Sunday, October 30, 2016

Talks and Talking

Lots of talk and not much jewellery for me this week!

At the School of Jewellery, we have an extensive programme of Artists-in-Residence (AiR) who work with the students on each course while extending their own practice. Every single year of each course has an AiR allocated to them - which is a luxury, indeed. This week saw us being introduced to them properly as they each gave us a bit of a talk about their hopes and direction for the year.

AiR Talks - 4

AiR Talks - 3

I have already enjoyed working with some of the AiRs and look forward to seeing what they do over the coming year.

Also in the lecture theatre this week was Jenni Dixon, who keeps a fascinating blog on her researches into eighteenth-century Birmingham. She was at the School of Jewellery to give a talk entitled "Birmingham in Miniature" about the development of the Jewellery Quarter from a large industry which had grown up around the manufacture of "toys", or frivolous objects of ostensible use, such as châtelaines.

Birmingham In Miniature - 1

It was good to see that plenty of people from the Jewellery Quarter who are not associated with the School turned up to hear her.

Birmingham In Miniature - 2

There is more information about "toys", especially those produced in Birmingham, on her website.

I have always loved J.G.Ballard since I first read "High Rise" when I was about 15. It fits in perfectly with my love of Brutalism, my apocalyptic fantasies, my fondness for industrial landscapes, collapse and waste. It definitely helped shape my æsthetics. I was delighted to meet recently with Dr. Tom Knowles from the School of English at Birmingham City University and who told me about his conference, "J.G. Ballard and the Natural World".
Fantastic poster design by Rosemary Chalmers
I am SO glad that I went to this and I am even more delighted that none of it went over my head! The best bit of all of this is that I discovered a story by Ballard, a novella, of which I had not heard before - though I am certain he must mention it himself in "Miracles of Life", which I have read - "The Wind From Nowhere". This is his first published and subsequently disowned novel, one which I must now find and read as it seems to me to be rather important in terms of understanding the arc of his development as a writer.

J.G. Ballard - 1

Rather impressively, Ballard's daughter was there (the back of her head is visible on the left in the photograph above) keeping us informed with small details and memories throughout the day.

As with so many good conference projects, this one was interdisciplinary and there were art installations, an excellent presentation of work by Mike Bonsall who's "Digital Ballard" project informed the recent Ben Wheatley film of "High Rise". There was also a string sextet from the Conservatoire who performed Chaikowski's "Souvenir de Florence" as a tribute to the singing plants from Ballard's short story "Prima Belladonna".

J.G. Ballard - 2

Tom is planning to make this an annual event and the next conference may well feature jewellery inspired by Ballard...

A lazy day today, with a visit from Rachel Darbourne, letting me see one of her ideas for a new piece, a hip-hop inspired pendant:

Sleepy Monkey

And me doing some stone-setitng and experimenting with taking photographs through the setting microscope:

As well as garden things, as usual:

Autumn Tropaeolum

Finally, just because I love it, the paper-works of Asya Kozina:

Monday, October 24, 2016

Perfect Live

Cheerful Wall
Cheerful wall in Digbeth, Birmingham.
I started off this week with a visit to Digbeth to deliver some of the work for "Made in The Middle" to Emma at Craftspace. I am so excited about being in this show and am very pleased with the work I've made for it, which is - from my own view - very lean and stripped-back but at the same time, is still very obviously by me.

I've had Andrew Neilson take another remarkable photograph for the show too!

A whole stack of nut rings. I've made so many of these recently, some for Made in the Middle and some for Vicky Sewart in Plymouth, for whom I am making a collection which will be available in the run up to Christmas.

Rep Surreal

Hallowe'en is upon us again and I 'celebrated' by going to a séance! Not just any séance, however, but Séance, a theatrical event at the Birmingham Rep, held in a shipping container in Centenary Square, just outside the theatre.


The interior had been kitted out to seem like a Victorian parlour and smelled of incense; everyone put their hands on the table and the lights went out, plunging us all into absolute dark... I found it very funny - especially as the person next to me, who had been most definitely male when I entered, spoke with a female voice! The whole performance only lasted about 20 minutes but it was a brilliant - if occasionally rather over-the-top - evocation of what a Victoria séance might have been like.

Friday night was off to the Conservatoire for a concert of chamber music by the Frontiers Trio.

Frontiers Trio

An unusual line-up of guitar, violin and 'cello, performing an excellent mix of styles, including very successful arrangements of Bartok and Vivaldi which were transposed to give enormous clarity to the original writing, the Vivaldi 'Summer' from the 'Four Seasons' being especially successful. Perhaps oddly, the least successful piece was actually written for these forces, a little suite by Paganini which was pleasant enough but ultimately forgettable.

Dinner With View

Sunday night was all about music again and I went with my friend of long-standing, James, to London to hear Matmos perform selections from Robert Ashley's 'Perfect Lives'. 'Perfect Lives' is a very odd beast indeed, being described as a "television opera" by the composer and it was first performed on Channel 4 in the UK in 1984. I have a recording of it with Robert Ashley himself narrating, a performance which I enjoy very much.

Perfect Lives - Robert Ashley/Matmos - 1

I wasn't really sure what Matmos would bring to the piece but I was fairly certain that it would be interesting. What I hadn't banked on was that it would be a superb clarification of the music - rather as the reduction of the forces by the Frontiers Trio mentioned above had clarified the music of Bartok and Vivaldi.

Perfect Lives - Robert Ashley/Matmos - 2

The piece had originally been imagined for David Byrne to narrate and the narration in this performance was performed by Martin Schmidt, who brought is utterly endearing personality to the show, moving it away from the deadpan of Ashley but without the awkwardness that Byrne would have given it. Drew Daniels built up electronic sounds and beats, to which a variety of singers and instrumentalists added their music and the whole was mesmeric.

This piece made me realise that there is a definite 'voice' in American music which encompasses not only the high minimalists like Glass and Reich, but also the fringes of pop such as Laurie Anderson, David Byrne and Tom Waits. James thinks that it has to do with the influence of German immigrants who would have been familiar with the likes of Sprechgesang/Sprechstimme in Europe but to me there is something very non-European about the voice.

Perfect Lives - Robert Ashley/Matmos - 3

It is a great pity that they only performed one night of this. I would happily have gone out of my way to hear it again. Here is a snippet:

With the original by Robert Ashley here:

And now to a very British voice. By complete chance, I came across one Brian Bilston on Twitter last week and immediately had to buy his book. (If you buy the book from that link, a real-world bookshop of your choice gets a donation: the superb "Hive" online bookstore.)

Which caused much hilarity in the staffroom. Bilston writes poetry which is in a strangely British mould, reminiscent - but in no way derivative - of Spike Milligan, John Cooper-Clarke or even Tom Lehrer. I strongly recommend getting a copy.

From Twitter this morning (thus public domain!):


Weary of its buzzing,
he smashed up his alarm
with his cherished bedside copy
of The Little Book of Calm.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Quiet Life

A very quiet week for me this week, punctuated by a visit from Marcy of the British Art Medal Society to discuss next year's student medal competition, doing my tax return and getting locked out of the School early one morning (due to someone forgetting to give the keys to our head of security). Still, I got to see the jewellery quarter in a new light:

Jewellery Quarter Dawn

Apart from the aforementioned tax return, I've spent the weekend in the garden, at the fruit and vegetable market and at the theatre. The market in Birmingham is one of my favourite things about being here: not only is it a great place to get good-quality, modestly-priced produce (it seems that everything defaults to £1 - though in these straightened times of the collapsing pound, that starts to feel very different), but it is busy, friendly and good-natured. Over the years, I've photographed the market several times:




Went to The Old Rep theatre for the first time to see The Merchant Of Venice performed by students from the School of Acting in Birmingham, part of Birmigham City University and, therefore, a fellow school to the School of Jewellery.

It was interesting to see this play again as an adult - my experience of seeing it was as a kid at school, being taken to the Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow - and to realise that it is a bit of an untidy mess, not really resolving whether to be a comedy, political or a dark drama. That the director really sought to play up the comedy worked well for the most part, but it does make the courtroom scene feel really out of place. The production sought to position the play in the present day, making much of the referendum choice for the UK to leave the EU and the ensuing wave of intolerance, a good idea but not one which entirely worked here.

Merchant Of Venice Cast

The music for the play was composed especially by one of the students at the Birmingham Conservatoire and fitted really well with the late-1990s look of the production. (Unfortunately, there was no programme, so I have no details for the performance and performers.)

Particular mention has to be given to both Shylock and Lancelot Gobbo/Prince of Morocco: Shylock was especially good, portraying a madness brought on by the frustration at being constantly treated as second-rate for being Jewish; Lancelot Gobbo / Prince of Morocco played these comic parts with a marvellous comic gusto.

The rest of the cast were good and this didn't feel like a "student" production. A real pleasure and I'm glad I went on the off-chance!

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Check It

A double-barrel post!

On Wednesday last week, I went to a screening of Peter Watkins' strange, wonderful (if flawed) 'Privilege'. Dating from 1966 - exactly fifty years old - it was largely shot in Birmingham and is probably most famous for actually provoking a riot during the filming. There was a strange resonance with this, given that two weeks ago, I was in Coventry Cathedral watching 'Atomic' which contained fragments of Watkins' more famous film, 'The War Game'. There was something very odd about being in Town Hall in Birmingham and watching a film in which the main protagonist - Paul Jones of Manfred Mann - performs on the very stage over which the film was being shown.

The film was being shown as part of the Flatpack festival in the city in their 'Birmingham on Film' series. I've wanted to see this film for a while and had

Johnny Speight - better known for his obnoxious bigot Alf Garnet in Till Death Us Do Part - wrote the piece and it is a typically savage critique of contemporary politics, in this case, the politics of control, rebellion, conformity and the toxic nature of church being involved in the state. Watkin's wanted to use non-actors and cast Paul Jones (Manfred Mann) and the first "supermodel", Jean Shrimpton, both of whom turn in remarkably complex performances.

The film kept reminding me of other films, notably Fellini's 1972 "Roma" and Pink Floyd's "The Wall" which parallels the plot of Privilege rather closely in places.

You can see the trailer here:

Brighton for the weekend and then back into work for the second full week with the students. The 3rd Year BA Students were returning to a project they had tackled in their first year and made quick-fire vessels (5 days) for an exhibition in the Atrium.

Pots of Joy (Revisited) - 1

As ever, there were some very exciting outcomes and impressive given the short time-scale:

Pots of Joy (Revisited) - 6
Pots of Joy (Revisited) - 2
Lauren Beech
Pots of Joy (Revisited) - 5
Fun Yan Tang
Pots of Joy (Revisited) - 4

I went to the Birmingham and Midland Institute to hear the president of the institute, Julian Lloyd-Weber, speaking on the future of classical music.

Julian Lloyd-Weber

After giving a thoughtful and engaging speech about his views on music, especially music and young people, he invited questions from the audience and the conversation developed in a way that I like to think that the founders of the B&MI would have enjoyed: about the power of music (and education generally) to change lives for the better; about the way in which music is presented both in the concert-hall and on the media; about the neo-liberal agenda and the arts...

An excellent evening.

Goldsmiths' Fair, 2016 - 5

We took the students to London this week to visit Goldsmiths' Fair, held in Goldsmiths' Hall. For those who don't know, this is THE showcase in the UK for all the very best jewellers and silversmiths who are working in the realms of "fine jewellery" and it was superb.

Goldsmiths' Fair, 2016 - 3

One of the most wonderful elements for me was meeting up with so many people from when I lived in Scotland, starting with Hamish Dobbie, whom I had the pleasure of introducing to my Artist in Residence for this year, Michael Wong:

Goldsmiths' Fair, 2016 - 4

Also represented - but not photographed - were Rhona McCallum, Kathryn Hinton, Craig Stuart and Graeme McColm, all of whom I have previously blogged. Additionally, I was able to catch up with Jessica Turrell and Nicholas Yiannarakis, meet Ute Decker and John Moore for the first time.

I also took time to talk to Emma-Jane Rule, a silversmith who piqued my interest when I first saw her work in the Goldsmiths' Craft and Design exhibition earlier in the year and the only person I've ever seen working with fold-forming in a genuinely beautiful and interesting way:

Goldsmiths' Fair, 2016 - 1

I really do recommend visiting her website and see what she is doing with this technique.

Queen Einstein

London over the weekend for a meeting to discuss the 2017 Association for Contemporary Jewellery Conference which is being held in Sheffield. It's going to be a good one! More on that soon.

Home again and apart from losing my phone on the train - and the person on Princess Street, Coventry, who took it from the train and who now has it in the house, I have erased everything, blocked the IMEI, have reported it to the police.