‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’, 2020. Film still. De'Anne Crooks.

Birmingham-based De’Anne Crooks was recently commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella (FVU) to produce a piece responding to the pandemic. Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation(2020) is a love letter to an unborn child which engages with the migrant experience and Britain as a spouse in a would-be toxic relationship.

Annabel Clarke talks to her about her work.

‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’ is such a moving piece. I was in tears. Can you tell us a little about how you went about making the film? 

I am still humbled by the emotional response people have had to the film. I think the response has been quite reflective of the process. Making it was emotional. There were so many times I felt like I was giving too much to the work. Like it was very raw thing to explore a topic in this way, in this very personal way. 

I knew when I wrote the proposal that I really wanted to show the toxic relationship that marginalised people have with their country, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to do it. As I worked, I began to make connections between how this country treats marginalised people and toxic relationships, and I realised that actually, everything I’m writing down, everything relating to what occurs between a country and marginalised peoples, especially Great Britain, is symbolic of a bad relationship, it’s actually gaslighting. As somebody who has been in a toxic relationship and somebody who has been gaslit, making those parallels came easily to me. 

It took me about two weeks to cement how I could communicate these ideas in a way that not only expressed what I felt and what my community feels (although I cannot speak for my entire community), but what I as a Black womxn feels and is willing to share. I didn’t really know how I could express this concept in a way that everyone could relate to because depending on your racial background, you will either never experience a complex relationship with your country or you will have experienced it so comprehensively that this work may trigger you. I’m aware of how ridiculously cliché this may sound, but the solution came to me in a dream, I know how that sounds. But the truth is, I literally jumped out of bed at 4am, grabbed my phone and started to jot down what ended up being the first half of the script for ‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation.’ It was at the end of my bed, phone in one hand and through blurry eyes that the structure and the first half of the script began to form. 

This idea that I would write a letter to my unborn child, which again is an aspect of this that is so personal to me because of my own relationship and issues with being able to have a child, could only have come in this way. Even though I was apprehensive about the initial script, it felt very important and it felt appropriate to tell a story in this way. So I started to write a love letter. Once I had this structure I felt a lot more confident about bringing this experience across. That’s the thing with gaslighting, it can be hard to explain that type of abuse because you have been convinced that it’s not abuse. But half way through the commission, I realised that I was teaching something non fictional. This is not me talking to my abuser, to Great Britain, or even to my peers, but this is me talking to someone who doesn’t exist yet. That added a whole different dimension to the piece, and I had to play around a lot more with my storyboard. I feel like I should say that the monologue informed the visuals but it didn’t, and I feel like that worked well in this case. I had already selected archived material and had filmed most of the new material around my home, as the brief required we stay indoors, before the script was complete. I think the rule that we had to film within our homes adds a layer of intimacy, having visuals that have been collected in my home, in my space, a safe space that I would rarely share with such a wide audience, but also have that working alongside audio that is ultimately saying things aren’t so safe and talking about things that are quite dangerous and emotional and traumatic is what pushed my thinking a little further forward. 

‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’, 2020. Film still. De’Anne Crooks.

It can currently be viewed on the FVU website. Are there plans for it to be shown elsewhere?

The film is available to watch on the FVU website as part of their permanent collection and is a featured video until 14 November. In terms of what happens with the work now, I’m not too sure yet. I really would love to screen it elsewhere. I’d love to screen it in spaces that specifically talk to and heal people like me really, because I feel like even though it can be read as quite a sad piece, this is a testimony of healing. It is an experience a lot of Black people can relate to, so it would be really great for people to see it in a space that feels like home. Sometimes galleries don’t exist as an inclusive space for Black people and so I have this vision of screening it in spaces specifically chosen by the Black community. 

To be honest, being able to view it on the FVU website works really well right now as many physical spaces cannot be occupied. I’m grateful to FVU, not just for the commission, but the support. My Supervising Producer Leah McGurk was really invested in the concept, in the proposal, in the work and I felt that in the support I got from her. I specifically want to thank her for helping bring this together. 

 

Your work spans mediums. Has the pandemic changed the way in which you make work? 

I’ve never really considered myself to be one type of artist, so I’ve never committed to calling myself a painter, a filmmaker or a sculptor. I guess I just create work in a way where the medium is dictated by the message. 

The solo exhibition I had in July 2019 at Centrala ‘Two Truths and a Lie’, was made up of mostly paintings with one photographic piece, a print piece and one short video piece called ‘Lief’. So I’d say for that body of work I steered towards more paintings and photography, which just so happened to be a project I shared pre-covid. So I would say the pandemic has in fact altered the way in which I’m creating, not necessarily thinking but my choice of medium. I’ve got to really think about how people are going to engage with my work more carefully, so that has dictated the way I’m making it. I think I still have a traditional approach, as in jotting stuff down in my sketchbook, I always return to my sketchbook, but I’ve noticed that I am then bringing those sketchbook ideas to my screen and creating these sort of desktop mood boards. I’ll have writing I’ve done on there, some of the automatic writings, images from my phone, sketches, sketchbook pages, other found imagery all laid out on my desktop screen. Some of these are available to see on my website and Instagram. As soon as the first lockdown happened, that was when I started putting everything on screen in a particular way and played with how the different things worked with one another – Seeing how some of the text would contrast with the drawing and how that contrasted with the photographs I took. I think that was to first stage of seeing my practice change in this digital sort of way. 

The filmmaking really came back into my work through lockdown. The FVU commission requiring me to only film in doors, only in my home, was definitely something that was affected by the pandemic. And even though I use my sketchbook a lot, for ‘Great-ish’ I found that I was mostly using my phone to make notes. I feel I’ve become a little more digital, as I imagine most of the world has due to the pandemic. I think I only leaned into that way of producing work because most people were at home, on their computers, getting more in touch with technology.

‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’, 2020. Film still. De’Anne Crooks.

You’ve recently been awarded a bursary through ReFramed. Could you tell us a little about what you will be producing for the commission?

I’ve been asked to respond to how COVID-19 has affected Black and Asian people or the Black and Asian experience in relation to COVID-19 which is a huge topic really! I could probably complete a whole body of work about that. But the brief required me to create 3-5 photographs and I chose to do this work about my grandmother (who I call ‘Nan’). You can actually see her in ‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’. She’s my muse. 

The series of photographs I’ve produced capture her experience of faith and fear. Initially I wanted to look at how someone who is elderly, an immigrant in England, can already feel like they are in a strange land. They can feel isolated as both an older person, as a woman, as a Caribbean person – how that is already quite isolating to be in a country that you consider a sort of home but not quite that, and then in addition to that, to be in isolation, to be locked down. It’s a difficult experience. It’s an experience that’s not represented enough. 

I then started to focus on one of the things that has always been a comfort for her, something that has always been a constant, and that has been her faith. She’s a Christian woman and a firm believer in God. Her faith is everything to her. The photographs try to document her relationship between having this faith but not being able to go to church, be around her friends, her pastor, her leadership, her family. What happens when someone is surrounded by all of this fear and is hearing on the news everyday: ‘Stay home’, ‘Don’t go anywhere’, ‘You are vulnerable, you are vulnerable’? I think it’s weird always hearing that you are vulnerable and then being Black, being an older woman and having these underlying conditions, receiving these messages since the start of lockdown, she has just had this very strange and difficult experience. 

I really wanted to discover what that fear looks like alongside her firm faith, really trusting and believing in a God that she believes has everything under control and that she is protected, and safe and loved. The photographs are a documentation of her relationship between her home, her space and how her home is safe because she has this faith. She is surrounded by all these memorabilia, scriptures, images, her bible and her hymns. So yeah hopefully you can see the final images soon and I hope you enjoy them.

‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’, 2020. Film still. De’Anne Crooks.

What else are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a few things. I’ve just created something for Vivid Projects. Alex Billingham at Vivid Projects has an incredible concept at the moment called Vivid Live TV. They commissioned me to create something that responded to this digital era that’s happening; the digital boom of creating art and how we access it as well. I created a short video called ‘Break Bread With Me’. That’s available to view until 6 November. Hopefully I can show that work again at some point in the future. I’m delving a little into work about identity politics and what makes my identity political.

My work at the moment is looking into what happens at this intersection of being Black and British and what that actually means in relation to belonging, the implicit consequences of colonisation, the conversation around migration and people existing within Britain; but Britain not really feeling like a place where one can exist and so on…that is where my current body of work seems to be going. This is even starting to cross over into my Masters degree where I’m looking at inclusive language and the consideration of identity within education; thinking about Bell Hooks and David Sutcliffe’s text ‘British Black English’. Really focusing on language and speech in relation to identity politics. I’m also working with Black Hole Club which is fantastic and we are developing something really cool at the moment and I have the opportunity to unpack my ideas a little further but through a retrospective lens, thinking about identity politics spanning the last 30-40 years. Making different connections with my own work but with other artists that have inspired me as well. There is a lot of cross over happening between my studying, my commissions and the fellowship with Black Hole Club so that’s fun.

Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation(2020) can be viewed here on the FVU website as part of their permanent collection.

Break Bread With Me’ (2020) can be viewed here on the Vivid Projects website until Friday 6 November 2020.

Birmingham-based De’Anne Crooks was recently commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella (FVU) to produce a piece responding to the pandemic. ‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’ (2020) is a love letter to an unborn child which engages with the migrant experience and Britain as a spouse in a would-be toxic relationship. Annabel Clarke talks to her about her work.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/jul/23/supersonic-festival-review-birmingham

By embracing the heaviness in Birmingham’s heritage, and adding a strong dose of eccentricity, Supersonic is world-class. Review by Ben Beaumont-Thomas – via The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/jun/23/birmingham-heavy-metal-history-embraced-black-sabbath-one-hell-of-a-city

Vanessa Thorpe reports on Home of Metal, a series of exhibitions and events taking place across multiple West Midlands galleries – via The Observer

Not Forgotten. Photo ©Jonathan Shaw

Artist Lucy McLauchlan opens Unfold at Centrala this evening, an exhibition that explores her response to place and thoughts around documentation. We find out more about her future plans and wider practice.

 

Can you tell me how the exhibition Unfold came about?

I make the majority of my work away from my home town of Birmingham. Recently I made a conscious decision to change this and so my ongoing explorations began. It started in an urban woodland area which I was surprised has not changed for many years, a green oasis within the concrete. The city has undergone massive redevelopment, particularly in the centre. I decided to take some large 9x3m rolls of canvas to the woodland and a part of the city that was in the middle of change and that personally I connected to more than any other; the Central Library of Birmingham and its immediate surroundings. I had painted this building many years ago. It’s a John Madin design that personally I feel should have been listed but it’s a love/hate building for the city.

Birds Birmingham Central Library. © Lucy Mclauchlan

Back to the woodlands – I dragged the canvas around the site with my sledge full of paint to capture imprints to create a permanent record. These then developed into a larger commission for The New Art Gallery Walsall titled Not Forgotten.

Not Forgotten. Photo © Jonathan Shaw

 

Can you explain the relationship between your murals – often exterior and sometimes temporary – for which you are best known and the works on display here?

I come from a mural painting background, where I fully enjoy the ephemeral nature as a new life for the painting takes hold. But witnessing the fast paced change of my city encouraged me to make these more permanent manifestations and so my practice evolved, whilst maintaining the same approach and ethos I have to mural painting; both are very physical and spontaneous. But this is a way of capturing that moment in time, to document the surface I’m painting and the places I’m seeing …

Since the woodlands, I have paddled the waterways of Birmingham to create similar works. In between I have still been creating many works abroad – installations and murals on display for other places. It was high time for me to bring these together and present them back in Birmingham with this show Unfold.

Each of the works presented holds a memory for me since they were each created on site in a different location, under a different scenario. I see these paintings and prints much like a group of old friends coming together to share their stories. And this is what I intend to do. Normally I let the work speak to the viewer individually without my verbal input however on this occasion I shall be hosting walk throughs to expand on each piece.

In the show shall be the canvas work Under Bordesley made at the Bordesley Junction of the canal where the Ring Road crosses the rail line in Birmingham. My more recent path led me along the Grand Union Canal, Digbeth branch. Documentation of this journey culminated in the ‘Birmingham By Pass’ exhibition and zine; sharing the encounters as I met the fishermen, day trippers and gongoozlers.

 

Under Bordesley. © Lucy McLauchlan 2017

In those hours spent painting a mural I see and hear things I would’ve missed just passing by, I get to chat and get to know the place a little better … For me it is not the finished mural that is my driving force, but the process of painting, giving me time to re-appreciate my surroundings from a new perspective.”

Can you say more about the influence of site upon your work, be this the canals of Digbeth or urban forests in Moscow?

The site influences the finished work on not only an aesthetic level and within its physical make up; be that a specific colour choice, a particular material incorporated, the dirt or soil gathered into the painting, the wind or rain playing their part … But also beyond this with the foundational reasoning behind why that particular location was chosen. Once there I let chance and intuition take over, much like my approach to painting the murals – allowing the space and environment to dictate, freeing the brush marking to take over with a rhythm of action and reaction. The paintings develop as I am painting, as I absorb the situation, the conversations surrounding me. I glean a new perspective from being there physically present in that setting, this intrinsically feeds back into my work.

The set of 3 canvas works I made for my installation at the Moscow Biennale (that will be part of my Unfold show) are an example of how the site influences me. I was invited to exhibit new work for the Biennale and the theme was ‘Offline’. I began to explore the city with open eyes and no internet/phone to guide or distract me. I took my canvas across the city but my attention was lost amongst the homogenised abundance of shops and shoppers. After a few conversations with locals I discovered a much more interesting side to the city – Moscow’s real hidden treasure of its inner city Losiny Ostrov National Forest. Getting out of the touristy centre I got a better view and could see the layout of city, the concentric circles of ring roads and the clear divides of wealth. This day trip also gave me time with our local guide (who had never visited and was unaware it is the world’s third largest inner city forest) and gave me a chance to hear the views of a young person growing up in Moscow. All of this ultimately fed into my final designs.

 

Photo © Matthew Watkins

 

What are your aspirations for your practice? What are you working on next?

I’ll be looking at Coventry next, creating new works for the group show Wonder at The Herbert.

In general, I shall continue working outside be that on murals or canvas. I enjoy the challenges and the unknown encounters you get when you put yourself in that situation. It also allows the freedom to work on much larger pieces and engage with people I may never have met otherwise.

These are what initially led me to paint outside; avoiding the studio isolation and size restrictions. Painting in certain outdoor spaces is free with open access that can facilitate big brush movements and encourages an immediate response and interaction from passers by (both good and bad). There’s also a community, family aspect to it, spread across the world, of other like-minded people painting together.

I want to also develop my printing practice. I originally started making my own screen-prints as an affordable process and result. This is when Banksy had just set up Pictures On Walls and invited me to join POW and later his group shows. This led to being represented by Lazarides Gallery when it set up in London and later Studio Cromie in Italy. They all shared the same ethos encouraging this form of public art – ‘art for all’ with a strong DIY attitude.

I was recently back in Puglia with Studio Cromie to head back to walls I’d painted years ago with the intention to capture their surface and turn into prints which we’ve just released.

Stadio Superficie No.1

 

 

Artist Lucy McLauchlan opens Unfold at Centrala this evening. We find out more about her plans and practice.

Karina Marusińska

Karina Marusińska is an interdisciplinary artist, lecturer and socio-cultural animator based in Wrocław, Poland, who conducted a series of art workshops with West Bromwich’s migrant communities during a 3 week residency in July. She talks to Bettina Fischer about her ideas and the outcomes of her project as well as the connected exhibition at Centrala.

 

Karina Marusińska

For your residency project you decided to offer workshops working with glass art. What was your motivation for engaging with people in this way?

I am not a stranger to advanced techniques or professional workshops of that kind. In my public projects, I combine these two techniques. On the one hand, we use materials which are present in people’s everyday life, although as readymade products only. There is no opportunity to experience them in the creation process. On the other hand, we have to adjust the level of technique to their ability in order to experience some freedom so they can get the work done by themselves or with a little of my help. I believe that when people eventually see the spectacular effects of their work, they begin to appreciate their potential in other spheres of life as well and to see their worth.

 

You focused your project on dreams. Can you tell me more about their role?

It has been said  that any real change in the world is first a ‘revolution in the direction of the images that govern us­.’ And that is why ‘only by changing the perception, a man changes his existence’. In today’s world, people run blindly. They do not dream because they believe that some things are beyond their reach. Fortunately, dreams are for everybody. My workshops have been a turning point when family members learned about each other’s needs. In many cases, it was a big surprise for them. People have discovered what they want … because they have spent a moment thinking about it. Painting on the glass released their ‘inner child’, for which imagination knows no boundaries. Art is the sphere of life where everything is possible. I am happy to use this fact. During the exhibition, their dreams will see the light of day. I think, when dreaming out loud, the chances are that the world will be favoured for their fulfillment. It sounds naive but I proved it many times on myself.

 

Karina Marusińska

What’s the meaning of the title of your project, ‘Good Visibility’?

‘Good Visibility’ is to see reality as it comes, and simultaneously to see the potential of change for the better. It also represents people’s dreams ‘spoken aloud’ and visible to others during the exhibition. It also acts as a positive point of view on the migrant community in the UK. ‘Good Visibility’ also applies to me. As a workshop leader, I try to discern and reinforce the resources inherent in each participant. First and foremost, however, I aim to make them self-aware and use their potential.

 

With this in mind, how was the response to the workshop? Can you share some of the feedback you got from participants?

Some people came to the workshop with great enthusiasm, others were very shy, so I had to encourage them to take part. They were afraid to start but once the shapes began to appear, they could not stop themselves. Some have discovered in themselves or in their children a creative potential. For others, it was a time to distance themselves from their everyday problems. But for most, my workshop became an opportunity to meet people. People of all ages, views and different backgrounds met. All these differences did not matter there. I also noticed that most people have had some difficulty finding themselves in a situation of absolute freedom.

 

Karina Marusińska

Tell me more about the exhibition at Centrala.

The show at Centrala contained two parts. The first part is the installation of work outcomes of ‘Good Visibility’ workshop participants, along with the documentation. The second part is an artistic interruption titled ‘Viewpoint’, which will take place outside right next to Centrala Gallery. These two elements of the exhibition are different in design but both are based on the theme of the ‘filters’ imposed on our reality. Both projects utilise image manipulation strategies but they differ in motivation. I wanted to point out that we have an impact on the reality that surrounds us, even by trying to visualise and realise our dreams but above all through the active and reflective reception of the reality surrounding us.

 

Will you continue the project outside of Birmingham?

Yes, however certainly not in the same form. I always try to make my projects take into account the uniqueness of a place, time, cultural conditions, etc. I would like my project to be continued in the future and further developed by people who are living there because much effort is needed to engage the West Bromwich community in their creativity and self-expression.

 

What else are you working on?

Currently, I am in a 3-month artistic scholarship in Graz, in Austria. This time I will focus on activities in the public space. This is only the beginning, so I am not sure just yet what will happen next.

 

Marusińska’s show ‘What the eye doesn’t know’ was display at Centrala from 22 September 2017 until 4 November 2017. The exhibition will also be presented in Geppert’s Apartment, the Gallery of Contemporary Art, run by the project partner Art Transparent Foundation.

Bettina Fischer speaks to artist Karina Marusińska about her residency and workshops in West Bromwich and recent exhibition at Centrala.

Gove Horse, Faisal Hussain

Birmingham-based artist Faisal Hussain recently presented his first solo exhibition Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects at Centrala, a show that included Muslamic Rayguns, Prevent Cupcakes and a Muslim’s suitcase. Bettina Fischer talked to him about motivators behind his work and the need to face hatred with humour.

Gove Horse, Faisal Hussain

Looking at your past projects, you have touched on themes around migration through your heritage-based works highlighting stories of South Asian migrants in Birmingham and Spain. How has this exhibition – which approaches suffering around the victimisation of Muslim communities – come about?

The reason for that shift was that the archive-based stuff was to do with showing what was hidden and trying to decolonialise some of the ways that people of different backgrounds are often overlooked in terms of heritage. So the subject of the F.light project and the Super Migrant project was to uncover hidden parts of history. The reason that this shift took place is that I started thinking more in the present day. I started thinking about what was going on here and about how people potentially would look back at this present point in time as being quite interesting. So I tried to put myself into the future because of all the archive work and then imagine what would be good to comment on as if I was looking back, if that makes sense. And that’s why this stuff to do with victimising Muslim communities came about. Because I knew no one else was talking about it and I didn’t want to wait 10, 20 years for someone to go ‘Oh yeah, we should have talked about that!’

On a concrete level, what’s within the exhibition?

Jokes, partly. People should expect to be entertained. They should expect to be calmed, hopefully. And hopefully they will also come out with a bit more of a playful attitude to do with some of the more negative aspects of the accusations that are being thrown around certain communities.

Muslim Stereotypes, Faisal Hussain

The exhibition seems to be tied so closely to emotions.

The exhibition is built up from a lot from negativity and through this process I’ve learnt how to feed off negativity and use it as an art material. I’m really thankful for all the love that’s come out of it. But there’s been a couple of negative comments as well, which I find absolutely hilarious. I find uncovering negativity towards communities a really interesting space to play with and I think that’s where the real stuff is, the hidden, simmering, under the surface kind of hatred, not the blatant, horrible hatred of ‘Please leave our country’. It’s fun. It’s fun to make fun out of people who need to change their minds, who need to maybe learn a bit more about people from different backgrounds.

Are you using a humorous attitude as a way of overcoming and challenging hatred?

Yes, this is what I’ve learned from this project. It’s the balance between humour and ridicule. And to be able to be playful, but then if required show people the banality of their belief through ridicule. That’s where we need to question aspects of bigotry and aspects of stereotyping.

Muslamic Rayguns, Faisal Hussain

In your show you used many different media, objects mainly. How does the project’s theme play into your concept of exhibiting objects?

The subject led the work and I wanted to experiment with as many things outside my comfort zone as possible. I have always created stuff based around digital or sculptural work and I wanted this to be an opportunity to study and do as many things as possible. And that’s why you’ve got everything from cakes, to toys, to projections, to video work, through to objects found online and a certain amount of technology and model making. Because the stories and the subject matter were so varied, they lent themselves to be played with a bit more. I have to play as well and need to make sure that I’m having a good time – as well as having a bad time with art. Sometimes as an artist I think you forget that.

Are you planning on exhibiting this show somewhere else?

Yes, hopefully. It depends on what other institutions within the region say about it. Also there is the aspect that this isn’t an Islamic exhibition, it’s not a Muslim exhibition. I’m not an Islamic artist, I’m not a Muslim artist, I’m an artist who happens to be from a Muslim background and therefore this work has an application, not just because it’s talking about communities so that it would need the community labeling. I want it to be very open, I’d like it to go to places that will allow people to question certain subjects around what the exhibition’s about.

Prevent Cakes, Faisal Hussain

Will there be more objects added to the Suspect Objects collection?

Yeah, these are only half of the proposed objects that I wanted to create. There’s loads more and to be honest there are new ones coming up every day because there are so many contradictions to do with identity, activism, politics. As long as these contradictions are coming up, there’s always a need to question that kind of bigotry, but done in a way that is approachable and that has respect for those communities.

Are you working on anything else not immediately related to this project?

At the moment, yes, there is another project that I’m working on. It’s heritage based and again it’s about Asian youth culture and about uncovering stories and heritage to do with people growing up in Birmingham in the 1960s, to people growing up in the 2000s. The next art project that I’m hopefully going to do is potentially going to be more sculpturally based since I also make wall-mounted sculptures.
Hussain’s solo exhibition Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects was on display at Centrala Gallery, 1 September – 14 October 2017.

Birmingham-based artist Faisal Hussain recently presented his first solo exhibition Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects at Centrala. Bettina Fischer talked to him about motivators behind his work and the need to face hatred with humour.

Photograph by Barbara Mihályi

Barbara Mihályi is an emerging Hungarian artist, filmmaker and photographer who has explored life around Birmingham’s canals during her four-week residency at Centrala.

Bettina Fischer sat down with her on the opening evening of her new exhibition Terra Firma to find out more.

Photograph by Barbara Mihályi

Amongst other works, your exhibition exploring the canals features a series of portraits of people living on narrowboats. How did this idea come about?

During the first weekend of my residency I had a bit of a mini depression. It is quite an emotional experience working away from home and being submerged in a new environment. A lot of things happen in a short period of time and you miss your usual surroundings.  Everything becomes really unbalanced. At this point I was a little bit lost. So, I thought I have to find a way of getting out of this emotional state and go out, do something. I went for a walk and found this beautiful oak tree in Cannon Hill Park which calmed me down. As I was cycling back along the canal in Balsall Heath I spotted a mosque and a church in the background. This image struck me visually with the graffiti and the river in the foreground so I started taking pictures. That’s when Jill appeared and asked me what I was doing. This was the start of a long conversation about her experience of living around the area over the past two decades and a source of inspiration for me. Jill became the first subject of the photo portraits in the exhibition.

How did you find the subjects comprising the series?

These encounters happened differently every time. Usually I would try to stay by the canals, sometimes I would meet someone and start a conversation and eventually make a photograph. But mostly these encounters generate each other – one person leads you to another, but there were some random ones as well.

Photograph by Barbara Mihályi

What else can we expect to see in your exhibition?

As well as the photograph series of people living and working on the canals there is a series of video blogs which document the artist residency itself. It tells the story of how the photograph series came together. The third part of the exhibition is a projection of other photographs I took during the residency. They are also connected to the canals, but they are more personal, amongst other things picturing my time on the narrowboat I lived on.

The title of your exhibition is Terra Firma. What does the phrase mean to you and how does it relate your project?

‘Terra Firma’ means ‘solid earth’ in Latin and we chose it as a title because it hints at the relationship we have to our home wherever it may be. For me it encapsulates a sense of longing and a search for the stories and personalities that make a place. So it made sense to use the phrase to describe this new body of work I created for the exhibition. Even if you live on water, your sense of belonging will be connected to a kind of stability that is rooted in the people who live around you.

Photograph by Barbara Mihályi

Is there anything particular you will take with you from your residency in Birmingham? How did the experience influence your work?

This was my first residency experience after graduating from my MA earlier this year and as such it was a huge challenge. I was here for a month which sometimes felt like a long time but actually was a very short amount of time to get to know a place and create new works at the same time. I have definitely learnt a lot from the experience and I documented ups and downs in the video blogs featured in the exhibition. For me as a documentary photographer the residency format was an interesting way of working and I hope to do more of it in the future.

Are you working on anything else at the moment? Do you have any other projects coming up in the near future?

At the moment my MA degree show work is featured in the Best of Diploma exhibition at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. It’s been well received in the local press and I have a few interviews coming up when I return home. I was also approached by a couple of galleries to do shows with them. One of these exhibitions are going to be photograph based but I still haven’t decided how to approach the other one. I just know it’s going to be about body-consciousness, focusing on the female body which is also the theme of my degree show exhibition. I also have some projects in Italy and other ongoing projects in Hungary. One of them involves drawing animations for a documentary about veteran pilots from World War II which will be quite different from my usual work but I enjoy taking my work in new directions.

 

Barbara Mihályi’s exhibition Terra Firma is open until 16 September 2017 at Centrala Gallery.

 

Bettina Fischer speaks to Barbara Mihályi about her residency and exhibition at Centrala exploring Birmingham’s canals.

Lucy McLauchlan, Birmingham Bt Pass showing at Centrala Art Gallery 8 July. Image credit Matt Watkins.

New Art West Midlands’ director Craig Ashley reflects on yesterday’s announcement from Arts Council England about investment to the region’s visual arts organisations through their National Portfolio for 2018-22.

Lucy McLauchlan, Birmingham By Pass showing at Centrala until 8 July. Image credit Matt Watkins.

Arts Council England’s National Portfolio for 2018-2022 will include thirteen West Midlands’ Visual Arts organisations, up from the current number of seven. This almost doubling of the visual arts contingent is great news for the region, and the sector is strengthened further through the inclusion of more organisations working under the categories of Museums and Combined Arts where there is increasing work in the widening realm of visual arts, and exploration of the innovative spaces between art forms.

With the exception of Birmingham’s The Drum, which closed last year due to a number of challenges and was consequently not in the running for this next round of funding, the current cohort of West Midlands-based National Portfolio Organisations working across Museums, Visual and Combined Arts remains unchanged and will continue to receive investment.

This is an active and positive endorsement of the great work being done in the region, and Arts Council’s decision provides a degree of certainty in uncertain times. Investment from other sources of income must continue to be a priority over the next four years, and the impact of this stabilising fund will allow the time to further develop and grow the opportunities for a wider and more diverse funding mix.

It is important of course that, within the context of some much needed good news for the arts, there is a balanced view. Where other areas of public funding for culture have been consistently cut in recent years, particularly the investment from our challenged local authorities, the National Portfolio money awarded through Arts Council demonstrates the absolute necessity of public money to secure and strengthen our creative output.

As recognised by the Creative Industries Federation, public money sits at the foundation of our £84b-a-year-and-growing creative industries sector, providing essential support at the start of careers and initiatives that go on to bring great success to Britain. Furthermore, anticipating the gap left by the withdrawal of EU funds beyond 2019 – subject of course to the ongoing Brexit negotiations – how do we shore-up and sustain future public investment in the arts? Arts Council England cannot do it alone, and a wider valuing of the arts in society must be a collective concern that we need to address together, within and beyond the visual arts.

The important and integral partnerships between our National Portfolio Organisations and others, both within and beyond the Creative Industries, will help to strengthen a platform for the visual arts over the coming years, and provide a firmer base to build upon for the future. From artists to arts organisations to educators and business, the benefit of the National Portfolio investment is channelled through the relatively few to the many.

So now is definitely a time to celebrate the achievement of those organisations and their supporters and partners that have strived to creative something crucial, critical and valuable. The National Portfolio status is something to be proud of, and an indicator of the valuable contribution organisations make as instigators, protectors, mediators, collaborators, risk-takers and trailblazers.

The inclusion of more organisations in the National Portfolio reflects the region’s growing confidence and the breadth of the work we do. Distinctively here in the West Midlands, the support for the smaller-scale, diverse, innovative and artist-led outfits bolsters the resilience of the visual arts ecology.

The collective strength of Birmingham’s Eastside organisations demonstrates the importance of working together to mutually support. Joining Eastside Projects in the National Portfolio are Centrala, Grand Union and Vivid Projects, all based in the Minerva Works complex in Digbeth, alongside Friction Arts at The Edge on Cheapside. This critical mass is a model that New Art West Midlands is keen to support elsewhere in the region, to ensure sustainability alongside critical success.

Our museums continue to get the support they desperately need and deserve, with Birmingham Museums Trust and The New Art Gallery Walsall receiving continued investment in the face of challenges with their respective local authority funding. Encouragingly, Wolverhampton Art Gallery receives an uplift from 2018 and they are joined in the National Portfolio by Culture Coventry (The Herbert Art Gallery) and Compton Verney, both of whom become regularly funded through Arts Council for the first time.

The region’s reputation for distinctive festivals shines through the Portfolio, with BE Festival and Fierce now joined by Flatpack, Shout, Capsule’s Supersonic Festival, and the Stoke on Trent-based British Ceramics Biennial. And in terms of innovation, BOM and Hereford-based Rural Media are supported to continue their leading roles in developing the territory within the scientific and digital realms. Wolverhampton’s Newhampton Arts Centre adds to the region’s complement of multi artform venues, widening the cultural offer in the Black Country.

These decisions demonstrate Art Council’s commitment to diversifying the National Portfolio, in terms of practice and geography as well as the protected characteristics including disability, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Among the existing National Portfolio, the Shropshire-based Disability Arts organisation DASH has received a significant uplift in their regular funding to expand their partnership work to commission disabled artists. DASH’s director Mike Layward commented:

“[This] is not only great news for the organisation as it secures our work across England for the next 4 years, but it’s also great news for the disabled artists we work with. The uplift will allow us to develop a new area of work with disabled children and young people who will be the disabled artists of tomorrow.”

New Art West Midlands’ director Craig Ashley reflects on yesterday’s announcement from Arts Council England about investment to the region’s visual arts organisations through their National Portfolio for 2018-22.

Room7 curators

Room7 is a new curatorial collective that has arisen from the MA in Art History and Curating at the University of Birmingham. Its members come from Staffordshire and the Black Country, as well as Leicester, London, Peterborough, Denmark and Latvia.

FLUX, their first exhibition together, opens on 2 June at Centrala and features work by artists from across the region: Mark Houghton, James Lomax, Anna Parker and Zoe Robertson. The exhibition runs until 10 June. The exhibition has been developed in partnership with the University of Birmingham and Grand Union.

We spoke to Room7 to find out more about their aspirations for the project.

 

 

Room7 curators

 

 

Can you tell me about the process of developing the exhibition, both logistically and thematically?

An open call was sent out by Grand Union in the summer of 2016, asking for submissions of art works made in any media that was to be exhibited as part of a new collaboration between Grand Union and the University of Birmingham.

We began developing the exhibition by creating a long-list of submissions that we felt would complement and respond each other, in relation to multidisciplinary practices. Alongside this, the themes of body and its relationship to space and tactility manifested as the key themes of the exhibition. Even though the call out was for West Midlands artists we had submissions from most parts of the UK, making the selection process about logistics as well as artistic practice.

We are proud to say that we supported artists in the production of new work for FLUX.

How did you select the artists and what are the relationships between their different practices?

We went on studio visits that helped us to narrow down our selection and find out more about physical and practical aspects of the artworks, as well as meeting artists to develop relationships. We found fascinating the fact that our short listed artists all worked in different media and professions, which would make for an interesting dialogue within the gallery space. For example, this is the first time Intervention Architecture has been a part of an art exhibition.

You are producing a publication for the exhibition. What are your aspirations for this text?

We worked with Rope Press to develop a handout and poster for the exhibition. The handout offers a short introduction to each artist along with an exhibition statement. In producing written material about the artists it has been important to us to merge the artists’ own conceptions with our interpretations as a curatorial collective. This relationship has created opportunities for learning and an exploration of individual practices, and it is our hope that the handout will reflect this process.

We are currently also working with graphic designer Mollie Wade to produce a catalogue; the catalogue is thought of as an ‘echo’ of the whole project, and will be published shortly after the exhibition closes.
It is thought to be an extension of the visual and written interpretation of the exhibition and the work we have been doing with the artists. A big part of our ethos as a collective is to offer opportunities to young artists and professionals. Mollie has recently graduated from the University of Lincoln, and it is therefore a great pleasure for us to work with her and help her develop her portfolio as well.

Tell me more about the symposium you have planned on the final day of the exhibition.

The idea of hosting a symposium came quite naturally to us. Forming our collective we had to think about how we wanted to define our practice and an important part of that was to make the art available on multiple platforms. Thanks to generous funding from the University of Birmingham we were able to realise this idea.

Hosting a symposium has made us able to invite interesting speakers and of course present a platform for our four artists to express their ideas and thoughts on the project, and thereby the symposium will acts as an extension of the dialogue presented in FLUX. We will aim for an informal atmosphere where everyone can participate in discussions and debates about the contemporary art scene in the West
Midlands.

The symposium is hosted in Centrala on the 10 June and will start at 5pm. The programme includes a workshop and talks by Cheryl Jones, Director at Grand Union, and Craig Ashley, Director of New Art West Midlands. Tickets are sold via Eventbrite.

Room7 are:
Aelita Galevska: Liepaja, Latvia
Bethany Williams: Peterborough, UK
Jessica Pollington: London, UK
Katrine Stenum: Aarhus, Denmark
Laura Bishop: Staffordshire, UK
Stephen Kirk: The Black Country, UK
Olivia Myatt: Leicester, UK

 

Room7 is a new curatorial collective that has arisen from the MA in Art History and Curating at the University of Birmingham. We speak to Room7 to find out more about their aspirations for their first exhibition FLUX.