Monday, June 04, 2018

A Whistle-Stop Tour of May

It's been a very busy month as the students finish off their work for the final shows and we start to make all the preparations. There hasn't been so much on - a couple of concerts with the CBSO performing works by the great Russians, Prokofiev (5th Symphony) and Shostakovich (10th Symphony) which, of course, were stellar - as well as some interesting performances.

Andrew Logan at the RBSA - 1

The month kicked off with a talk by Andrew Logan at the RBSA Gallery in the Jewellery Quarter. I love the enthusiasm and positivity of Andrew: someone who doesn't take himself too seriously but who has been a serious mover and shaker in the British alternative art world since the 1970s.

Andrew Logan at the RBSA - 2

Regular followers will remember that I went to the 25-year Anniversary of Andrew's museum in Welshpool, Wales. You can read about this here.

I represented the School of Jewellery at the prestigious Jewellery Quarter Business Improvement District Levy Payers' Dinner, which was held at the training restaurant of University College Birmingham, the food entirely cooked and served by students... and it was first-rate. I had heard previously that the food was excellent and I was not disappointed.

JQ BID Dinner

It was great to meet some new faces and spend some time with people I knew from the quarter in a relaxed and pleasant environment.

For family reasons, I had a very brief meeting with my mum, brother and sister, as well as various nephews, partners, and all the other acoutrements of modern families. It was great to see everyone again, even if the reason for the meeting with the family was not fundamentally a positive one:

Me with my brother.

As usual, there has been lots of music, including the excellent "Enemy", a jazz trio who performed at the Birmingham Conservatoire:


You can hear them here:

I've also been immersing myself in the history of Can.

The book by Rob Young and Irmin Schmidt is highly recommended. (As is the Holger Czukay box set!)

I took the advice of a colleague at work and went to the Birmingham Rep to see a performance of a piece called "The String Quartet's Guide To Sex And Anxiety" by Calixto Bieito, of whom I had previously not heard. I read that it contained a complete performance of Ligeti's second string quartet and a performance of Beethoven's 11th Quartet - not one of the late ones, but still interesting enough.

The set was nice.

Anxiety - Birmingham Rep

What a wretched piece of theatre. Not only were the string quartets interrupted by angst-ridden monologues, I actually started to be embarrassed by the fact that the really very good actors were having to declaim the dreadful crap. It was like listening to some self-indulgent neurotics talking about their own ghastly lives with no chance to change the subject.

I suspect the self-indulgence is wholly on the part of the director.

I was down in Brighton for both bank-holiday weekends and the weather was great. Unfortunately the roads down and, more particularly, back up, were not so great!

We had a staff night out last week and went to the SPEEDWAY!

Birmingham Speedway - 6

I loved it. I thought I would enjoy it but it was really fantastic.
This all started as part of John Wigley's "Hidden City" in which the staff of the University record their thoughts and feelings about an aspect of Birmingham which is normally overlooked. (I recorded one about going to the fruit and vegetable market in Digbeth, which you can hear here.) He invited Drew Markou to do the talk - amusingly, Drew thought he was going to have to ride one of the bikes!

Birmingham Speedway - 5
L to R, Andy Howard, Katy Tromans and Drew Markou with John Wigley far right.
Turned out to be too noisy to make a recording.

As mentioned at the top, the graduate shows are looming and we've been doing the photography for promotional materials. One of the more challenging items to photograph was this broadsword, made by one of my students, Kai-Blu Triassi:

Broadsword Photoshoot - 3

Modelled by fellow student and battle re-enactment expert, Sofie Macearnuig.

Friction Arts brought us one of the oddest and most affecting things I've seen in a long time with their "Everything Must Go", a strange work based in the old wholesale produce market in Digbeth, being closed down after trading for nearly 900 years...

Everything Must Go - 9

It was an odd event, kicking off with an opportunity to explore the market in a kind of mass "urban exploration" for about an hour, discovering installations by a variety of artists hidden in old deep-freezes or on boarded-up units:

Everything Must Go - 13

Everything Must Go - 29

Everyone was then gathered together and a performance ensued:

Everything Must Go - 37

All about the daily life of the market.
There was a nude poet tied to a fruit barrow:

Everything Must Go - 39

And a tap-dancer, shuffling away to an out-of-tune "Lullaby of Broadway"...

Everything Must Go - 34

As we left, we shook hands with the workers who said "Goodbye" to us all.
Fantastic and very sad.

Everything Must Go - 34

Went to Sheffield to meet with Rachael Colley and track down the only cheese made in the city, "Little Mester", a Camembert-like surface-ripened cheese which is eaten young.

Little Mester - Explained!

Needless to say, we had lunch here and talked about cheese with the knowledgeable fellow in the picture above. I think he was a bit surprised that we had chosen to visit Sheffield specifically to find his cheese! While I was there, I discovered another Sheffield speciality of which I had never previously partaken:

Henderson's Relish! It is like Worcestershire Sauce (slightly lighter body, less salty) but is completely vegan: no anchovies. I brought a couple of bottles back, adding it to my growing list of how Sheffield has made my life better: The Human League (pre-Dare, including their work as "The Future"), Cabaret Voltaire, Pulp, Tony Christie, Moloko, stainless steel... !

I also caught up with Cóilín Ó Dubhghaill, always a pleasure.

Coming up, our graduate show.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

(B)Easter Holidays

Caged Chick

I've been on holiday. Brighton again and this bizarre easter chick. To be fair, it was in the window of an "adult shop". The weather was absolutely stinking, rain, cold, only one decent day and that felt more like an early autumn day than a late spring one.

Allotment Spring

Back to work now and Birmingham has been swathed in rain and fog and I've barely had a chance to get out to the garden.

Talking Practice - Conemara Marble - 1

Rattling through the events as they unfolded, we kicked off after Easter with a talk by Alessandra Costanza, a new lecturer at the School of Jewellery and an expert on Connemara marble, she teaches Gemmology, unsurprisingly. Her talk was fascinating.

Talking Practice - Conemara Marble - 2

Next, we had the closing event for the Subterranea exhibition in the Vittoria Street Gallery (see here for the opening event). Nuala Clooney had very kindly made sweets for each exhibitor, sweets which reflected the work. By far my favourite were the liquorice buttons which she made for Bridie Lander's black mirror pieces. The work:

Subterranea Closing - 2

The sweets:

Subterranea Closing - 1

Delicious! I ate too many of these.

The IAAF Medals just keep returning! This time in the form of two sets, one presented to the School of Jewellery and one presented to the designer of the medals, Menna Jones.

IAAF Medals Presentation - 2

Here are Stephen Bottomley - Head of School - with Leader of Birmingham City Council, Ian Ward, giving the medal set to Menna.

The weather broke for the week of Flatpack Film Festival and Dingo came to visit in rather summery temperatures and mostly sunshine, which was great. We kicked off the week with the bewildering "Work is a Four-Letter Word", shown at The Electric (the oldest continually-operational cinema in Europe, having been showing films continuously since 1909!). Featuring the talented David Warner, the talentless Cilla Black and with a soundtrack by Delia Darbyshire, this surrealist tale, set in Birmingham, features magic mushrooms, an evil corporation and an exploding power-plant. What more could you ask for?

This song, it seems, split up The Smiths.
Shame about Morrissey, isn't it?

Tuesday night brought a stellar showing of the 1922 Swedish silent film, "Häxan", a film about witches and witchcraft. The film was narrated with subtle humour - which is present in the intertitles - by Reece Shearsmith and was given a live soundtrack by multi-instrumentalist, Stephen Horne, who also got the subtle humour: just how do you score a film in which witches kiss the devil's bum?

The whole thing is available on YouTube, should you wish to see it, but this was definitely worth seeing in this unique performance.

Here's the trailer!

Next up was a very odd film indeed, "Unarius - The Arrival", starring a space-version of Mollie Sugden! With music from Scott Johannsson, played on his Russian AELITA synthesizer from the 1980s and ending with a lovely version of Suicide's "Dream Baby, Dream".

Flatpack 2018 - 1

The film itself is a propaganda piece for some whacked-out millenial cult which believes in UFOs... If it hadn't been for the soundtrack, I am not sure I could have tolerated more than about five minutes of it.

Flatpack 2018 - 2

Should the lure of Space Mollie Sugden prove irresistible, you can see her here:

After this mind-bending experience, I was to be further confounded by the latest offering from Sellotape Cinema, of whom I have written before, several times. This time, they were presenting a film to the soundtrack of a found cassette, featuring the odious Genesis P. Orridge discussing the making of a film "Decoder" - of which, more later - set to their incomparable visuals.

Flatpack 2018 - 3

The Sellotape Cinema project was called "Recoder", here being introduced by Steve, one of the members of the collective.

Needless to say, this was followed by a showing of "Decoder", which 'stars' F.M. Einheit (of Einstrurzende Neubauten) and Christiane F. (yes, that one) and has a soundtrack by Soft Cell.

The film struck me as a kind of paranoid European equivalent to the contemporary "Liquid Sky". I'm not sure if I liked it or not.

During the week, things went on as usual at work. I photographed my final-year students for their Graduate Show Catalogue, taking advantage of the sunny weather:

HND Level 5 - 2018 - Group Shot

We also had our interim show of work by the MA students:

MA Interim Show, 2018 - 1

MA Interim Show, 2018 - 2

In which Hannah-May Chapman showed us her latest monsters:

MA Interim Show, 2018 - 4

I do like these!
The piece above that is made from layered, dried leaves and set with fine wires. It is going to be a good final show, I feel.

After that came our Artist-in-Residence show, an exhibition of the work made by the artists-in-residence during their last 9 months with us. It is really interesting to see what has developed:

Artist-in-Residence Show - 2018 - 3

Artist-in-Residence Show - 2018 - 2

Artist-in-Residence Show - 2018 - 4

Shown above is work by Andy Mariott, Rachel Jones-Jones and Timon Tio. For some reason, I didn't get round to photographing some of my favourite work, which is that of Matt Gale. I will get that posted next time around.

This last week has been a week of music for me. Kicking off with a rare performance of Morton Feldman's compelling trio for flutes, percussion and piano/celeste, "Crippled Symmetry" at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire was just ravishing.

I returned to the Conservatoire later in the week for "Entanglement! An Entropic Tale", an opera about quantum physics...

Entaglement! An Entropic Tale - 1

A new work by composer, Daniel Blanco Albert, with a libretto by Roxanne Korda, a mezzo-soprano with the most compelling voice who also sang the role of "Entropy". It is hard to know what to make of the piece, which I thoroughly enjoyed musically but which left me a bit cold (heat death?) in that I couldn't really accept the premise of the anthropomorphic sub-atomic particles. Everyone in it was brilliant - especially Korda - and it was a pleasure to sit back and enjoy the sound.

Entaglement! An Entropic Tale - 3

Saturday brought much more familiar musical territory with the CBSO performing Shostakovich's 10th Symphony.

Freezing cold again today but I managed to get a bit of gardening work done.

More soon!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Wake

Future Craft - Farnham - 2

This last fortnight saw me off to the University of the Creative Arts (UCA) at Farnham for the conference organised by Rebecca Skeels, "Future Craft: Entrepreneurship or Enterprise", a great chance to catch up with old friends - Liz Shaw, Ana Young, Sandra Wilson and Karen Dicken - and to listen to some of my favourite makers talk about their practice, including Daphne Krinos and Adi Toch. It was also an opportunity to meet with and think about aspects of my own practice and especially my teaching practice and a conversation with Emily Öhlund proved to be very interesting, talking about dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Future Craft - Farnham - 3

In a certain sense, the conference lost the focus of the theme and became about the makers' own experiences of developing their practices, but this in itself was both useful and fascinating, from David Poston's view that once trained as a designer, even if one thinks of oneself as a jewellery designer, it is possible to develop a much larger career as a "design thinker", through to Vicky Ambery-Smith's acknowledgement of a somewhat hand-to-mouth existence as a maker.

Went to London with Dingo over the following weekend to pick up my shoes from The Old Curiosity Shop. It was bitterly cold and London seemed deserted. We walked past a remarkable building which I had not spotted before, "One Kemble Street" and its adjunct, CAA House, both by Richard Seifert, another stunning example of brutalist architecture at its very best:

CAA House/One Kemble Street - 1

CAA House/One Kemble Street - 3

The Wake - Birmingham Opera - 1

This week also brought the staging of a new opera, "The Wake", especially commissioned by Birmingham Opera from Italian composer, Giorgio Battistelli - apparently the "greatest living composer" in Italy - of whom I had never previously heard. (The Guardian pointed out that Salvatore Sciarrino might be better known!) In keeping with the house style of the company, it was staged in an abandoned warehouse with a wandering audience and a community chorus and the principals were all fantastic. The orchestra were fantastic. The staging was fantastic. The audience were fantastic...

The Wake - Birmingham Opera - 3

The music, however, was a mess.
None of it is actually bad. Some of it is excellent - the broken, Schnittke-esque "spiritual" in the middle is quite brilliant - but none of it really hangs together. It made me think of calculus, where sampling any given moment yields something quantifiable (and interesting) but the sum of the parts tends towards zero.

It is a re-telling of the biblical story of Lazarus with strangely pointless moments of homophobia and police violence and while Graham Vick and his cast of thousands worked hard to create something amazing, it failed to thrill. It almost failed to rise about "moderately interesting", which is a great shame.

The Wake - Birmingham Opera - 4

Our Talking Practice at the School this week was Denise Reytan, a jeweller who works with scrap materials to create pieces and photographic installations which bridge jewellery and fashion.

Talking Practice - Denise Reytan - 2

She's been working with the BA students and I will post some of the resulting photographs soon.

My own students have been working with the BA Illustration students to create graphic works based on themes derived from the Jewellery Quarter. They had a selling show this week:

Spring Sale - Collaborative Works - 1

Spring Sale - Collaborative Works - 1

Vittoria Street Gallery hosted an exhibition of work by staff and alumni of the School, "Subterranea", a collaboration between Drew Markou, Bridie Lander, Rachel Darbourne and Nuala Clooney. Part performance, part exhibition, the show consisted of jewellery and objects and about 10 kilos of handmade marshmallow, which was served to the guests!

Subterranea - 4
Knife with teeth, on a bed of marshmallow, made by Nuala Clooney.

Subterranea - 8
Bridie Lander serving marshmallow.

Subterranea - 6

Subterranea - 2
Drew Markou

Although I love the work of all the makers, my favourite piece in the show has to be Rachel Darbourne's monkey-body neckpiece. Which I would wear.

Subterranea - 3