Tag Archives: Barber Institute

Illuminate @ UoB Arts and Science Festival

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.

Portrait of Bartolomeo Savona by Andre Derain

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.

Will Forster

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.

barber (1)

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.

Holly Abel


Christmas Art Bus

art bus

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.

mlStarting 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.

Eastside Projects

Susannah Dickey


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