Sunday, October 08, 2017


This week kicked off with "Maker Monday", a fairly regular event in the city at which people who make discuss the philosophy, practice and politics of making. It is part of the University "Steamhouse" initiative and not only was this the first of the events I've attended, but I was also speaking at it. The theme this week was about digital practice and I chose to illustrate it with a talk about my "Pulling Rabbits Out Of A Hat" watch.

Pulling Rabbits Out Of A Hat - Professional Photograph

Friends and colleagues were also speaking, including Tina Francis, Sian Hindle and Frilly Industries and I'm pleased to report that the event was jammed full... standing room only! I'll be going to more for sure.

Maker Monday - 1

Tuesday night, I was off to hear Music Theatre Wales perform a work by Hungarian composer, Péter Eötvös, "The Golden Dragon". Set in a Chinese restaurant, this is the second opera I've seen where the orchestra dress like kitchen porters and the orchestra includes scored kitchen implements!

The Golden Dragon - 2

The whole piece is marvellous... an illegal immigrant has a rotten tooth which the kitchen staff try to remove, killing the boy in the process: his spirit seeks a return to home: brutal, hilarious, bloody and touching, this was a brilliant performance of a brilliant piece of work.

The Golden Dragon - 1

And in case you're wondering about the other opera set in a restaurant, it was David Shrigley's masterful "Pass the Spoon" with David Fennesey in 2011!

Pass The Spoon 3

On Wednesday, we took all the students to Chatsworth House for a specialist visit looking at the jewellery in the collection there.

Chatsworth House Trip - 1

With some very impressive Andrew Grima pieces!

Chatsworth House Trip - 5

They had laid on talks from buyers, suppliers and from the collection historian and after the main part of the visit was over, I spent the rest of the day in the amazing gardens.

Chatsworth House Trip - 22

On Thursday, we had the judging for the IAAF World Indoor Championship medals... I've been under embargo until now, but I can now reveal that one of my students has designed the medals which will be given to the athletes in this prestigious world-wide athletics event. I'm still embargoed on the name and the design, but they put out this small video on Twitter to explain:

So pleased and proud!

Thursday also brought an "In Discussion" evening for the ACJ as part of their AGM. The event was a conversation between Head of School, Professor Stephen Bottomley and Emily Kidson and was chaired by the estimable Terry Hunt, chair of the ACJ.

ACJ 20:20 - Discussion - 2

I was really pleased to see a good turnout for both the talks and the reception after.

ACJ 20:20 - Discussion - 3

Friday night was my first visit to the newly-built Birmingham Royal Conservatoire to hear the Alternative Orchestra perform 6 new works in the inaugural concert for the concert hall. The music was all by student and ex-student composers.

Birmingham Royal Conservatoire - 2

I was especially taken with two pieces: Oliver Farrow's "Polyphonic Music" and Rob Roberts' "Or is it?", both deploying the strange ensemble in very different ways whilst still utilising them to the full. I'm really looking forward to being able to attend lots of concerts at the Conservatoire in the future.

Work-wise, I've been working on some very new nut rings. I found these split nuts on my last visit to Dungeness and decided immediately that they had to be used:

Nut Rings - Repair Series - 1

I tried sand-casting silver into the space but the size of the nut chilled the metal and prevented it from casting properly: I realised that I would have to use a lost-wax casting process and started by laser-welding a scaffold of silver wire into the gap:

Nut Rings - Repair Series - 2

I then built wax up around these scaffolds:

Nut Rings - Repair Series - 3

And had these cast in silver:

Nut Rings - Repairs Series - WIP - 4

I'm very pleased with the way these came out.

The other nuts I've been working on were a set of square nuts given to me by Mark Fenn. I learned all about using a 4-jaw chuck on the lathe this week and set about milling them out. Having milled them out, I wasn't exactly sure how to go with them and a chance discussion with my colleague, Drew Markou, led me to think about how to use my endless and relentless drawings as a direct part of my practice, so I decided to set the rings unconventionally on one side face and then use one of the flat faces to draw in inlay. I am really pleased with the results:

2049 - Inlaid Nut Rings - WIP - 1

I'll finish here on a video of me doing the inlay:

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Round Again

Freshers' Challenge 2017 - 5

It is that time again when the School kicks off and the eager new-starts arrive. We've just completed our "Welcome Week" in which we get the new first-year students into the way of the School of Jewellery.  As happened last year, our very loud colleague, Andy Howard, arranged the ice-breaker, a challenge to use common objects to build a machine which would traverse the atrium at the School and this is really just an excuse for a certain mayhem... The object above is the rather lovely winning entry, which sailed with ease over our heads to a length of 17m, launched with a balloon and running along a zip-wire:

Freshers' Challenge 2017 - 9

There were some excellent solutions:

Freshers' Challenge 2017 - 10

And, of course, if all else fails, BOOT IT!

Freshers' Challenge 2017 - 13

I don't think the cleaning team were very pleased with the residual glitter and sequins, but it was great fun.

Starting education in earnest on Monday.

A fairly relaxed weekend at events which are being held around the city for the "Birmingham Weekender", a biennial free culture event, which is great. It is hard to believe that the last one was a full two years ago, three weeks after I moved here.

I'm going to apologise in advance for the fact that most of the photographs which follow are taken on my phone: the battery on the camera ran out on Saturday when I was touring the events.

Things kicked off on Friday night with (Bowie collaborator) Tony Oursler's "The Influence Machine" in Cathedral Square, a multimedia installation which used the square to talk about the influence television has on the culture. I am not sure it was successful and was best categorised as 'interesting'! Elements of it looked very good indeed:

Birmingham Weekender - Tony Oursler - 2

Birmingham Weekender - Tony Oursler - 4

Birmingham Weekender - Tony Oursler - 1

Birmingham Weekender - Tony Oursler - 3

On Saturday, I headed off to town to hear the marvellous Birmingham Opera perform three very short operas, new commissions especially for the festival. First up was the remarkable Alison Rose, singing "Freedom Bridge" by Susanna Self. This was performed in the most bizarre setting of a corporate shopping centre, "The Mailbox":

Birmingham Weekender - Birmingham Opera - 5

There were a good number of opera fans there for the event but there were a lot of casual passers-by who didn't quite know what to make of it!

Two more works followed, the utterly miserable "That's Just Life, Isn't It" an emotional tour-de-force by Chloe Knibbs and sung by Stephen Bowen:

And the amusing "Hi Sam" by Yfat Soul Zisso, sung by Maureen Brathwaite:

After the operas, I whizzed along the canal to hear the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group perform "Canalside Serenade", a strange piece for canal-boats, musicians and two other luminaries of the Birmingham experimental music scene, Ex Cathedra and BEAST.

The performance was a bit shambolic and beset by technical issues which meant that it was difficult to hear certain sections of the work: a great shame. The bits I could hear were great and I particularly enjoyed the choir chanting some of the notices and signs to be found along the canals, as well as the domestic percussion!

The evening was filled with "Clash of Drums" in the East Side park, an event of Bhangra with the Lions of Punjab Bhangra group followed by a face-off between two percussion orchestras, Les Commandos Percu from France and Deabru Beltzak from Spain.

The Punjab Lions were full of enthusiasm and having fun with their dancing, there was a lovely sense of the pleasure they were getting out of the music and their individual personalities influenced how they worked within the ensemble.

They ended their set with a mass dance! I think it might have been meant only for the children but ended up with about half the park joining in...

The following percussion and firework event was quite other: much more dangerously playful and was really a kind of fireworks concerto, where pyrotechnics were woven into the performance as much as sound as spectacle: very exciting indeed. This is the troupe at the end of their set:

Here is a video of them performing in Skegness to give you an idea of what they do:

This evening, I am off to the Town Hall for more Punjabi music, this time the devotional Sufi singing of Hans Raj Hans. If this is anywhere near as thrilling as the singing of Rizwan Ali Khan (whom I saw earlier this year - read about it here), it is going to be another excellent night.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Normal Service

After a four-week hiatus to let me relax and take some time to regain my strength and focus, I am back at work again. The holiday itself was uneventful, taking in the Jewellery Quarter Open Studios at the beginning which led to ordering a new lamp from Zoe and Steve at the Dual Works:

Also doing lots of gardening:

And spending time on the south coast, as usual. I was most delighted to find a set of Murakami's IQ84 in a second-hand bookshop for a mere £2 and most of the summer was spent reading that - I'm about half-way through book 2 just now!

These were in Bexhill, where, in between downpours, Dingo and I found the most cheerful beach house ever:

The Love House - Bexhill - 1

The Love House - Bexhill - 2

While I do really like what the owners have done with this, it is a horribly stark reminder of the sort of crap that fills our oceans...

For our holiday proper this year, we went to Wales, to the wonderful resort of Barmouth. As you already know, I'm a huge fan of old, British seaside towns and Barmouth should have been wonderful but it rained most of the time we were there and the place was overrun with UKIP-types buying the Daily Mail and endless numbers of dogs. Fortunately, we were staying in a fantastic Art-Deco guest-house, the Sunray (highly recommended!):


This has wonderful views of the bay and the mountains:

Barmouth Panorama

We also took in a few castles, especially the excellent Conwy Castle in the very north of the country:

Conwy Castle

On returning home, we got a few day-trips to the West Country in rather better weather and I kicked off my autumn preserving by making 5 kilos of bramble jam!

Friday night saw the launch of our annual MA Graduate Show, this year showcasing the work of 39 students:

MA Graduate Show 2017 - 40

Held in our Margaret Street campus, the School of Art, the show is entitled "Informed Chaos" and I get the sense that this may have been born out of uninformed chaos at times! It is a very strong show and well worth a visit.

Some of my own favourites include:

MA Graduate Show 2017 - 30 - Xiao He
Xiao He - work in carved stone and graphite.

MA Graduate Show 2017 - 21 - Gretal Ferguson
Gretal Ferguson - silverwares, hand-raised, in the form of stills from an animation.

MA Graduate Show 2017 - 17 - Olivia Marsha
Olivia Marsha - work in resin and electroformed metal.

MA Graduate Show 2017 - 11 - Xi Tong
Xi Tong - Anthropomorphic creatures in resin and metal.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Making for Change


Making For Change - 10

A portmanteau word meaning "activism through craft". I don't think it has made the dictionary yet - though it has made Wikipedia - but when it does, you can be sure that it will be the definition of a project I was involved with for young people in their final years at school or college in the Aston and Newtown areas of Birmingham, "Making for Change". This is yet another project from the powerhouse that is Craftspace - of whom I have written many times over the two years since I moved to Birmingham.

The idea is to engage young people in making while engaging with their concerns about their worlds and without a doubt, they worked hard. I was there for 2 days out of the five that they were working and the amazing thing was that they didn't know each other before the project, having all come from different schools and different parts of the area: by the end they were all firm friends.

As everyone involved was between 16 and 19, I am not allowed to show any images of them at work but can show some of the work-in-progress.

Making For Change - 7

Making For Change - 8

The project in the two images above was the one I was mainly involved in, devising a game which encouraged people to look at the real stories behind the social-media "hashtags" and to think about the implications of using hashtags without translating their use into real action. They discovered some amazing facts about the use of some popular tags, such as #GrenfellTowerFire, #BlackLivesMatter and #IceBucketChallenge, fundamentally proving that the use of a hashtag does not necessarily indicate an engagement with the subject thereof and suggesting that many uses of these tags is merely fashionable.

I loved this model of Grenfell Tower, which was part of a project looking at similar issues but specifically around the fire in the London tower-block:

Making For Change - 9

In this case, the issue was around the contemptible fake charity accounts which appeared in the aftermath of the fire - and, which I didn't know, in the aftermath of almost any disaster.

I was doing my 'guerilla etching' with them, which allowed them to make etched metal plaques and they had workshops on data analysis and research, film-making, laser-cutting and 3d printing, book-making and metal colouring and forming. It was great to see that all the processes ended up in the final presentations.

Making For Change - 12

Making For Change - 13

I've been finishing off my own work for The Old Cinema this week. Finally got it all completed and I'm happy to be able to go on holiday for four weeks!

Three Circular Pendants

Macho Bracelet - 8

Macho Bracelet - 9

This has been the weekend of the Jewellery Quarter Festival and I went along to support friends and see what is going on. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so here are a very few mobile phone shots...

Open Studios in the Jewellery Quarter with Tina Francis, Deborette and others.
New lampshades by Zoe and Steve at The Dual Works.
I bought one of these lampshades.

Other than that, I've been doing a lot of gardening, including harvesting my garlic: