Sunday, March 19, 2017

Old and Improved!

Birmingham Spring

Spring has just about got to Birmingham this week and on Wednesday night it was a pleasant - almost warm - walk to the IKON gallery for the private view of the new show of work by two very disparate artists, Jean Painlevé and Oliver Beer.

Jean Painlevé/Oliver Beer - IKON - 3

Jean Painlevé was an artist and scientist, working with film, photography and other media, including jewellery and he was associated with the surrealists. His main enthusiasm was for sea-horses and marine life and he even invented cameras which could be used to take the images and make the films for which he is now famous. This, surprisingly, is the first solo exhibition of his work.

Jean Painlevé/Oliver Beer - IKON - 5

The opening was really busy and it will be interesting to go back and visit the show again as the films have soundtracks by early experimental electronic musicians such as Pierre Henry and it was not possible to listen to the soundtracks or view the films properly.

Some of the students from the MA Jewellery course will be taking part in the exhibition, making work in response to it, which seems appropriate given the jewellery aspect of the show.

Jean Painlevé/Oliver Beer - IKON - 2

I'll report on this response in a later post.

Oliver Beer is an artist who also works in film and sound although I have to say that any link in the minds of the curators/programmers who put these together is actually lost on me. This is not to say that the two shows are not excellent: they are both superb. Beer's work is disparate and complex but has the power to amuse and engage, especially the sound-piece "Making Tristan", in which various ceramic objects are caused to resonate and generate Wagner's "Tristan Chord".

Jean Painlevé/Oliver Beer - IKON - 6

That the items resonating include a porcelain pig and Beer's grandmother's chamber-pot, lending a touch of surreal humour to the piece. His grandmother features again in the exhibition in the touching "Oma's Kitchen Floor", a piece of damaged linoleum which records the daily trace of her life in her kitchen.

My own favourite piece, however, has got to be "I Wan'na Be Like You" in which the artist re-animates the famous scene from Disney's "The Jungle Book" using drawings by 2500 Birmingham children of all ages: and despite the main film being fantastic, the titles at the end are the best bit!

Jean Painlevé/Oliver Beer - IKON - 7

Friday lunchtime brought another lecture by Sabina Stent about women surrealists, this time the overlooked Emmy Bridgwater, one of the Birmingham Surrealists, held at the Birmingham and Midland Institute, which was good as it meant that I could have a chat with Connie again and compare notes on how much weight we put on as a result of fondue last week!

Sabina Again

I'm really delighted that the breadth of the British Surrealists are becoming more recognised, especially the role that the women played in the movement. Certainly, within European Surrealism, the women were too often reduced to the role of "muse" without necessarily being recognised as artists in their own right (Sabina cites the role of Lee Miller in the work of Man Ray as an example).

Friday night brought a concert.
If you've been following this blog for a while, you may recall that in summer of 2014, I went to hear Scott Bradlee's Post Modern Jukebox ("Today's hits, yesterday") and thought that they were rather good. I've been a fan of PMJ since I discovered this bizarre and hilarious video on YouTube in 2010:

Mr. Bradlee's sense of humour and prodigious musical talent kept me coming back for more and from these odd little piano-based vignettes (all of "Pulp Fiction" in five minutes or "Bohemian Rhapsody in Blue", a mashup of Queen and Gershwin) kept me intrigued and I watched the growth of the Postmodern Jukebox project with great pleasure as it became more and more sophisticated, involving ever-more-talented performers: it is the quality of Bradlee's collaborators which makes this band much more successful than the average covers band - in fact, probably unique among that (unfairly) slightly-despised genre.

Scott Bradlee's Post Modern Jukebox - 1

This gig was, without a doubt, one of the most joyful I have ever been to - far exceeding their previous performance - held together by the saucy badinage of multi-talented Ariana Savalas, quipping about the freezing, wet weather, "No wonder Adele is so miserable" and flirting outrageously with some bloke from the audience, "I love plaid. Is that from the reduced section of TK Maxx?". The addition of Ariana moved the whole performance from the realms of being merely a gig and into the world of Cabaret. Add to that the incredible skills of the performers and the obvious fact that they, too, were having enormous FUN on the stage and you have something irresistible. The audience lapped it up and the atmosphere was brilliant.

Scott Bradlee's Post Modern Jukebox - 2

Even the most dire crap of a song (Britney Spears' "Womaniser", for example) can be treated by the PMJ in such a way that it makes you wonder how the original got it so wrong and when they tackle an already excellent song (Radiohead's "Creep") it becomes sublime. From Hanson to Fountains of Wayne, the five singers (two male, three female), tap-dancer, drummer, bassist, clarinetist, trombonist and pianist swung their way through a non-stop two-hour set and nobody wanted them to stop.

Scott Bradlee's Post Modern Jukebox - 4

For sheer, unadulterated, silly pleasure, here is Aubrey Logan performing "Give it Away" by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers:

Worth having a listen to the PMJ Youtube channel too!

Digbeth Saturday Market - 2

Saturday was an slightly unusual visit to the produce market at Digbeth. I normally go to the market on a Saturday to buy my vegetables and cheese for the week but this week, I went with the purpose of recording a "Soundcloud" piece for John Wigley of the Birmingham School of Art for his collaborative practice "Hidden Cities" project. For the project, various teaching staff from around the ADM faculty at Birmingham City University record a voice piece on location at a place which might normally be overlooked. It can take the form of a narrative, or of an interview.
Mine will be uploaded soon.

Digbeth Saturday Market - 7

I finally, after years of having wanted to see it, managed to watch "The L-Shaped Room", a film which has influenced many aspects of British culture, from other film-makers to Morrisey. It is funny, touching, desperately sad and, ultimately, bleak. On the back of being very impressed by the film, I decided to read the book and have to say that this is probably the first time that I've felt that a book is somehow less than the film made from it.

The film strips everything back to the essentials and removes the rather grating deus ex machina which softens the end. Having said that, the characters are more rounded, more developed in the book but, overall, the film seems to me to be the more complete work.

Worth reading, for sure: well worth watching if you get the chance.

Finally, as we've discussed film and surrealism extensively, here is the quite brilliantly restored version of the first ever surrealist film, "The Seashell and the Clergyman" by Antonin Artaud. Like "The L-Shaped Room", it influenced so much that followed (the influence on the Quay Brothers is remarkable). As it was a silent film, you can watch it with the sound turned down as the music is dire:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Fondue and More

Not so much going on this week, so a relatively short post: most of the students and staff are at Schmuck in Munich.

Made in the Middle 2017 - Parkside Opening - 1

Highlight of the week for me was the opening of the "Made in the Middle" touring show at the Parkside Gallery in the centre of Birmingham. As the gallery is part of the University, lots of my colleagues from other parts of the university have had a chance to see what we all actually get up to a the School of Jewellery!

Made in the Middle 2017 - Parkside Opening - 2

Made in the Middle 2017 - Parkside Opening - 3

The exhibition was opened by Deirdre Figueiredo with an impassioned plea for the importance of craft and making:

Made in the Middle 2017 - Parkside Opening - 5

You can read my last post about the opening night at the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry here.

Other than that, it was the return of a decidedly recherché (or should that be déclassé?) dinner-party staple from the 1970s, the fondue. Myself, Connie Wan, Steve Snell and Zoe Robertson had a proper fondue party, evoking the spirit of Abigail's Party. I've wanted to have one for years and when I found a fondue set for £2 in a charity shop, knew that it had to happen. Fortunately, Connie agreed and it finally happened.

Fondue Strings

It might be bad for your health but it is absolutely delicious and I suggest that you all go out and make fondue very, very soon!

Finally, I rather liked this sign from the centre of Birmingham:

Birmingham ennui!

Monday, March 06, 2017

Golden Years

Goldsmiths' Craft And Design Awards 2017 - 1

Last week kicked off to a glorious start with the Goldsmiths' Company Craft and Design Awards, held in the opulent surroundings of Goldsmiths' Hall in London. About 20 staff and students from the School of Jewellery jumped on a coach to London at lunchtime for the awards ceremony in the evening as students from the school had won so many prizes in the competition which seeks to celebrate the very best in the craft and design of jewellery and silverwares. We had taken so many awards that we won the prestigious College Trophy.

Goldsmiths' Craft And Design Awards 2017 - 2

Gaynor Andrews, our ex-head, flew back from Portugal to collect the trophy:

Goldsmiths' Craft And Design Awards 2017 - 3

Goldsmiths' Craft And Design Awards 2017 - 4

Although we did well in a variety of categories, it was in the digital area that we really cleaned up, with winners from our BA Jewellery Design for Industry course featuring prominently. The team posed for photographs, of course!

Goldsmiths' Craft And Design Awards 2017 - 6
Left to right: Programme leader, Claire Price; students Becky Wilkes and Katy Tromans; tutor, Andy Howard; tutor/technical expert, Keith Adcock.
The whole prize-winning lineup looks rather bigger:

The standard of the work in the show overall is breathtaking and I can highly recommend a visit.

Goldsmiths' Craft And Design Awards 2017 - 12
Thomas Johnson

Goldsmiths' Craft And Design Awards 2017 - 14
Peter Grimwood

Next up was a collaboration between my own students and the students on the BA Illustration course. This came about as the result of a coffee-table discussion between my colleagues, Jo Pond and Jo Berry-Firth at a staff-development event last summer. Hastily thrown together, it proved to be really successful, with students looking at the history of the Jewellery Quarter together, the illustrators providing illustrations which were then printed onto aluminium and made into jewellery by my jewellery students. The resulting exhibition was very successful:

Collaboration - Illustrators and Jewellers - 6

The illustrations were absolutely beautiful:

Collaboration - Illustrators and Jewellers - 2

Collaboration - Illustrators and Jewellers - 4

Which led to some excellent jewellery. I'm particularly fond of this little wearable model of the Quarter, made by Ruth Hallows:

Unfortunately, I bumped the Georgian house at the front out of alignment!

This week, of course, sees the 2017 International Women's Day and the BA students were involved in a project with the students on the BSc. Criminology students, looking at crimes against women and the results are quite amazing. I've only managed to photograph a few this week but there will be more next week. In the meantime, you can read about the project here.

International Women's Day - 3

International Women's Day - 2

BA Pre-Graduate Show  - 2017 - 2

The BA Level 6 students were presenting their sketches for their final degree shows and they are looking very exciting. I was particularly taken with the work of Lois Wiseman:

BA Pre-Graduate Show  - 2017 - 3

And by Maria Walmsley.

BA Pre-Graduate Show  - 2017 - 4

Can't wait to see what everyone finally comes up with.

Busy night on Thursday as our "Talking Practice" series of lectures continued with Sabina Stent giving us a talk about the importance of women in the Surrealist movement.

Talking Practice - Sabina Stent

This was immediately followed by a reception at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, celebrating 25 years of the institution and the opening of an exhibition of work by the photographer Verity Milligan. It was also an opportunity to meet with some of the people who work there and to think about setting up some new projects between the school and the museum.

25 Years of The Museum Of The Jewellery Quarter - 1

Finally, the weekend! It proved to be very wet indeed but not enough to stop me going to the CBSO Centre twice, once on Saturday and once on Sunday for two very, very different concerts. The first, on Saturday, was by the Neil Cowley trio who, for the first half of the concert, were not a trio but a quartet, performing their brilliant album "Spacebound Apes" complete. A fairly standard line-up of piano (Cowley), bass and drums, supplemented by synths, the mystery fourth member played various effects and processing: the difference between this and the second half, the unsupplemented trio, was notable with the first half being altogether more 'serious' than the second. "Spacebound Apes" is a multimedia project - the illustration above by Sergio Sandoval being part of this. The music is one element and this is all we had but still stands by itself. Referencing rock and pop - I felt I detected the ghost of early-70s David Bowie in there - minimalism and the classic jazz trio sound: combined with the more well-known work of the second half, a great night.

You can hear "The City and the Stars" from the album here:

On Sunday night, it was a very different beast, with music by Elliott Carter, Peter Maxwell Davies, Pierre Boulez and Helen Grime, all expertly performed by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. The star of the show was undoubtedly Helen Grime with a premier of her new Piano Concerto, written for her husband, Huw Watkins. I remember hearing some of her solo piano works many years ago, played by my friend Simon Smith in Edinburgh but she hadn't really figured in much of my more recent listening: indeed, I bought a ticket for this concert on the strength of it featuring works by Elliott Carter.
Helen's piano concerto is virtuosic but is not a concerto in any general sense: the chamber players all have their role to play and although the piano is often the most prominent instrument, it is never flashy or superfluous and equally demanding parts are given to other players. The piece focuses on the unbelievably lovely middle movement and is scored for effectively three groups of players: piano, crotales and harp; clarinet and flute and; cello and violin, none of whom really share materials.

Helen Grime

As ever, the BCMG, conducted by Oliver Knussen, were fantastic.