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.