Tell me on a Sunday is a series of storytelling events held at the Ikon Gallery, where selected tellers go up on stage and tell their anecdotes relating to a set theme. Before the event commenced there was a chance to socialise with other audience members, in the gallery’s cafe that serves tea, coffee and soft drinks and even muffins.This week’s Tell Me on a Sunday was based around the theme of ‘Strange Encounters’.
The dim-lit, small and social audience make the sharing of stories an intimate event. It is hosted by Cat Weatherill, one of Europe’s leading performance storytellers who set the theme after being inspired by Valentine’s Day. She responded well to each seven-minute performance, drawing us in and out of each teller’s life. Some of the storytellers told their story in a very conversational way, using hand movements to express themselves, which further added to their performance. The comedienne Naomi Paul, however, crafted her story with a performance perfect structure instead of a conversational anecdote. Her story provided a neat beginning, middle and end.
The stories range from humorous to tragic and ‘all with truth at their heart’. This just goes to show how far the theme can be interpreted. One story, by a retired teacher-turned-writer touched us all as he told us how his failed attempt at resuscitating a person has had a lasting effect on his life. Furthermore, the idea of not knowing the young man’s name still stays with him today.
Journalist William Gallagher enticed us to his story with his love of Sci-fi; he made us believe that he had actually witnessed, in his own words, a ‘shiny glowing disc’. Not only a shiny glowing disc, but that a woman was abducted by aliens. This ended with the humorous realisation that the woman possessed the car keys.
Through the variety of funny and emotional stories, we were able to relate to some aspect of the tellers’ experience. What I really loved about the event is that it goes back to the oral tradition of storytelling, where the teller is not restricted by the barrier of pen and paper, allowing the teller’s story to flow and touch us in an authentic way.
By Malia Choudhury
The next Tell Me On A Sunday is at the Ikon Gallery Cafe on Sunday 17th March. To reserve call the Ikon Gallery (0121 248 0708). The facebook event is: https://www.facebook.com/events/150196501798295/.
At Brindleyplace in the heart of Birmingham, you can find the Ikon gallery and inside, currently, you can enjoy the hustle and bustle of a city peacefully through the lens of Beat Streuli, the acclaimed Swiss artist and photographer.
This exhibition further enhances the relationship between the Ikon gallery, funded by Arts Council England and Birmingham City Council, and Streuli. His recent work entitled ‘New Street’, from the summer of 2012, consumes the walls of the gallery. It represents the physical street in the heart of Birmingham, but also the street ‘which is always the same, but at the same time always new’. On a basic level Streuli’s photography, video and digital projections depict flashes of life in the city; however, his work also reflects the realities of the tough economy affecting cities across the world, and captures human nature in inconspicuous environments.
His work is awe inspiring, reflecting the natural cosmopolitan mix of inner cities which finds a perfect location in Birmingham’s global culture. The first floor of the gallery is overwhelmed by wall covering photography of captured moments in time; one woman waiting at a bus stop listening to music; two people exchanging money; and a family on the way to the shops. Streuli’s photography constantly inspires the viewer to want to know more and ask further questions such as, what is that women contemplating at that moment in time? This is what makes his art so sensitive and thought provoking. It is like an unfinished sentence.
Making your way to the second floor, you encounter the video and digital projections capturing natural moments in cities such as Sydney, Brussels, New York, São Paulo, Guangzhou and Cape Town. Streuli uses video to make his images as three-dimensional as possible, so the viewer can appreciate the depth of life that is going on around them. For me this did not enhance the photography I had seen, however one looped video of a bustling street inspired my inquisitive nature to ask, where were each of those people going in such a hurry?
What is particularly individual about his work is its simplicity. Streuli is inspired by natural human curiosity. You don’t feel watched in the hustle and bustle going on around you, but his telephoto lens can capture up close and personal images without his subjects knowledge. He works in an automatic way, not searching for the right moment to fit the story he wants to tell, but finding the beauty in the random, thoughtful lives of the ordinary person.
One particular photo really stood out to me. A woman is perfectly primed with perfect nails and hair, although has one button undone, and is being given money by a man on her left. I want to ask what is the money for, who is this man, what does the woman do? A main theme across Streuli’s photos is social discourse; there is a child with a water gun, two young boys eyeing each other up questionably. There is more to his work than the two-dimensional surface of his photographs. His work is a ‘mechanical reproduction of reality’ itself.
For anyone wishing for a few hours of intellectual stimulation inside a beautiful venue, Streuli’s exhibition is a must see. The exhibition finishes 3rd February 2013.
When students are asked why they choose Birmingham as home for three or four years of their life, they might say, ‘It’s a great University for my course’, ‘I hear the nightlife is fantastic!’ or ‘I want to live in a big city, experience a city lifestyle’. An aspect of Birmingham that is too often overlooked by people our age is the cultural scene, and with as well-reputed a gallery as the Barber Institute of Fine Arts situated on campus, it should be unavoidable. For those of you who might be reading this and thinking that your loan doesn’t stretch to luxuries like art gallery visits, or trips to the theatre – it’s time to put away that tired excuse, roll out of bed, and make the familiar walk to campus. The Art Bus is here to give students a well needed injection of culture.
For those of us who will be spending the next week of term summoning twenty pence pieces from the crevices of our wallets in order to buy that well-deserved Rooster House, you need only know one thing about the Art Bus – It’s free! It will cost you absolutely nothing to visit six phenomenal art galleries.
Starting at the student friendly time of 12.10 pm from the Barber, passengers had the privilege of visiting the MAC, the Ikon Gallery, the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Gallery, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and Eastside Projects. With a fantastically frequent bus service, we were allowed to spend as much time at each gallery as we chose. With some spectacular exhibitions on offer, we were forced to drag ourselves away in order to get to the next destination.
Highlights included the hauntingly memorable images of ‘The Unseen’ exhibition at Ikon, which focuses on the complexity of seeing, blindness, and envisaging. With images from a diverse range of artists, coming from countries as far flung as China, as well as some homegrown talent, The Unseen doesn’t fail to bring chills to the spectator. The ‘Love and Death: Victorian Paintings from Tate’ exhibition at BMAG offers visitors the chance to see works from the Tate Gallery, the centerpiece of which is Waterhouse’s ‘Lady of Shalott’. Based on Tennyson’s dark and twisted ballad, the masterpiece draws you into a macabre, and almost frightening world. For those who prefer their art to be 3D and a little different, Eastside Projects offers ‘Abstract Possible: The Birmingham Beat’. Situated in a bright, minimalist warehouse, wonderfully weird sculptures in primary colours brought the viewer an odd sense of calm, as well as offering an insight into the history of abstract art.
The curator at the Barber Institute was delighted to tell me that the Art Bus has increased dramatically in popularity, provoking their decision to introduce the tour as a day event. So, the next time the Art Bus invites you on board, I couldn’t recommend more highly that you step on. With no fare for passengers, you have nothing to lose – only a thought-provoking and highly enjoyable day to gain.
The Arts and Culture scene in Birmingham is absolutely jam-packed. Despite missing its ‘Autumn Almanac’, I thought I’d give some insight into the Ikon gallery, including upcoming events to help you experience the art for yourselves.
The first thing you should know, as a student, is that entry to the Ikon art gallery is completely free. This is a fantastic bonus, which means it can be experienced regardless of budget.
The Ikon art gallery is a charity-funded gallery, which has grown from strength to strength in its 40 year history. This is particularly astounding as originally it was just a small kiosk in the Bullring. The Ikon gallery is now located in Brindley place and is described as a ‘neo-gothic Oozells street school.’
After talking to the receptionist, I’ve managed to pick out a few exhibitions which will appeal to the art lovers among us. First, there is the Swiss artist Beat Streuli, whose artwork will cover the entire first floor of the Ikon gallery. One feature in the programme that really intrigued me about Streuli’s work, was the globalised theme that he has brought forward. His art captures snippets from human culture. As a result, his art work is a ‘street-wise reflection of our lives and times’.
Personally, I love art that engages with people and I really believe Streuli’s exhibition has the potential to do so. As a member of a generation, which is submerged in culture and the idea of travelling, I think the art will be particularly interesting. It will give insight into the lives of people from other cultures, whilst also mirroring our own. The exhibition opens on the 21st of November and will begin with an opening event which includes a nice glass of wine to enjoy the evening with. If you’re really impressed by Beat Streuli’s artwork there is a practical Workshop on the 24th of January, which not only provides an informal way to explore the exhibition; you can actually meet the artist Beat Streuli too.
There are also several other public events, which you may enjoy. On the 29th November, the Ikon gallery will be hosting an afternoon tea event. This will include a tour of contemporary art, and tea and cake. On the 1st December, The Art Bus will return. It is pretty much what it says on the tin – a bus will take you along the route of six art galleries in the city.
The story-telling event, ‘Tell me on Sunday,’ will also return January 27th. The theme is City Living and five storytellers will spend 7 minutes each, recounting a personal experience. The event begins at 5pm, with a supper that gives you the chance to meet fellow audience members and story-tellers before the performance begins.
For more information, visit: http://www.ikon-gallery.co.uk/programme/current/
By Hope Brotherton
The beloved storytelling event Tell Me on a Sunday returned for one special evening, as part of the fourteenth annual Birmingham Book Festival. Relocating from its usual abode, Café Ikon, the event catered for a larger audience on the second floor gallery, currently host to the Arefin & Arefin exhibition. Presented by the enigmatic Cat Weatherill – story-telling extraordinaire and Tell Me on a Sunday facilitator – the dimly-lit, cabaret-esque room captured the audience’s imagination before the seven storytellers even took to the stage.
The night kicked off with a performance from the national storytelling laureate, Katrice Horsley. A feisty and engaging performer, Horsley told the story of her relationship with her Uncle, maintaining a gentle balance of humour and sentiment throughout. Exploring a variety of issues, from the speech impediment she suffered as a child, to her belief in magic and fairies, Horsley created a believable and surprisingly relatable world for her adult listeners.
The next storyteller was the lovely, and slightly gawky, Tom Philips. He presented a narrative of ‘firsts’ – first time on an aeroplane, first time in America – as he went to work at Camp America, aged eighteen. The tale began fairly light-hearted, as he recalled the funny incident where he rescued a young child who was sitting on the front porch, happily sharing his sweets with a black bear. Reminiscent of a coming-of-age film, Tom told us about how his plan to travel across the USA, ending in New York, was thwarted when his friend opted for a female companion instead. Visiting New York at a different time and returning to England earlier than he had planned, Tom recounted sitting watching television with his Dad when news of the 9/11 tragedy appeared on screen. If Tom had kept to his original plans, he would have been in Manhattan that day.
South-African born, Tell Me on a Sunday regular, Gavin Jones graced the stage next. He took the audience back sixteen years, as he told a story of family rejection and what it was like when he first moved to England and, eventually, Birmingham. Funny and tragic in one breath, the audience were visibly moved. Jones was succeeded by three more storytellers, Gorg Chand, Jane Campion and Natalie Cooke, who continued to enchant the listeners. Each story was different in tone and content but the high quality never faltered.
Although storytelling is an art form, and therefore a rehearsed and crafted genre, the performances were effortless and held the illusion of spontaneity. In each seven minute segment, the audience were transported to a small part of the teller’s life – to laugh, cry and share in lessons learnt. It was a humbling occasion that, though riddled with the potential for cliché, avoided it entirely.
Tell me on a Sunday: Season Two will return to Café Ikon on January 27th.
For a full list of Bham Book Fest events: http://www.birminghambookfestival.org/events-2012/full-festival-programme/
On the second evening of Birmingham’s fourteenth annual book festival, Sara Beadle proudly introduced the accomplished novelist, Patrick Gale, and psychiatrist, Femi Oybode. The talk focused on his most recent novel, A Perfectly Good Man, yet he began by reading a short extract from his previous novel, Notes from an Exhibition, as he admitted they were loosely paired in theme and ideology. Throughout the talk he continued to make constant and fluid reference to parts of his previous fourteen novels, as if they were an extension of his own personality. The renowned psychiatrist Dr Femi Oyebode, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Birmingham and Consultant Psychiatrist for Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust, asked Patrick Gale a series of questions about his novel’s characters. Interestingly, Oyebode perhaps provoked Gale to reveal more about his own life and psyche than he had originally intended.
I assumed the event would be held in the gallery’s restaurant, Café Ikon, like their regular story-telling evening Tell me on a Sunday. Surprisingly, however, the talk took place amongst one of the latest exhibitions, Arefin & Arefin – The graphic design of Tony Arefin. The contemporary, graphic backdrop complemented the talk nicely: the wall behind the stage sporting a large and brightly coloured installation which read, ‘I can see through walls’.
The artists personal aphorism, ‘I can see through walls,’ became particularly appropriate during the first phase of the discussion. In Gale’s answer to Oybode’s first question, ‘how do you construct a literary character?’, he admitted that it is far from easy. He further explained that a writer must pay attention to the ‘boundaries’ of character, like stereotypes for example, and construct characters within and outside of these simultaneously. The writer, he suggested, has to be able to ‘see through’ the different ‘versions of ourselves’ in order to get to the core of his characters.
As Oyebode continued prompting Gale, some of his questions began to feel a little too premeditated. When Oyebode asked Gale about the use of ethnic minorities and homosexuals as symbols rather than characters in novels, it seemed not only irrelevant in the discussion but also came across as an outdated literary response. However, for the most part, Oyebode did an excellent job of facilitating Gale to talk interestingly and openly about his own experiences; such as the death of his brother, and how this had shaped his writing, his characters and his own personality.
The audience Q&A session ended up lasting longer than the talk itself. It was clear that the vast majority of the audience were avid readers of Patrick Gale’s novels: many probed deeper into particular characters and plots. The atmosphere was literary, but also light-hearted. Although I wasn’t able to engage with much of the discussion, having never read a Gale novel, I was able to enjoy the clash of audience opinion and Patrick Gale’s self-aware and comedic commentary. For example, in one instance he spoke about Quakers, an ancestral vegetable garden and a memory of a childhood home.
‘Read. Write. Think.’ Hearing an author talk about their work is always a privilege. It is organisations, such as Birmingham Book Festival, that make thought provoking and informative literary events such as these happen. So thank you Birmingham Book Fest, for another lovely evening.
For a full list of events: http://www.birminghambookfestival.org/events-2012/full-festival-programme/
With the wonderful weather this weekend, it seemed a shame to stay indoors and contemplate the prospect of an Easter holiday filled with exam stress. Thinking that one day off couldn’t possibly hurt, I headed into the city to a sun-glazed Brindley Place for this month’s edition of Birmingham Book Festival’s Tell me on a Sunday. Storytellers and listeners alike were welcomed into the bright, airy cafe of the IKON Gallery to cluster round small tables complete with tea-lights and orange flowers, all enjoying a late lunch or afternoon tipple. This month’s story theme was ‘Hope and Glory’.
Cat Weatherill’s spirited introduction captured the room as the lighting dimmed to create an intriguingly intimate atmosphere. Beginning with her own story, Cat told of the money troubles she faced during the early years of her marriage and how she was inspired to apply for the TV game show Wheel of Fortune. In a captivating telling, Cat relived the suspense, excitement and enthralling hope that the chance of winning the show’s cash prize gave her. Even through to the final moments she kept the audience in the dark, not revealing til the last moment that she was to succeed in winning. Cat held the room in complete focus throughout her story, displaying the power of hope and how that hope transpired to the glory of her much needed victory.
Next to the stage was Gavin Young to tell of the racial inequality he witnessed as a child in his native South Africa. Without pretence, he described the harrowing nature of segregation, outlining in small memories how the prejudices faced by black people entered his consciousness. Movingly, he remembered the confusion he felt by the divisions society insisted on creating between him and his childhood friend. Finally, he gave an impression of the changes that have taken place since his youth, outlining a vision of hope brought about by changing opinions and a gradual regression of racial prejudice.
In a distinct contrast of subject matter, a lady stepped up to the stage to share the hope she experienced through realising her identity as a mother. In a moving, yet somewhat graphic description of events surrounding her daughter’s birth. Though sometimes being in danger of isolating some younger members of the audience, she managed to lighten her story with comedy and bold similies to keep the room on her side. Another lady told of her escape to Europe with friends during a rough patch in her marriage, reliving the freedom that she felt in her youth with humorous tales of drinking, flirting and running off without the group. This was introduced as an attempt to ‘experiment with reality’, a claim that was soon brought to life through the description of a talking fox with an aristocratic English accent deep in the French countryside. However, this telling was certainly set to continue for far more than the prescribed seven minutes, so with regret, the story was left ‘to be continued’ in next month’s session.
Following this was Natalie Cook, who seemed to bring light to the room in her bright red dress and a jauntily placed flower in her hair, telling of the hope brought to her by a particular moment from her past. She described being on a long car journey with her partner. When a certain song on the radio reminded him of an emotionally significant childhood memory, Natalie recounted the connection she felt with him, encountering the rare case of knowing that another person understands the world the way you do. Her story invoked the importance of memory and the clarity that certain moments can hold; even if they are from a distant past or an unfamiliar life, they can still be held as a precious source of hope.
Finally came a story from local writer and musician Richard Stokes, who with fantastic energy and charm told of his time working in a record shop in London. Through a combination of disenchantment with his job and mild frustration with his boss, he found himself one day ordering nine hundred and ninety-nine copies of blues singer Albert E. King’s Greatest Hits out of spite. This was, understandably, to the great rage of his boss, but equal amounts of amusement to Stokes’s Sunday audience; a truly engaging, fantastic telling.
As acknowledged by some of the storytellers, Tell Me on a Sunday is certainly gathering a regular following, with a growing audience returning to the event each month. The chance to experience performance storytelling of this standard, and in such a perfectly welcoming venue, is indisputably rare. These are stories that will make you think, make you feel and challenge your perspectives, all whilst making you laugh. This event is a real Birmingham gem.
Words and photography by Anna Lumsden
Birmingham Book Festival sets out every year to cultivate the city with one statement standing out above the rest: ‘We want to hear everybody’s voice’. Not a traditionally literary city, it is sometimes difficult to track down more writer orientated events in Birmingham, and this is what the festival seeks to change. They do not simply want renowned authors to make their voices heard, but to encourage everyday people to engage with words as well. One of their newest events, Tell Me on a Sunday falls exactly into this calibre. Cat Weatherill, an internationally acclaimed story teller and author, is the curator for the monthly afternoon where she not only exhibits her own dramatic talents but invites ‘ordinary guys and girls’ to take the stage with her. The event states ‘We know you have a story in you’, and anyone is encouraged to ‘conjure a memory’ and ‘embellish it’, with the charming result that each story truly does appear ‘with truth at their heart’. The IKON Gallery is the perfect setting for this, since its emphasis on unconventional art, such as film and installation, invites works from all kinds of contemporary artists around Birmingham who these writers could easily be categorised as.
On the 19th February, performers and friends alike gathered in the IKON café for the event’s debut. The café is an intimate setting where a ‘Story Supper’ was to start the evening. Tables were moved around and pushed together so that storytellers and listeners were able to meet and greet each other. A sense of a writers’ community was created over the first glass of wine and, as Weatherill excitedly repeated, ‘cake!’ This was not only a networking opportunity for any aspiring writer, but a way of breaking down boundaries between storytellers and audience; it seemed that the guests that appeared onstage were not so much performing but sharing, as should be the nature of storytelling.
Each week is based around a specific theme listed on Tell Me on a Sunday’s website, and this one was ‘Off The Beaten Track’. This was evidently open to creative interpretation, and the result was a wonderful variety of stories tied no matter how loosely to the title. One that stood out was ‘Bruised Blondes’, told by local writer Gavin Young, which portrayed the long journey of the heart to find the one ‘that fits’. As Young put it, ‘the heart knows what it wants’, and he depicted this by describing the ‘sat nav’ heart that led him across the world (from South Africa to the UK no less) to find the right girl.
One advantage that Birmingham arguably has over other Book Festivals across the UK is the cultural diversity that the city houses. People from all over the world now inhabit the huge urban landscape, and this really added to the wealth of variation amongst the stories. We were treated to storytellers from South Africa (on the part of Young and Kate Lowe, an ‘erstwhile lunatic and gardener’), Brazil, the USA and even India, told by organiser of the Midlands Literary Edge Festival, Peter Chant. His, he explained, was a story of being ‘On the Beaten Track’ which described his family’s journey to their new home is Wolverhampton all the way from the Punjab. Aside from the sickness suffered by his sister on the boat, arguably the most harrowing part of the journey was when the children were confronted with unfamiliar food; they were well and truly far from home when the French idea of curry was salt and pepper. It was easy to feel joy too when we learnt that Chant’s family arrived in Wolverhampton to enormous quantities of traditional Punjab bread; the café never felt like more of an appropriate setting, since culture was inexplicably based around food and for each ethnic origin; indeed, ‘food means home’.
Tell Me on a Sunday is an excellent opportunity to see the breadth of literary talent that Birmingham has to boast. It is a free event, though it is recommended that people try to book in advance, and there are three afternoons still remaining. The next will be on the 25th March, and its theme will be ‘Hope and Glory’.
Words by Becca Inglis
‘Art is the pinnacle of nature.’ Gavin Wade.
On an extremely cold, Friday 13th evening I ventured into Digbeth to find St Basils Church and a discussion entitled ‘What is Art?’ Coming from a creative writing background with an interest in art but no real knowledge on the subject, I was surprised to have a conversation with the IKON gallery curator Tyler Cann about his short lived career as a potter in a small town in Japan; this was only the beginning of a very interesting evening.
‘What is Art?’ was organised by West Bromwich artist and maths teacher, Kartar Uppal as a fundraiser based in St Basils Church. The Kartar Uppal charity works with young homeless people, offering accommodation and support services around Birmingham. The event hosted an expert panel gathered around the front stage, consisting of IKON gallery curator Tyler Cann, director of artist-run public gallery Eastside Projects Gavin Wade, and local artist and lecturer Kathy Wade.
The venue itself was fitting for such a discussion with an impressive gold mural at the back of the church. Around twenty people, including local artists and teachers, braved the weather to witness the event. Kartar Uppal kicked off the discussion in theoretical style, with talk of Wittgenstein, Saussure, language games, and trees, basing his argument that art is another form of a language game. Each of the panelists gave their interpretations as to this theory; Gavin Wade retold a story about a conversation with a Glaswegian taxi driver who believed that Henrik Larsson, then a Celtic footballer, to be the greatest artist ever. This emphasized the idea that art is created within the viewer, whether it be a Scottish cabbie or the artist themselves, rather than the actual object itself.
After a discussion between all four panelists about the authority of art, Tyler Cann, who openly admitted to not having considered this question, quoted the American poet Robert Frost, ‘If you are not educated in metaphor, then you are not fit to be let loose on the world’. They went on to say that for art to exist some knowledge has to be known by the viewer before seeing the object. Gavin Wade gave the example that viewing a Jackson Pollock painting for the first time without any knowledge of his work could lead the viewer to think that this is uncomplicated and perhaps even childlike. However with knowledge about Pollack’s career and that he was the first to practice his particular style of painting helps in the understanding and appreciation of his art. However, Kathy Wade made an important interjection that with the advent of the internet and social media, the notion of an artist is being disintegrated with anyone who owns a handheld camera being able to become a published ‘artist’. This could then be dangerous for the integrity of art.
The discussion was by no means exhaustive, and the panelists could have talked into the small hours of the morning but Karthar brought the event to a close. Despite the best efforts of the panel no concrete answer was found to ‘What is Art?’ but all in all the night was a great success. The event shone a spotlight on the vibrant and diverse Birmingham art scene, of which there is certainly more to experience than walking past the IKON gallery and buying another Starbucks cappuccino.
Words by Sam Murphy
13th Jan 2012