I spent the last weekend of my placement in Birmingham. As I had been so busy with travelling and work I had not had much of a chance to explore the city, so this was great to be able to have a whole weekend getting to see some of the sites, wander the streets and visit some of the galleries and museums.
On Friday evening I went to Digbeth First Friday. As the name suggest this is an event that happens on the first Friday of every month in the area of Digbeth. Digbeth is an industrial area where many artists and designers are beginning to establish themselves. I went to exhibition openings at three galleries, STRYX, Grand Union and Centrala, all at Minerva Works. There were some really interesting performance pieces as well as video and contemporary art on display. The pieces I liked the best were Alex Cecchetti’s Arabesque 2017, which was a wooden handrail that when you ran your hand along it you would be lead to execute a classical ballet movement; Liz Magic Laser’s Primal Speech 2016, which was a video and sculptural installation that related to phycological and therapeutic theories; and Edward Wakefield’s performance of Donald Trump, in which the artist satirically presented Trump to voice his political frustrations. It was great to be able to meet up with some of the cultural interns at this event and to spend time with people I had met on my various projects outside of the workplace.
On Saturday I visited four museums/galleries that had been recommended to me by a number of people I had worked with. It was great to be able to understand the history of the industrial city through some of these museums, but also to contextualise how much it has changed and developed a thriving art scene in recent years.
I went to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. This was located in an area famous for the production and sale of jewellery. The museum is housed within an old jewellery workshop that was preserved just as it was when it was closed in 1981. I went on a guided tour of the museum, and learnt a lot about the history of the area and the previous owners of the workshop. It was amazing to see the work space, tools and production methods used to produce jewellery in the workshop.
I then went to the Pen Museum, which as the name suggests is a museums for pens. These are not the type of pens I expected to see though – they were not Biros, but pen nibs. Prior to the introduction of the Biro pen, Birmingham produced 75% of the pen nibs used throughout the world. The museum has wonderful displays about Birmingham’s industrial past, and the types of factory spaces that then pen nibs were produced in and the primarily female workforce that produced the pen nibs. They have an incredible display of pen nibs and also have the original machinery used to make pen nibs. I was able to used the machinery to make my own pen nibs and experience for myself just how tough it would have been to work in one of these factories producing pen nibs in the 19th Century.
I visited the IKON Gallery, which is the leading contemporary art gallery in Birmingham. It is housed within an old neo-gothic school building which has been cleverly converted into a white walled gallery space. The exhibition showing was by Roger Hiorns, who works primarily with sculpture and installation. I particularly liked the anthropomorphic foam sculptures; the atomized passenger aircraft engine and the copper sulphate artworks. Here is a link to an interview with the artist which shows many of the works that were in the show:
I visited the Birmingham Museum and Galleries, and met up with Patricia Nistor. We went to see an exhibition curated by contemporary artist Ryan Gander. The show was curated from the Arts Council Collection and was titled Night in the Museum. Sculptural works and paintings were paired together so that the sculpture was gazing at the painting. It was an innovative way to view the art and to imagine connections between sometimes seemingly disparate works. A link to the exhibition website is listed below if you would like to read more about it:
As the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery closed shortly after I got there on Saturday, I returned again on Sunday so I could see the rest of the collections. They have a wonderful collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, a great exhibit about the history of Birmingham and a large part of the Staffordshire Hoard, a collection of Anglo-Saxon gold. The Staffordshire Hoard collection require extensive conservation treatments and cleaning before they could be display and it was great to see the videos and read about the techniques used to undertake this highly detailed and fine work.
On Sunday I also visited the Thinktank museum. This is dedicated to engagement and outreach of scientific enquiry. It is primarily focused towards school age children. Whilst I enjoyed my visit there and got to see a lot of exhibits about Birmingham and the industries that have flourished here, I wish I had my young nephew with me, as it would be made the visit so much more fun. So many of the exhibits had interactive components to engage children, so it wasn’t quite as fun on my own as it would have been with my nephew.
I spent some time wandering through the streets of Birmingham in the afternoon. There is a lot of change and development happening in the city at the moment, and it is interesting to see the change from an industrial city to a contemporary city. The architectural style I really engage with is mid-century and Brutalist. I found many incredible examples of this type of architecture in Birmingham – some of which you can see in my photos below – however I was disheartened to see that many of the buildings being torn down were from this era. I understand that there is a need for change and development, but it was sad to see that these buildings were not always appreciated for their innovative architectural style.
On Sunday evening I met up with Katy Wade and we went to the Balti Triangle so I could try a Balti curry. This is a type of curry that was made by Indian and Pakistani immigrants to England. It is cooked and served in a thin metal bowl so all the flavours are infused into the meat and vegetables. It was delicious!
I had such a wonderful weekend in Birmingham and I’m looking forward to my final week of placement and finishing all the projects I have been working on!