malting, I felt like I had blood on my hands.
Since then, I have researched the fur trade – trawling through websites detailing some of the appalling realities of the fur trade. But it’s not only the fur trade that is so disgusting – leather is just as cruel, raking in £600 million annually from Great Britain alone. Countless campaigns have been set up by animal-rights activists to abolish huge fur and leather firms, but most of the time these efforts come to no avail, as the demand for these materials are still so high. What I found particularly upsetting was that much-loved, familiar pets such as cats, dogs, rabbits and even guinea-pigs are mercilessly killed to feed the hungry fur trade – with around 2 million being killed every year in China alone and being sold on to European traders. I felt sick at the thought that my fur collar could have come from a puppy.
Typing ‘fur trade in Birmingham’ into Google, I was surprised to find that there are so many fur traders in Birmingham who are feeding this terrible industry. Formally, these businesses are called ‘Furriers’, and most are not based in the city centre. One in particular that caught my eye was ‘Madeline Ann’ – a small shop in Solihull that sells fur items. This shop has been targeted by a local activist group who are campaigning to stop the shop from selling fur by sending angry letters to the owners and discouraging locals from entering the shop. I felt a pang of relief that something was being done, but at the same time a sad realisation that these efforts would probably come to nothing. Most vintage shops in Birmingham sell fur coats, and the vintage scene is most certainly thriving. Fur is fashionable, and unfortunately not enough thrifters are aware of the disgusting processes behind their ‘bargains.’
However, I have started doing my bit. I can’t deny that I still love the jacket, but it mainly lives in the depths of my wardrobe these days. When my grandmother recently offered me her old fur coat that she wore when she was ‘a girl… and a size 10’ – the first question that I asked was, ‘is the fur real?’ My fingers were firmly crossed as I observed the beautiful garment, until she assured me that it was fake. The coat is my new favourite item of outerwear. When people ask me if it’s real, I can proudly tell them that I no longer wear real fur, and that fake is most certainly the way forward.
By Meg Evans
The Greyish Quartet have been a prominent fixture in the Birmingham jazz scene for several years now. Formed in 2008 by pianist and composer David Austin Grey, the quartet has already seen success with their release of The Dark Red Room, an album of original compositions inspired by film and photography. Presented by Jazzlines, this gig was part of the series of the free events held in Symphony Hall’s Café Bar every Friday at 5pm. As the busy traffic creeps by outside the foyer’s tall windows, inside is a large dedicated crowd, choosing to end their week by listening to some quality jazz rather than facing the rush hour. The quartet performed a mixture of tunes from The Dark Red Room as well as some new compositions which they are taking to the recording studio in the near future. David Austin Grey spoke about the personal influences of his compositions, but also emphasised the importance of the collaborative creative process of the quartet’s music.
From the first number, the group established their elegant sound. Grey’s luscious piano style creates a rich layer which seems to float over the busyness of the bass and kit. Even the high energy pieces of the set seemed to retain an assured gracefulness, the rhythm section instruments blending effortlessly to support some stirring solos from Sam Wooster on trumpet. This said, all members of the band demonstrated their skills through improvised solo sections. There was melodic and innovative playing from Nick Jurd who utilised both double and electric bass during the set, whilst Jim Bashford sensitively accompanied the other players, but also built the excitement of the performance with exuberant fills and flourishes.
A fantastic thing about hearing a small jazz ensemble of this standard is that all of the musicians are seen to deliver equally soloistic playing throughout the set. The interactions of rhythms and melodic ideas flow so freely between them that, as a listener, it can be difficult to decide on whom to focus your attention. The result is a capturing of the senses, drawing the audience into the music through the focussed enthusiasm of each player as they craft their performance.
A highlight was An Orderly and Beautiful Escape, which began in a slow latin feel, stylistically reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s Caravan. From here though, the piece developed into very much its own original entity, the whole quartet moving together to create variations on the tempo and a fascinating array of textures. The band also demonstrated an amazing use of space in the gentle ballad Life Goes to Plan Infrequently, a variation on the well known jazz standard I Fall in Love too Easily. Perhaps one of the most subtle yet stirring tunes of the set was A Kindness of Ravens, a stunning composition built upon a simple bass riff, progressing and building to an amazing layering of sound, perfectly completed with the return of the beautiful, rippling piano motif for the outro.
The Greyish Quartet’s distinctive sound and innovative style make them a perfect example of the incredible craftsmanship present in British jazz at the moment. They are currently touring other major cities, but will return to Birmingham next Sunday, 19th of May to play at The Cross in Moseley.
More details can be found at https://www.facebook.com/jazzshark
Courtesy of the University of Birmingham’s Research and Cultural Collections department, a marquee in University Square offered a wonderful vintage and homely feel. With atmospheric music and comfortable armchairs it was like being transported back in time.
The inside of the marquee was set out like a period lounge. There were two velvet armchairs set on an old rug with an antique coffee table nestled between them, an old bureau to display objects in, and a dining table complete with table cloth for people to sit at and talk while labelling their ‘Things’.
‘Bring a Thing’ was put together by the Research and Cultural Collections department of UoB. The idea behind it was that everyone who visited the exhibit brought something special from home. They were required to write a short descriptive label detailing what their thing was and what it meant to them. Over the course of the two hour event an eclectic mish-mash of objects were displayed together. They created a surprising exhibition, all of them well worth having a glimpse at, as well as having a discussion about with the other people gathered in the marquee.
Although it was extremely chilly outside in the square, the atmosphere was warm and friendly as people wrote on their labels and talked about their things they had brought in. It was fascinating to discover the stories behind the objects, some new, some old, but all holding some sentimental value to the owner.
The Research and Cultural Collections care for and maintain the University’s permanent collections. They look after the displays, put on temporary exhibitions and are involved in commissioning and creating works of art around the University, in conjunction with the five colleges. They offer many activities and opportunities with their outreach programme: more details can be found on their Facebook page.
If their ‘Bring a Thing’ pop-up museum is anything to go by, then their other events will be well worth a visit.
As the sun set over the roof of The University of Birmingham’s Arts building, the night lit up. A projector on the top floor shone a vibrant array of colour and movement onto the red-brick wall of the Watson building opposite. Eyes from around campus were drawn to the large screen, not unlike an outdoor cinema – albeit sans seats.
‘Illuminate’ was staged as part of the University’s 2013 Arts and Science Festival by a collaboration of filmmakers, architects and artists. The screening looped a 45-minute sequence of short films, animations and projected images of works from the Barber Institute collection. Despite the cold wind a committed scattering of people observed the repertoire, and a number of interested remarks were given by passers-by.
There was a quirky mix of artwork ranging from sketched graphics and plasticine animations to snippets of some of the films to be shown during the 2013 Flatpack film festival. Among the paintings displayed from the Barber Institute collection was Derain’s ‘A portrait of Bartolomeo Savona’, which lit up magnificently, if only briefly, on the large screen. One of the artists present said that the red-brick wall of the Watson building leant itself well as a backdrop to the projections and added a certain texture to the images, which was attractive and interesting.
Another exhibit displayed was the proposed design for the University’s new library, due to be constructed by 2015, from Associated Architects, Arup, Couch Perry Wilkes, and Sweet Group. With an extensive glass facade interspersed with grey brick columns, the building’s aim is to provide a bright and atmospheric environment in which students can work. The design will also claim to reduce the structure’s energy consumption by up to 50%, helping the university to reach its CO2 targets by 2020. However to more ‘olde-worlde’ inclined students such as myself, who were drawn to the UoB’s rustic red-brick architecture, the new look in the centre of campus may seem like a slight affront to the listed, historic appearance of its neighbours. Needless to say, it remains a CGI prototype for now.
Being no artist, nor professor of film, many of the displays were alien to me. Regardless of this, the night was a pleasant chance to watch people’s work exhibited publicly and generously. The atmosphere was friendly and warm and spoke of exciting things to come in both Flatpack film festival and the University’s modernisation of the main library. If ‘Illuminate’ happens again, I heartily recommend taking a look at what the local community has to offer in character, charm and cultural diversity.
‘Making the Invisible Visible’ was an interactive experience manned by three different groups working within the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Birmingham. A poor knowledge of physics was certainly not a barrier to understanding the exhibits.
First on the exhibit list was a display of telescopes and binoculars by the University of Birmingham Astronomical Society. Being light outside, there were no real stars to see, but the group were enthusiastic and armed with an invitation to their public lecture series ‘Tea, Talk and Telescope’ and a free Stargazing Live 2013 Star Guide to aid in an independent exploration of the heavens. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for their next lecture series.
Next was the Particle Physics group, with a beautiful exhibit of ‘Visible Radiation’. In a chamber super-saturated with alcohol and vapour on the edge of condensing, a single particle of radiation can trigger condensation and a tiny stream of iridescent droplets can be seen floating downwards. Also on display was a muon detector, which counts the cosmic rays passing through us and Earth. It was fascinating to watch the counter ticking upwards while listening to the explanation of muons and cosmic rays, not feeling a thing but knowing these things were going through me. Further information about the Particle Physics group’s outreach programme can be found on their website.
Lastly the Gravitational Waves group ventured through space-time, teaching us how space is bent by heavy masses, and that is why small objects in space orbit larger ones. We also learnt how heavy orbiting bodies can create gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space time, which cause it to expand and contract. They explained that gravitational waves had never been directly detected, but that attempts to detect them were underway and that a direct observation could transform our understanding of fundamental physics. More information about their outreach activities can be found on their website.
There was also a series of talks given over the course of the evening to introduce people to some of the theories on display. I attended the talk by Chiara Mingarelli on ‘Discovering Black Holes with Gravitational Waves’. The lecture was given with boundless enthusiasm and she engaged the audience with clear and simple explanations of complex physics.
All the exhibitors exuded enthusiasm for their subjects and were willing to explain their work; they made physics fun, relevant, and captured the imagination. It was a great evening of learning and discovery.
Given the title of the event, you could be forgiven for thinking how on earth could all these separate entities be tied together into one coherent, in-depth discussion on social acceptance and norms of human identity. But after an hour of detailed debate even I was beginning to see a link between each of these themes.
As one of the first events I would be attending of the week-long University of Birmingham Arts & Science Festival, I was a bit anxious as to what was to come from two of the institution’s lecturers, Dr Camilla Smith and Dr Nick Hawes. Initially it felt like a standard course lecture, given the layout in a teaching room of the Learning Centre. The way in which it was delivered, with a series of power-point slides, did not help this first impression either. However, it was the conversational manner in which it was given that made me deeply intrigued by the content of the talk. This certainly was no algebra or physics lesson.
The talk itself was separated into three main chunks; art and identity, robots and how they have become more human-like and the final piece, prosthetic limbs and how robotics and art have defined how we socially accept prosthetics. The history of art and this theme of self-identity proved to be an interesting segment but it was the discussion on robots I could not help being absolutely mesmerised by. From the simple industrial models to the delicate, moving mannequins imitating humans was a thrilling, yet chilling, experience. A YouTube search for ‘uncanny valley’ will give you a fair idea of the sensation they incited within the audience. It was also a much welcome light-hearted break from the prior art masterclass that may have been a bit too heavy for such an occasion.
Two actual prosthetic limbs were presented for the discussion; I can’t help but feel they were slightly neglected and perhaps more emphasis should have been placed on audience engagement with such contraptions. This might have been down to time constraints, however, as the event did overrun slightly. Overall, it was an enjoyable hour that left me asking, why do we accept Paralympian athletes with visible prosthetics but make it necessary for ordinary patients with missing limbs to perhaps feel obliged to cover up?
By Princeton Lancaster
Kicking off the University of Birmingham’s Arts and Science festival, the lecture from Dr Kate Ince introduced the work of the acclaimed architect Robert Atkinson; examining his professional progression as ‘architect of cinema’ and the principal architect of our very own Barber Institute. Atkinson’s ideological progression from designing ‘super-cinemas’ for the masses, to viewing the cinema as an institution which should be interchangeable with buildings and their varied uses, is succinctly demonstrated by the plans to equip the Barber’s auditorium to screen view – turning it into a cinema for all intents and purposes.
The talk itself was illuminating. A snapshot of the history of cinema development, and Atkinson’s creations, Dr Ince focused on The Regent Cinema, Queen’s Road, Brighton as the epitome of Atkinson’s career. He had a particular style, easily seen through the range of black and white photographs we were shown, although they could do no justice to the bright and vivid colours Atkinson was known to use. It is a tragedy of history that most of his work has been demolished or destroyed by fire through the 1950’s-70’s, when cinema attendance was at its lowest.
Comparing the ‘Picture Houses’ of our past and today’s multiplex giants is fascinating. They had ballrooms, The Regent had an Italian restaurant on its second floor, and crucially they were so much more beautiful than, for example, the Cineworld on Broad Street. Atkinson’s style made cinemas beautifully decorated, two storey galleries, with motifs and frescos often having an art deco feel; the classic features creating an air of elegance. The Regent Cinema exemplified this beauty and, more like a theatre to our modern eyes, it seated up to 3000 people. An example of a remaining cinema today that is similar to this, although not designed by him, is the Majestic cinema in Leeds, a listed building since 1993.
In my eyes the era of Atkinson’s architecture is a romanticised view of what cinema has come to be known as. Super-cinemas of the 1930s are perhaps a snapshot into what we have come to know as the modern cinema. However, we should look more to the past and recreate the masterpieces that cinemas were. We should appreciate film as an art form, and give them the setting they deserve. Eros News Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue Piccadilly Circus was a piece of his work, and in 2002 its interior was gutted and re-opened as a Gap clothing store. It is clear this is such a shame to the heritage of Cinema.
I turn to his work designing the Barber Institute, only twenty years before his death. The Institute we have today, although having stood the test of time, does not exactly resemble his work. For example, by the 1960s the flat roof needed to be replaced and a truncated glass pyramid was constructed in 1986-9. Atkinson presented three plans to be considered. Interestingly, one of which shows how we could have had a Barber Institute which could have looked much more like the traditional cinemas he designed, with an oval shaped entrance and two sets of steps leading up either side.
There is no doubt though that the Barber Institute is a beautiful addition to the University. Borne from the mind of an acclaimed successful architect of cinema, the fact the auditorium may soon be equipped with a screen should be celebrated. Atkinson would no doubt approve of such a use for his masterpiece.
The lecture provided an opportunity to appreciate more of Birmingham’s culture and heritage. The rest of the Art and Science festival will no doubt do the same.
As part of the University of Birmingham Arts and Science Festival KINO 10 presented ‘An Evening of Short Films About Sex’ in the Arts Building. And that’s exactly what it was – short films about sex. It was not an evening of porn, which is why it was shocking to hear that the original venue, The Vale, refused to host the evening at the last minute because of the ‘controversial’ topic. Or maybe it’s not surprising at all, considering that our society still views sex as a taboo subject to talk about openly.
KINO 10, founded three years ago in Moseley, Birmingham, is a moving image exhibition project that showcases some of the best short films from around the globe. Watching short films is usually a solitary experience sat in front of your computer but KINO 10 aims to bring people together to share and enjoy that experience. A whole host of films get shown from the theme of Black History Month to short films about Venice and Rome.
The evening itself was brilliant. Twelve short films were shown, all relating to the topic of sex: from orgasms, swinger clubs and one night stands to messages about safe sex. The films were all completely different in style too, ranging from cartoons and clay animation to music videos and live action. The best thing about the night was that all the films were funny. The film creators took a topic that people often talk about very seriously, or not at all, and removed all tension by making the viewer laugh. There was no awkwardness in the audience at the screening like you may assume with a room full of strangers watching films about intimate issues, but everyone giggled their way through it and it was a really comfortable atmosphere.
There had been a KINO screening about sex in the past but far fewer people showed up to it than previous events. The founder, Sam Groves, thought that the topic would draw people in but in reality it pushed people away. The screening on Monday probably had less than 10 people in the audience. What is it about the subject of sex that scares people away? All the films shown were beautifully made, extremely funny and often thought provoking – the event deserved far more attention than it got.
Also check out UoB Arts and Science Festival for more fascinating events around campus this week! #artsscience
By Hannah Witton
Film stills from top: Venus (2010) dir. Tor Fruergaard, Twin Flames – The Klaxons (2010) dir. Saam Farahmand
Next week, the University of Birmingham’s very first ‘Arts and Science Festival’ is taking place. It will run from Monday 18th – Sunday 24th with several events occurring each day at venues all over the Edgbaston and Selly Oak campuses. UoB Blogfest is proud to be the official blog for the festival, and our writers will be covering a wide range of the high-quality and fascinating events – including film screenings, workshops, talks and lectures, performances and music concerts.
The festival aims to showcase the wealth of knowledge and research that the University consistently pursues to a world-leading standard. It is therefore not only open to students and lecturers, but also to members of the public. The festival will also host events run by some regional partners, such as the film festival Flatpack, which guarantees that there will be an event to suit everyone’s tastes.
UoB Blogfest is particularly interested in covering a diverse range of events, by our eclectic range of writers from both arts and science disciplines; below are some highlights that we are particularly looking forward to:
Life As A Writer is a panel discussion organised by cultural partner Writing West Midlands. This is an invaluable experience for any aspiring writer: three members of the Writing Development Programme offer first-hand advice, talk about their own experiences on the scheme and give information about opportunities, including paid work, available to writers in the West Midlands.
Making the Invisible Visible is described as an ‘evening of discovery’. This will be an interactive learning experience about the ‘invisible’ physics behind the wonders of the universe; a fun and friendly evening to learn about physics, a discipline that many of us may have never studied past GCSE!
Finally, Bring A Thing is a unique opportunity hosted by Research and Cultural Collections. Here, people will be able to share personal objects and hear stories from their owners. The Research and Cultural Collections are described as ‘taking on the Antiques Roadshow’. So if you are interested in antiques, or simply storytelling, then this will be a lovely and eclectic afternoon.
Follow the festival on Twitter #artsscience
Last Saturday, on an icy Guild Elections night, many of us were elsewhere on campus. The Bramall Music Hall was filled for the semi-final Voice Festival UK event, and with standards exceptionally high this proved to be a thrilling watch. The good sportsmanship, humour and talent shown by our University’s a capella groups allowed for a light-hearted but mind-blowing evening. Four of the six groups were from the University of Birmingham so this was a real opportunity to see the hard work of our own ensembles and those from further afield.
The evening opened stylishly with the talented Uptone Girls taking the stage. Clad in disco pants, the girls delivered a beautiful cover of Wicked Games and showcased Lizzie Jones’s excellent beat boxing. Both The Uptone Girls and Voice Versa (also UoB) gave particularly fantastic solo performances, with Uptone’s Charlye Simpson receiving an award for hers. Elsewhere the Treblemakers shone with their innovative Video Game arrangement, one of the most original pieces of the night.
It wasn’t an easy road for UoB, however. Songsmiths from Leeds and the Augmentals from Birmingham Conservatoire offered excellent arrangements, with a particularly amusing performance from the Augmentals. Don’t Worry Be Happy won them the crowd, towards the end of an intense programme. There was no interval during the performances, which further emphasised how tight the competition was for awards, between many of the groups.
In my eyes, however, the night was stolen by one group. We can’t discuss the event without mentioning the absolute highlight, The Sons of Pitches. Their phenomenal mix of Cry Me A River with Lose Yourself demonstrated tight vocals, choreography and an exceptional arrangement. As a result, they sailed through to the final. The Sons are known for their strong following, who were certainly in attendance; the group got a huge reaction from the audience. All aspects of their performance were virtually seamless, leaving the audience stunned by their ability.
Saturday night’s contest had it all: outstanding vocal performances, the atmosphere of a top-draw contest and a version of Starry Eyed which beat the original. This was an extremely fun event to attend and we wish The Sons of Pitches the best of luck for the final!
Tickets for the Voice Festival final, taking place at City of London School for Girls on 15th March, are available here: http://thevoicefestival.co.uk/events/the-big-weekend-15-17-march/
By Eleanor Smallwood