Sunday, February 03, 2019

Not Out Of The Woods

I've been avidly devouring a very strange and marvellous book indeed. "Out of the Woods" by one of the founders and contributors to my favourite music website, "The Quietus", is an odd melange of autobiography, social history, confessional, and psychogeography which is - mostly - beautifully-written and poetic, his writings about his relationship with his parents being especially touching.

What makes this book especially unusual is that it is written from the point of view of someone who defines himself as "bisexual", a definition which we have overlooked in recent years, one which we don't hear much from in the ever growing list of L, G, B, T, Q, I, +..., all of whom seem to be eager to shout each other down. Turner goes some way to explaining this - the fear of the 'other', the power of homosexuals to adopt heteronormative roles, the way in which bisexuality undermines those roles in a way which "gay" can never do. Based around the author's relationship with London's Epping Forest, the book twists and turns around and within the forest, exploring the role of "nature" in modern life, the author's psyche and relationships and with London. This book opened my eyes to an aspect of sexuality which I had, like most people, inadvertently ignored, my only criticism being that it could have done with a more rigorous editor. Having said that, I am going to love any book which gets this review from tory rag, "The Spectator".

On the subject of frothing tories, I came home to this heap of shite on my doormat:

Needless to say, it wasn't ripped up when it was delivered. I did this for effect. Ghastly pub chain, owned by the definitive "swivel-eyed loon", Tim Martin (he really does look like something "League of Gentlemen" would have come up with) serial exploiter of poverty-wage employees and with a personal wealth of something around £500m has decided to squander some of his shareholders' profits on putting out propaganda for the disaster-capitalist wing of the tory party.
Naturally, he doesn't consider that it will be his finest, elderly customers who suffer the most if the UK leaves the EU... he's alright, Jack! He's one of the richest people in the UK. Like all the others pushing for the UK to leave the EU: Rees-Mogg, Banks, the Barclay Brothers...

I've spent the last week with friend and colleague, Dan Russell, setting up our "A Waste Land" show, of which I have previously written. This week was the install, filling the gallery space with all the waste we've gathered from the streets of Birmingham and Chatham. Dan was brilliant at curating the waste and it looks really good.

A Waste Land - Install - 1

A Waste Land - Install - 2

A Waste Land - Install - 4

A Waste Land - Install - 3

We've not released any photographs of the work yet, but can now reveal how some of the cabinets look:

Each object comes with a "museum card" which we hope is in the style of anthropological museums, bolstered by an essay by Dr. John Scanlan and videos of our working process and the gathering of the waste.

The opening is on Tuesday next week. Tickets for our "in conversation" event at 6pm are available here.

There will be music played on waste instruments by students at Birmingham Conservatoire and food by The Real Junk Food Project Brum.

On Tuesday night, Dan and I went to Centrala to hear a piece I've wanted to hear live for years, Fausto Romitelli's "Trash TV Trance" for solo electric guitar and electronics. Played by Simon Aeschimann of the Ensemble Contrechamps,  this was an amazing performance and everything I had hoped it would be.

Millennium Percussion

Afterwards there we moved upstairs for the performance with the percussion department of the Conservatoire along with the Ensemble for the premier of a ravishing new work for guitar and marimba by Fumiko Miyachi and a performance of Ligeti's absurdist song-cycle, "Sippal, Dobbal, Nadihegeduvel", which was also wonderful. It is such a privilege to have access to this much interesting music, played to such a high standard.

Here is a recording of Trash TV Trance, performed by the person for whom it was written, Tom Pauwels:

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Kingdom Come

I've been a huge fan of JG Ballard ever since I read "High Rise" when I was about 16. I rapidly explored "Crash" and "Atrocity Exhibition" - which, at 16 or 17, I probably pretentiously pretended to understand: as an adult, I still struggle with it - and up until his death, I eagerly awaited each new novel, "Rushing to Paradise", "Cocaine Nights", "Super-Cannes"... Thus it was that in 2006, I read "Kingdom Come". In this novel, middle-England revolts without realising that they are doing it. Led by a charismatic, media-managed, glossy 'eccentric' who is prone to outbursts of cruelty and buffoonery, they relieve the dissatisfaction generated by gigantic shopping malls and the boredom of consumerism by building a populist movement, sporting St. George's Cross teeshirts and hats, flags fluttering from car windows and suburban bungalows, overturning the rule of law and attacking Asian and Polish businesses.

Sound familiar?
I have always viewed Ballard's writing as allegorical, sometimes far-fetched, but always with the point that society is only just held together by a thin veneer of civilisation but this novel is now something quite other. Re-reading it is actually frightening as it no longer reads like an allegory, more like a prediction: what seemed to be a warning now reads like an instruction manual with exact parallels in what is happening in the UK today. Ballard writes, "The danger is that consumerism will need something close to fascism in order to keep growing."

We are close to some sort of fascism now, caused by the deliberate destabilisation of a consumer-led society. Artist, Rachel Maclean hit the nail on the head when she said of her residency in the Birmingham Bullring shopping centre, "There’s something about shopping centres and the whole experience of advertising that is anxiety-inducing. It has to make you feel bad in order that you buy something to make yourself feel better. It’s an entire culture that necessitates dissatisfaction."
The problem here is that the whole population has been exposed to this culture, they have been saturated in dissatisfaction, itself a function of the neoliberal economic model which requires the population to consume endlessly. Ballard posits that the population have become bored of neoliberalism, bored of consumption and, as they have defined themselves through their consumption, bored of their very core of being. This disaffection manifests itself in outpourings of violence directed against the "other" and, ultimately, against manufactured "others": "New enemies were always needed, and one in particular was soon found. The traditional middle class..."
The outlook for the UK is not good.

In The Cut - Project - 3
Riv, one of the mentors and a musician working on the "In The Cut" project with pupils at Broadway Academy.
In terms of my own work, the 'big project' I've been planning with Norman Cherry has now kicked off and it relates very strongly to this malaise. This week saw us taking a group of Artists-in-Residence from the School of Jewellery into Broadway Academy in Perry Barr along with a couple of local musicians, BCU Criminology students and the fantastic Criminology lecturer and researcher Yusef Bakkali with a view to trialling a prophylactic intervention amongst a group of young people who could potentially be at risk of being involved in knife crime.

The reality is that there is an epidemic of knife crime and all young people, excepting, perhaps, the most isolated and/or privileged are at risk. This is partly to do with survival, or at least the  idea of survival, the idea that other people are carrying knives and so knives are carried as a "protection" - despite figures which show that carrying a knife increases the likelihood of being injured or killed in knife-crime incidents. These young people are anxious. Anxiety and fear are part of their lives. Even the best brought-up young people are targeted by advertising and are made to feel inadequate, to doubt themselves. It is little surprise that they not only have alarming levels of mental-health issues but that they also feel the need to defend themselves, both physically and psychologically.

In The Cut - Project - 1

Unusually, our project is prophylactic. It is an intervention before anyone is involved: it seeks to alert the participants to the issues in a creative and thoughtful way, to make them think about their environment and to try to make them think about committing to a life which eschews violence. To this end, we've been getting them to draw protective amulets which are going to be made from the knife blades and we've been really encouraged by the outcomes so far.

In The Cut - Project - 4

In The Cut - Project - 2

John Grayson - Talking Practice - 4

Over the last month, we've had John Grayson's PhD exhibition "Enamel:Substrate" in the Vittoria Street Gallery and last week was his "Talking Practice" about the exhibition and his work on researching Bilston painted enamels.

John Grayson - Talking Practice - 2

John is a great maker and a most engaging speaker and the talk was fully-booked, the reception afterwards very busy. I particularly like his work but his drawings and sketchbooks are really lovely:

John Grayson - Talking Practice - 4

John Grayson - Talking Practice - 5

I have been making preparations for the show I am doing in Vittoria Street with Dan Russell, "A Waste Land" which opens next week on the 4th with our "Talking Practice" on the 5th February. As part of this, I spent a day litter picking with the Jewellery Quarter BID Clean Team:

Working with Dennis and Allan, the regular team members, we wandered about the Jewellery Quarter, gathering up the rubbish, something they do four days a week, 10am - 4pm. I was only with them about an hour and we found some horrors...

Out With The JQ Clean Team - 6

Out With The JQ Clean Team - 5

It wasn't all bad, though and I did hear some great stories, such as how someone had dumped a safe in the middle of one street and about the complete set of boxed false teeth which turned up in another. In case you are wondering, that IS a "Moomin" on the cart in the first picture:

Out With The JQ Clean Team - 4

Work starts on the exhibition tomorrow. Should you be interested in coming along, all the details are here. There will be food from the Real Junk Food Project  - made from food-waste - and music from students at the Birmingham Conservatoire - James Abel, George West and Peter Bell - which will include some sheet music I found on my litter-picking expedition, played on scrap materials and instruments:

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Run Down Christmas

Quite literally. I have rarely felt so tired, what with all the projects on the go at the moment, plus teaching plus various hassles with systems at work but as I'm on holiday very soon, I can't complain. Planning, mainly, to sleep!

I can now reveal a little more about the exhibition I'm planning with Dan Russell, "A Waste Land", which will open here in Birmingham on the 3rd February with an 'in conversation' event on the evening of the 4th where Dan and I will be discussing the work, followed by a reception in the Vittoria Street Gallery at the School of Jewellery. We're proud to have been featured on the front page of Klimt02 and you can read a bit more about the show there. The show will be made from the unpromising materials we've found lying about in our respective cities of Birmingham and Chatham.

Street Dump - 1

On some levels, it's been a really interesting and creative challenge but on another, it is somewhat dispiriting in that it has left me with a heightened awareness of the amount of low-grade waste which surrounds us constantly. The photograph above shows a street near the School of Jewellery which filled up like this over the course of two weeks. (Thanks to Kate Thorley, a colleague at the School for pointing this out to me.)

The work which our Artist-in-Residence, Fiona Harris, made in conjunction with the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter was launched just before we broke up for the festive season. She had exclusive access to the pattern books of the museum - the old Smith and Pepper pattern books - and her work is now on sale across Birmingham Museums and Art Galleries.

Fiona Harris - Product Launch - 2

Fiona Harris - Product Launch - 3

Enamel Hack 2 - 2

Our "enamel hack" session had the honour of a visit from our visiting Professor, Elizabeth Turrell, who uncovered a box of beautiful samples and set about ordering them for us:

Enamel Hack 2 - 3

This was followed by a weekend of music by Brian Ferneyhough, who was awarded an honorary doctorate at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire:

Brian Ferneyhough Doctorate - 1

Here is our Dean, Alison Honour (front) with Ferneyhough and I am proud to say that the medal with which the doctorate was conferred was designed by two of my ex-students (the medal is just about visible in this picture).

The Arditti Quartet were much in evidence, performing his in a variety of arrangements, from solo violin to full quartet.

Brian Ferneyhough Doctorate - 2

The programme was excellent, of course, with a fine selection of his work

MA Interim Show - 2018 - 3

We also had the interim collections from the MA Jewellery and Object course, which was held at the Parkside campus and was really well-attended. This is not so much a show of finished work as of sketches and research materials and it was fascinating to speak to the students - all of whom come from far-Eastern countries - talking about their work, especially the women who were able to discuss topics which, even five years ago, would have been "difficult" - if not impossible - to speak about.

MA Interim Show - 2018 - 2

MA Interim Show - 2018 - 4

Back to the Conservatoire for a performance by the students of electro-acoustic composition as part of the BCMG "Frontiers" series of concerts. It was interesting to see cassette tapes used as part of this!

Frontiers - 2018 - Electronica 2

Frontiers - 2018 - Electronica 1

This is what staff development at the School of Jewellery looks like:

Workshop Elves - 2

We were brushing up on stone-setting, in case you are wondering... there is more festive horror to come...

Non-festive horrors included a visit to West Midlands Police to look at their container full of knives which have been recovered from the street. This is genuinely shocking:

Knife Crime - 3 - WIP

Knife Crime - 2 - WIP

They have a whole shipping container full of this stuff:

Knife Crime - 7 - WIP

All of these weapons have been removed from the streets of the West Midlands. I was there with friend and colleague, Norman Cherry, with whom I am working on a project. More details on that very soon.

Morecambe Bay - Winter

Christmas and New Year were very quiet with a lovely visit to Scotland to catch up with friends and see my mum. On the way back down we took time to visit Morecambe. I have a very vague memory of having visited when I was much younger. There is something quite magical about out-of-season holiday resorts.

Ice-Cream Menu

Neddy - 1


Eric Morecambe

My best Christmas present:

From Dingo, of course.
My worst Christmas nightmare:

This appalling thing was at my mum's.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Celtic Connections

River Kelvin

Kicked off from the end of the last post by jumping on a train to Glasgow to go and hear the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra perform three symphonies by Gloria Coates. I've been enamoured of Coates' work since reading an article about her in The Wire in the early 2000s and bought some CDs of her music on the strength of a verbal description of her music.

Less hedonistically, I had planned to meet up with a friend who has become ill, but this was cancelled at the last moment as his daughter sent him to Valencia for the Moto GP! Instead, I met with my old friend, Janine and we headed off to the South Side of the city to the amazing "Ranjit's Kitchen". The story of how this place came to be is delightful and can be read on the website. Anyone visiting Glasgow should make the trip to eat there - the all-vegetarian food is really special.

What nobody visiting Glasgow should ever do is make the stupid mistake of booking to stay in the "City Center (sic) Rooms", bookable through Expedia and their own website, probably the most unpleasant hotel/rooming apartment I have ever had the misfortune to stay in. I can honestly say that my worst experiences of student accommodation have never come down to this level of damp, cold, drafty, dirty, noisy and:

You can see how filthy the place was from the crud around the switches.

The Gloria Coates symphonies - Nos. 1, 7 and 11 - were truly fantastic and I was absolutely blown away by them. Ms. Coates herself was present and was interviewed by Kate Molleson at the interval:

Gloria Coates

You can hear her First Symphony, "Music on Open Strings" here:

I've been working on the next exhibition, a big show at Vittoria Street Gallery in collaboration with Dan Russell.

I'm not going to say very much about it here, except that it will be unlike any of my previous work. Here is a glimpse of some of the making:

A Waste Land - WIP - 3

A Waste Land - WIP - 4

One of the things which has started a the School of Jewellery are informal "Hack Nights" where staff, students and artists-in-residence can come along and play around with techniques with some instruction from someone who knows what they are doing. We've started with Enamel Hacks - something of interest to me as it is a technique I have singularly avoided!

Enamel Hack - 1

Enamel Hack - 5

In the first session, we experimented with liquid enamels on steel. I was particularly taken with this and will definitely consider ways of using it further.

The second session was plique-a-jour... An essay in frustration.

Off to see Mogwai (again!) at a new venue in Birmingham, The Mill, and they were as fantastic and as loud as ever.

Mogwai! (At The Mill)

Ever the purveyors of classy merchandise, you could have a "Brexit is shite" teeshirt, riffing on their earlier "Blur" affair, or this rather stylish limited-edition screenprinted poster which allows a man of my age to have a gig poster on the bedroom wall!

The following day saw the start of the Jewellery Quarter Open Studios and I was based in the wonderful gallery setting of what used to be "Guildsman" (soon to re-open as "Quo Vadis"), exhibiting with students and artists-in-residence from the School of Jewellery. A great opportunity.

Unfortunately, because I was working, I didn't get to go to many other places as part of the event.

Jewellery Quarter Open Studios - Quo Creations - 1

Jewellery Quarter Open Studios - Quo Creations - 2

I sold a fair amount of work but the real highlight was when I met a customer from 2011, who had commissioned a piece from me by email and brought it back for a small repair! It was such a pleasure to meet up with her and her partner, for whom it had been made. Even more bizarrely, it turned out that she and her partner had been at school with Tina Francis, organiser of the Open Studios Event... a small world, indeed.

This was the piece:

Bracelet For A Punk Engineer - 2

A remarkable concert at the Birmingham Conservatoire this week as Tin Men And The Telephone brought their incredible interactive jazz event to "The Lab". Using a mobile phone app, the audience can control the music and it is incredibly impressive to see the speed with which they respond to the input and then create a coherent - and enjoyable - musical experience from it.

Tin Men And The Telephone - 3

They were performing a set loosely based around the rise of far-right politics and there were some hilarious moments, such as looping Marine Le Penn and playing along with her vile opinions:

Tin Men And The Telephone - 2

Impressive set up to make all this happen, too:

Tin Men And The Telephone - 1

Finally, last night I went to see Yazz Ahmed and her Hafla Band at the CBSO Centre, a very funky evening indeed, with Yazz playing trumpet, flugelhorn and electronics and her band comprising keyboards, bass guitar, drums, hand-percussion, electric guitar and vibraphone.

Yaz Ahmed and her Hafla Band

I couldn't help imagining a 1960s spy thriller set in a dusty middle-eastern city!
Have a listen: