It has been over a year since I started this blog and many months since I lasted posted anything. No boring details to add other than life happening and my mind evolving just like anyone else. During this time I have often wondered why I must learn everything the hard way. But I realise I am not the only one. In fact, I’m not sure if anything worth learning is ever easy. Photography is the most recent example for me. I started this blog to enable me to learn photography in a practical way. It has totally changed how I feel about taking photos and how I actually take photos. Months ago, I decided to switch to film. I have really struggled to get any decent results. The process is slow and I am only beginning to understand how to work film cameras. Below are some of my recent photos annotated with the lesson I learnt from taking them.
Earlier this month I wrote a brief review of an A3 project event held at VIVID and mistook the venues. In response to this Trevor Pitt, artist-curator and director of A3 invited me to see A3 project space for myself last week.
I am not sure what to write about my visit to A3 projects. I am tempted to write simply that it was brilliant and the artists are awesome and link to their sites and finish there. You will find them here:
Embarrassingly, I get lost a lot in Birmingham, my home town. On my way to meet Trevor, being semi-lost gave me the first clue as to what his work is about: place.
On the day, I took two buses to get to a part of Digbeth that I have never lingered in. It lies distal to the places like the Custard Factory and other places I have photographed before. If you imagine Digbeth as an arm, then A3 project space would be located at the wrist of that arm. The confusing thing about finding A3 was that I was expecting the surrounds to be more overtly ‘Arty’. Instead A3 is snuggled on the second floor of a Victorian warehouse amidst actual working workshops. I walked into one that had old fashioned car parts and walked out again. Nobody noticed. After that, I asked A Man:
“All of this is Bowyer Street, there are three units: A, B and C. These are B and C, try round that corner.”
As he said this, I realised superficially why A3 is A3.
I went round the corner, climbed up stairs, and, within seconds of the place, I had to ask Another Man before I buzzed the yellow door.
Trevor opened the door and greeted me with a tilt of the head and a broad smile. He was as I remembered him from Digbeth First Friday, breezy and welcoming.
There were more stairs, and halfway up them, we stopped: “Can you see it?” Trevor asked.
A footprint of the building stretches across walls and completes itself only if you stand and look in just the right place.
Therein lies Trevor and A3’s preoccupation: raising our awareness of the places we inhabit. The fact that we must look in ‘just the right way, from just the right place’ to see the work reflects a simultaneous interest in the mechanisms of gaze, perception and knowledge. I believe this is epistemology, on the day Trevor called it “critical practice”.
My photography fail attests to how tricky such endeavours can be. It is hard to see certain things. Once seen, it’s often harder to convey them. It could just be me, but it flickered, one second I had it, the next it was gone, then it came back like a butterfly.
As a venue, A3 is a white expansive space subdivided into studios for contemporary artists. Within it, the artists are in charge.
I was granted a peak at the works of Oliver C Jones, Cathy Wade, Lucy McLaughlan and Mahtab Hussain. Seeing works in progress alongside, books and reference materials in use by the artists was fascinating, but I didn’t feel I could take any photos so you must go for yourself.
Their studios were, as you might expect, ordered and disordered in artistic and painterly ways. Canvasses, chalks, pictures. One completely bare, one had neat but bulging bookshelves. But all reflected artists at work.
Trevor’s studio appeared uniquely homely with a golden three-piece suite, knitted benches, prints and knick-knacks. They all sit together in a chaotic harmony unified by texture and humour.
Standing in the abundant light, Trevor joked that the seats were key tools in his practice: “My work starts with conversations”.
This is evident from the works he curated as part the ‘You Are Here’ series about Digbeth and Bordesley. Viaduct, Rich White’s contribution to the series is a brilliant example of conversations about place. http://www.counterwork.co.uk/index.php/work/viaduct/
Trevor also introduced me to Rob Hewitt, founder of Redhawk Logistica. Rob makes the kind of art that they never taught me about at school. His methods vary from collective collages to redecorating parts of the urban landscape that he thinks “need a lick of paint”.
I was never taught that painting a stranger’s front door could be art. I went to Anish Kapoor to think about colour. I walked outdoors with Richard Long (in my head). I remember Christo and Jean-Claude’s grand colourful wraps as my first encounter with unusual methods. But I know of few artists incorporating deeds for others outside of a gallery space. Add to this an exploration of how macroeconomics can shape community history and you have an unusual mix indeed. And this is much of what Rob and Redhawk Logistica do. They transform skip findings, make unusual signs and work with the public to delivery what they term “cultural solutions”. Their methods have an ingenuity and cheekiness about them. But check out the site and see what you think: www.redhawklogistica.com/projects.
Like Trevor, Rob’s aim is to promote dialogue with communities about their urban environments. He invites participation and questioning of why we accept certain states in our immediate environment and the consequences of this for individuals. We debated these but I think it is more important to emphasis the poetry in the work I saw on the day.
Redhawk Logistica will be at A3 for a workshops and interventions entitled Guerrilla Civic from 1-2 August 2014.
My main conclusion from meeting Trevor and Rob at A3 Project space was that A3 presents the unique delight of being a place where you can meet artists, who, if plagiarised, could boost community spirit. Few galleries could make such a claim.
Digbeth First Friday 4th July: Home for Waifs And Strays (Live Art Initiative)
Find their work here: http://hfwas.co.uk
Digbeth First Friday: 4th July.
Digbeth First Friday: http://digbethfirstfriday.com/
VIVID projects: http://www.vividprojects.org.uk/
A3 Projects Space: http://a3projectspace.org/
Record Player Orchestra Website: http://recordplayerorchestra.com/
Trevor Pitt at Pod Projects: http://www.podprojects.org/about
Ashok Mistry: http://ashokdmistry.com/
Weeds are organic rebels. They grow where they want to grow. They are hardy and relentless. They seem small and conquerable but ask a gardener how much effort he or she has to spend fighting them. You will see how formidable they are.
On the day I took these photographs, the sunlight hit them in such a way that I could respect and admire them for the first time. And it made me question whether this, like most other wars, was a war worth fighting. The images I saw answered my question for me. I expect nobody else will agree, but maybe it’s time to make peace with weeds. I hate false dichotomies, straw men and making enemies where they are not needed. So I decided that I didn’t want to wait for the obliteration of my green crack-dwelling friends before I could fully enjoy how beautiful it was to be in my garden bathed in light, sitting on a badly constructed patio.
This made me realise that we should never wait to feel joy at being alive and sharing particles or structures with all that surrounds us.
We are all one big simultaneously smelly, ugly, beautiful, broken, delicate, intelligent, contrary, wilful and mysterious bunch of things lumped together in this world so we may as well like and respect one another.
Here are some photographs of Digbeth on a special sunny day. They were taken a couple of weeks ago, you could probably guess when.
If you’re ‘Mad about Mod’, go to Urban Village at the Custard Factory. If not, go anyway and meet some colourful and friendly folk. Their website is here: http://www.urban-village.co.uk/.
Last week I attended a brilliant Art Walk arranged by the University of Birmingham Research and Cultural Collections department. Clare Mullett and her colleague Chloe Lund delivered a captivating tour of some of the art and sculpture around the University of Birmingham campus.
I have studied there for years and always thought that it was a special place. Now I know it is. Clare and Chloe led our group around the campus through wind and rain, shining a light on each piece and each neglected corner with enthusiasm. Their words and stories about works from Paolozzi, Hepworth and Lanyon brought the pieces to life. I can’t replicate that but can recommend their work. Some of this can be seen here: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/culture/index.aspx .