Category Archives: Art

Hetain Patel: At Home exhibition @ mac

at home‘Family’, one of the most obvious subject matters in the world, is filled with secrets and traditions. A side that no-one else in the world will ever see. The most universal topic in the world, yet rarely can its complexities be unravelled, if ever. Hetain Patel with this exhibition gives us a glimpse inside small characters, and scenarios involving his family. With a combination of video and photography he attempts to show us the personal with his own life being the centre of it all.

The exhibition includes the video ‘The First Dance’ which involves Patel’s wife as one of the main protagonists. She is involved again in the self-titled photographs ‘Eva’, showing us a glimpse into the couple’s relationship. Another installation, called ‘To Dance Like Your Dad’, focuses on the father – son relationship, and reminds us of our family legacy with its points on imitation.

Probably the most moving of all installations was the five-channel digital video titled ‘Mamai’. A portrait of Patel’s own grandmother going about her daily ritual of prayer every morning. It is quite affectionate, and in all of them she exhibits Patel’s recurring notions of faith and tradition, displayed through clothing in ‘The First Dance’ too. But, it’s Mamai which will pull on your heart. Perhaps because of the melancholy and sadness that is displayed on all of the screens, as through it all this is just an elderly lady sitting on a couch by herself singing hymns. After the decline of the body and memory with old age what is so poignant is the passion we witness as she is singing. This idea that keeps on coming up that our lives are our homes and families, and it is the small (considerably mundane) things we do daily is what define us. Mamai herself is a testament to this; she wipes her eyes one moment, picks at the seam of a nearby blanket and even fidgets with a napkin which never leaves her hands.

In 9 minutes with ‘Mamai’ Patel nearly brings you to tears, and a man who could do that in one installation is probably going to dwell in your mind, as with others who have seen the exhibition, for a long time.

By Shantok Jetha

A Leg to Stand On: Prosthetics, Art and Robots @ UoB Arts and Science Festival

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.

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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.

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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

@Princeton_L

Robert Atkinson, Architect of Cinemas @ UoB Arts and Science Festival

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.

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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.

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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.

Holly Abel

@HollyAbel3

Tell Me On A Sunday: Strange Encounters @ Ikon Gallery

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 tell-meleading 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 blogfest picwords, 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/

The Wake @ mac

Imagine attending a wake for the past year. What is there to say? Except the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee do we have much else to celebrate? Mac in Edgbaston seem to think so. The Arts Centre hosted the Jane Packman company, who have devised a moving performance that brings the imagination to life and looks beyond the tangible.

Upon arrival, we were delighted to have our coats taken. We received complimentary drinks; the wine certainly added to the ambience. We took our seats in a small room of 30 other people, nestled on wooden chairs with bark beneath our feet. Small side tables were dotted around, with a small ‘Living Room’ space in front for the actors to begin their performance.

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Before they began, a spiral bound notebook with envelopes in was passed around. The cast members asked us to put our names and addresses on as they want to send the audience a gift during the Christmas period. Then, as an act of participation, we were asked to fill out small cards, completing sentences such as: ‘I was livid when…’ or ‘The most splendid success I heard about was’. After filling these out, they had to be placed on the ‘bed’, on the far right of the stage.

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The performance then began. With a mixture of acting, singing, music, interpretive dance and even a cat of destiny it was hard to not to feel involved in the piece. Each member of the audience was also given a  bird whistle to join in the ‘autumnal’ scene. Immediately after seven lines were designated to the ‘brave’ audience members who volunteered their vocal services. When they were pointed to, their lines were read; the cast responded well to the hecklers, joking and laughing along merrily.

The actors read out the audience’s memories from 2012, which also added to the  feeling of involvement. It was an inspiring and uplifting performance that made it easy to dwell on the year in a very positive light.

At the end, a shot of whiskey was given to each audience member and the cast made several toasts: ‘to new boyfriends’, ‘to engagements and marriages’. Just before we toasted we were asked to write our goals for 2013 on little blue cards, which were then put into a box and taken away.

The performance was humorous, lively and energetic – not one to be missed.

By Hope Brotherton

Hooky Street Press at Eastside Projects: Seriousness and Humour in Art Writing

In the second gallery of the Eastside Projects building, hemmed in by wooden panels and abstract grey portraits, Hooky Street Press hosts a symposium upon humour and seriousness in art writing. Alternative youths sporting chunky knitwear, piercings, hair dye and dreadlocks are scattered in the audience, amongst their more sophisticated elders.

Gavin Butt begins the talk with a straightforward dissection of the humour-seriousness dilemma, using a quote from Charles Ludlam: ‘Now the whole idea of seriousness is awful to me – it sounds like something imposed from without. It doesn’t really imply gravity or profundity; it implies decorum, behaving yourself.’

Butt explains that society views ‘significant’ things through the lens of seriousness because we believe it is the only way to attribute value and prove our commitment. However, this has become so common that it now sounds more like ‘bloated pronouncements of value’ than genuine feeling. He asks whether we can separate ‘gravity and profundity’ from seriousness. Exampling Joe Brainard’s art, Paul Morrisey’s film Women in Revolt, and performance artists Kiki & Herb and David Hoyle, he demonstrates society’s confusion when faced with blended solemnity and comedy.

David Burrows proceeds with the point that ‘there’s a seriousness to humour’, recalling a performance artist who dressed as a soldier and lay ‘dead’ in the streets of Birmingham for a whole week. According to Burrows, ‘he points out the fact that the whole world is wrong’, underlining the irony of the show as criticism of war itself.

Andrew Hunt’s talk on Jacques Lacan has me utterly lost. He dons a mask that makes him look like a cartoon psychopath, and launches into a complex rant about the ‘discourse of the university and the master’. Milkshake by Kelis plays during an animated slideshow. I don’t quite know what to make of it, but the basic point I gather is that one’s unconscious desires are barred by the rules of society; a hysteric will show the ‘truth’ of these desires by denying ‘knowledge’ of culture.

An interesting but unnecessarily extravagant ‘symposium’, and appropriately enough by the end, I’m not sure whether to laugh or frown.

Danielle Bentley

Art and Writing – The City @ Birmingham Book Festival

In Birmingham, the second biggest city in the UK, defining the concept of ‘the city’ is understandably relevant. It is little wonder, therefore, that the Barber Institute has interpreted it also. The institute has been called ‘a haven of tranquility in a bustling metropolis’; procuring the status as a perfect island in which literary fans can gather and act the flâneur; observing the city through the eyes and mouths of storytellers.
‘Art and Writing: The City’ was presented on Thursday 11th October by Andrew Killeen, the resident writer at the Barber Institute; guiding listeners through the ‘concrete jungle’. This main event, he explained, was preceded by a series of creative writing workshops that aimed to provoke ideas about cities and our relationship to them. Yet, he emphasised writers did not simply sit in front of art and write. They met and discussed themes together, later reconvening to share and critique each other’s work. The finished products were then brought to the final workshop. Killeen was pleased to note that the experience had been ‘inspiring’, and that works had been chosen this evening to demonstrate the ‘breadth of ideas’ throughout the project.
Certainly, the stories brought some interesting interpretations to the fore. Cities were popularly situated alongside the countryside; most storytellers portrayed the country as backwards and boring, a ‘void’ where ‘a computer [became] a rare gift’. This rendered ‘the city’ a glamorous finale to a journey of escapism. This notion, however, was often dispelled by portrayals of multiple cities.


Jenefer Heap’s modern London was ‘rendered sterile from a safe distance’ for tourists. She superimposed this image upon a city so that the character of ‘Lu’ could walk with her younger self ‘Lulu’, confronting distasteful elements of her past.  Aaron Jackson portrayed a dark and bloody underworld to his initially attractive Tokyo and poet Jessica Holloway Swift held Oxford up against London, stating that ‘Oxford was the city of the king, London the city of the usurper.’
Set in the aftermath of the Civil War, Swift’s London smog was innovatively replaced with the presence of Puritans that apparently ‘polluted the soul’. In each, the ‘seductive’ city became sordid, the ‘nonchalant’ city became ‘violent’ and the ‘instinctively chic’ city became morally ambiguous. Death also permanently pervaded its horizon like ‘a weight of bloodied metal’. The word ‘survival’ echoed throughout; it seems that the workshops had stimulated an urban anxiety.
This was especially evident in Killeen’s short story, Hardcore, where a country dweller’s attempts to remove a traveller’s family from his local ‘green belt’ made evident fears about the spread of suburbia. Killeen claimed in his introduction that the city has ‘burst out of the walls’ that once defined it; rural/urban boundaries are being swallowed by a suburban landscape. Killeen asked, ‘How do we know who to include and exclude?’ His protagonist certainly does not want to include travellers, whom he sees as destroying his ‘way of life’. The implication, however, is that his bigoted views are influenced by his fear that ‘Eventually our green and pleasant land will become one big ugly dirty city’; his enemies are developing and changing a field into an (albeit basic) built-up area.
Combatting this aesthetic of unease were the readings that punctuated the workshop’s storytellers. Lecturers from the university brought a fresh and positive attitude to the project; a love for the city, that has been explored by English writers in times past. We heard the hustle and bustle of Virginia Woolf’s London that leads Mrs Dalloway to proclaim that this ‘was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.’ Hugh Adlington performed a more serene London in William Wordsworth’s Composed Upon Westminster Bridge where ‘the very houses seem asleep/And all that mighty heart is lying still’. This poem seemed particularly appropriate as Wordsworth’s stolen moment of ‘calm, in the midst of Mrs Dalloway’s London, mirrored that of the audience’s in the Barber Institute’s intimate lecture theatre.
In the course of the evening, it became clear that the city has many faces, and that art has the capacity to capture each of them, including the people living within them. The relationship between urbanites and the metropolis is a complex one, and Killeen’s project displayed urban love and hate in a wonderfully widespread and indeed inspiring fashion.

Becca Inglis

RBSA: Young Curators’

The RBSA are currently holding a Young Curators’ exhibition showcasing the work of local artists, with pieces chosen by four History of Art Students from the University of Birmingham.

Tucked away in the Jewellery Quarter, the current exhibition is an opportunity to experience Birmingham’s art scene and the diverse styles and works from a range of artists. The pieces featured differ in style and content, a decision explained by the young curators, as they wished to explore the different styles of painting used by the artists in their pieces. This decision works well within the exhibition, as it not only celebrates the unique style of each artist, but it allows for a range of highly different works to be discussed and explored within the gallery.

Pieces ranged greatly within the exhibition, ‘self-portrait’, by artist Brian Fletcher uses vibrant colour and blurs boundaries between art and literature, quoting from Dylan Thomas’s poem Fern Hill on his piece. In addition to self-portraits, there are impressions of different locations; Brown Door by David Brammeld uses pastel to capture the character of in-animate places, whilst Lanzarote, Volcanic Layers by Frank Cook, uses mixed media. The exhibition also invites exploration of the process of painting, as John Davenport displays his sketchbook, where you can see the process that goes into his work and how he achieves his painting style, allowing a fascinating insight into the mechanics and inspiration behind his work. He even includes a section within the sketchbook for comments from the public, which provides an opportunity to actively engage with the artist himself.

The young curators – Lili Dreikhausen, Sophy Thomas, Emily Woolley and Lauren McInerney, gave a short speech during the event and not only spoke of their gratitude within being involved in the project, but an interesting insight into how the actual exhibition was constructed. They spoke of their active communication and open dialogue with the artists that were included in the selection and it was clear that each work was chosen and presented with a great amount of care and detail.

Other speeches stressed the importance and significance of engaging with the art world actively as a student and how the exhibition allows this opportunity for students to explore and experience art-work on a local scale. The exhibition successfully draws together the experience and passion of those who are studying art and those who create it, which results in a fresh, diverse and thoroughly engaging exhibition, appropriate for a range of different tastes.

RBSA’s Young Curators’ exhibition offers an opportunity to explore Birmingham artists at an intimate level and is a must-see for anyone with a passion for, or appreciation of art. The exhibition runs until Saturday 5th of May.

Words by Lottie Halstead

Berlin Love Tour

Last Thursday night I went on a tour of Berlin…in Birmingham. Part of the fantastic Fierce Festival of live art, Berlin Love Tour was a guided tour of the German capital city through the streets of Birmingham, led by Hilary O’Shaughnessy. Hilary, as she explained at the outset, had lived (and loved) in Berlin after leaving her native Ireland. The Berlin Love Tour came from an idea by O’Shaughnessy and Tom Creed, and was first performed at the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2010.

Meeting outside the Crescent Theatre (a local gem just off Brindley Place and Broad Street) were around 15 to 20 people ranging in age from early twenties to their sixties all wrapped up warm in the bitter cold. As we gathered we were accompanied by what looked like a busker with a guitar; however, his clean and smart-ish attire gave him away as part of the performance. We were then greeted by Hilary, who warned us against jaywalking (illegal in Berlin) and also that anyone expecting an erotic tour would be disappointed. She introduced us to the key themes of the performance: what’s remembered and what’s forgotten, what’s been destroyed and what remains. It was clear from the outset that the legacy of the Second World War, Nazism, and the Berlin Wall would be all pervading during the next two hours.

First stop was the Palast der Republik, a relic of the East German past which housed galleries, a theatre, restaurants, a bowling alley and a discotheque. The Birmingham backdrop for this was a piece of waste ground off Broad Street, a fitting blank canvas to get our imaginations in gear. Next up was the Mitte – the heart of Berlin, or in our case just outside the Slug next to the canal. Hilary told us how the Mitte was considered ‘poor but sexy’ and is now a victim of its reputation as the cool and hip area of the city: high rents, coffee shops and bars are the defining characteristics now (an appropriate echo of Brindley Place). The Brandenburg Gate was envisaged in place of the Regus building next to the Sealife Centre, and our guide’s moving tales of memorials to those killed in concentration camps was an interesting contrast to the suited city boys and girls hanging out and smoking outside Bank. It was at this point that the guitarist caught up with us and played Blur’s Out of Time. This brought us straight back into our modern physical surroundings and out of our journey into the past.

Our next stops were the River Spree and the Unter den Linden boulevard. At both stops we were told fragments of Hilary’s relationship with Alex, her German boyfriend, and the sinister aspects of their time together hinted at an emotionally abusive and turbulent time. The Bebelplatz was next up, projecting the site of the former royal library where Marx, Engels and Einstein had all studied on to the site of the impressive new Library of Birmingham. The Bebelplatz was also the site of the infamous Nazi book-burning ceremony of 1933. By this point Hilary’s recollections of her time with Alex were getting more intense and distressing and at the next stop at Birmingham’s Hall of Memory in Centenary Square she told of arguments through tears.

We moved on via Hitler’s bunker to the Berlin Wall, along with the climax of Hilary’s own story (all interspersed with distracting musical interludes). Stories of failed escape attempts over, under and through the wall were combined with the account of how Alex left Hilary. What was striking about Hilary and Alex’s story was the depth of her love for him, no matter how much they fought and what he did to her. The influence of the Berlin Wall was also clear; ‘it’s just a wall’ Hilary said at one point, but it is undeniably much more than a physical symbol.

Our final stop was the rooftop of the Brindley Place car park where we could look out over the city. The last account was of Stasi informants; since the wall came down and records have been released, families, friends and co-workers have tried to both forget and remember their betrayal. Hilary also explained how hard a ventricular assist device (known as a ‘Berlin Heart’) is to remove from patients, a true allegory of her time with Alex. The final scene of the performance was the guitarist accompanied by members of the Birmingham Choral Union singing Tender by Blur. His appearance brought us back to Birmingham from Berlin (and sadly in this case, to a deserted car park).

The tour was largely enjoyable and Hilary O’Shaughnessy was a brilliant guide and performer. Her skills in taking us not only to those landmarks of Berlin but also into the depths of her own relationship proved the event a true ‘love tour’. However, the regular appearances of the guitarist, Greg Milner, were at times grating and distracting. The choice of songs, mainly modern brit-pop tracks, were not in-keeping with the historic narrative and were sung in a way that they became a dirge. Considering Hilary’s story, it would be unfitting for the songs to be upbeat, but her skill in storytelling had already evoked the emotions Milner was trying to get across. The music therefore added nothing but did take something away, always bringing us back to our real surroundings. Still, it was a unique and innovative piece, truly in keeping with Fierce Festival as a whole, and I would recommend the experience to all.

Words by Andy Newnham

Common Logic

As part of Fierce Festival, Common Logic is yet another interactive art initiative taking place across the city this week. Created by Anna Horton, the project consists of many small, colourful blocks being placed around notable areas in the centre Birmingham, each mini-sculpture slightly different, but all having corresponding holes and rods which allow the blocks to be attached to one another. This miniature, yet widely spread art installation could perhaps be seen to reflect the nature of scattered ideas or thoughts, that only when brought together make cohesive sense and order.

All eagle-eyed finders of these small wooden gems (and indeed, those who are yet to find one) are invited to attend the Fierce Festival Hub @ VIVID today, Saturday 7th April, at 3pm for a Common Logic collective where the selection of bright blocks will be reunited.

Follow @thecommonlogic on Twitter and check out the Facebook page to find out more. VIVID can be found at 140 Heath Mill Lane, Birmingham, B9 4AR.

Words and photography by Anna Lumsden