Installation view. Photo: John Fallon

The Club’s Conception (or How the Egg Was Cracked), currently on show at Recent Activity in Digbeth, retraces the demolished past venues of Birmingham’s The Nightingale Club, the city’s longest-running queer space. In collaboration with those who attended its three preceding venues, Ryan Kearney and Intervention Architecture map these spaces from recollections, replacing absent photographs and creating an archival presence.

We talked to Ryan about the exhibition.

 

Can you tell us more about the starting points for the exhibition?

The project began out of a visit to the LGBT archive held at the Library of Birmingham. There’s a small cardboard box dedicated to the history of Birmingham’s queer spaces, containing items like the poster for the city’s first pride in 1998 and various local gay publications. Most of the box, however, consists of meeting minutes from The Nightingale Club and plans for its relocation in the 1990s.

A document titled ‘The Conception (or How the Egg Was Cracked)’ mentioned that the club had occupied three venues since opening in 1969: a terraced house, an ex-working men’s club and an anglers association. As there were no photographs, I became interested in what the venues might have resembled. I put out an open-call to speak with those who attended the club, hoping to use descriptions and sketches as a replacement for images. It came to light later on in the project that people didn’t want to have their photo taken in a gay bar, some even remember whole groups hiding at the sight of a camera.

 

How does the project fit into your wider curatorial research?

Much of my previous work is around the subject of queer histories and how an awareness of these can allow intergenerational discussions. I first explored this through Queering the Archive at Recent Activity in 2017, a screening of Sandi Hughes’ documentation of LGBTQ+ and BAME communities in Liverpool, prompting discussions on the accessibility of the archive and its impact on younger generations. The Club’s Conception (or How the Egg Was Cracked) continues this, using processes of oral histories and their visual transcriptions to contribute towards the archive while bridging generations of clubbers.

 

How have you developed the objects and drawings that are on display?

Following the open-call, I met with the participants on a 1-1 basis. I started out by asking them to sketch floor plans of the venues they attended using pen and paper, we then talked through the floor plan to establish an idea of the interior – the furniture, wallpaper and flooring of each individual room. I didn’t provide prompts but as I met with more people, the drawings became increasingly alike, showing that there was a collective understanding of what each space resembled.

Using the sketches and descriptions, Intervention Architecture produced renderings and models combining how the participants remembered each space. The sketches and renderings are printed on polyester drafting sheets, a material used when printing in progress architectural plans, suggesting that the findings aren’t final. It’s possible that someone could walk in and claim that the renderings are incorrect or that a certain feature is misplaced, and that’s what the project is about. Unless you’ve spoken to everyone who attended each venue, which for several reasons is impossible, there will never be a complete picture.

Installation view. Photo: John Fallon

How did the collaboration with Intervention Architecture arise?

I have been familiar with Intervention Architecture for a while and was interested in learning more about how they branch across both their architectural and artistic projects. Considering the architectural nature of their practice and their work on artistic commissions such as ‘Ways of Learning’ at Grand Union and ‘Next Generation Design’, I was keen to collaborate.

 

Can you talk more about the continuing significance of The Nightingale Club to its communities?

I had my sights set on the Nightingale as a teen and made sure I went on my 18th birthday. I think this is something that a lot of queer people in the region can relate to; the club is a rite of passage. Also, its familiarity and history of relocation make the club a great instrument in discussing the issues of displacement currently threatening Birmingham’s queer community. While there’s definitely a positive significance, many of those I interviewed expressed that the club was no longer their scene, even those who had been attending since it first opened. Ageism – along with issues with racism and sexism – are rife in the LGBTQ+ community, leading to spaces not feeling as safe as they might have before.


What do you hope will be the legacy of this research – for its participants, the public and LGBTQ+ communities?

Women weren’t allowed into The Nightingale Club until the mid-80s and only then under the condition that they would be signed in by and have their drinks purchased for them by a man. It was only in 1994 that they could become members. I hope while the project is a positive description of queer spaces, that it will also prompt thoughts around exclusion and to what extent it happens today.

Also, the documenting of histories relating to Birmingham’s queer scene is long overdue. Everyone I got in touch with was eager to talk and the project also provided an opportunity for the participants to reconnect with each other, to meet those who attended the club at different times. I would hope there might be more interest in speaking to those who came before us, understanding their experiences, how they differ to our own and how they might apply today.

 

The Club’s Conception (or How the Egg Was Cracked) takes place at Recent Activity, Birmingham until 1 June 2019.

The Club’s Conception (or How the Egg Was Cracked), currently on show at Recent Activity in Digbeth, retraces the demolished past venues of Birmingham’s The Nightingale Club, the city’s longest-running queer space. In collaboration with those who attended its three preceding venues, Ryan Kearney and Intervention Architecture map these spaces from recollections, replacing absent photographs and creating an archival presence.

We talked to Ryan about the exhibition.

The Manchester Contemporary, the UK’s only invitation art fair for critically engaged contemporary art outside of London, has announced this year’s roster of exhibitors, including three galleries from the West Midlands.

AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent; Meter Room, Coventry and Recent Activity, Birmingham have been selected to exhibit at the fair. In total, 34 galleries will feature this year, all selected by The Manchester Contemporary Curator and founder of the gallery Division of Labour, Nathaniel Pitt.

The Manchester Contemporary marks its tenth anniversary this year. It has established itself as one of the country’s most respected contemporary art events, and has attracted art collectors and curators from across the globe.

Pitt said:

“For this edition, in our tenth year, I have decided to look at the shape and future of the fair as a serious event in the busy contemporary art fair circuit. I see Manchester as an opportunity for a diverse approach to fair making. A more accessible artist centred fair both for the audience, collector and gallery alike.

“The Manchester Contemporary prides itself on being a part of a wider cultural landscape outside London and as a supporter of artistic practice and regional development. I have concentrated on bringing back some galleries from previous editions, galleries like Arcade who have a rich history of progressive exhibition making and attendance at the larger fairs, and added to this a roster of the best in artist-led projects from Caracus to Wakefield and a strong international presence from artist-focussed galleries in Berlin (Grim Museum), Paris (Galerie Jerome-Nivet,) Rotterdam (Joey Ramone), and Basel (Balzar Projects).

“And finally we have two key projects from Venture Arts, supported by Castlefield Gallery (both Manchester) and Bethlem Gallery of Bethlem Asylum in South London. These projects will be showcasing artists who work closely with their respective organisations looking outside the confines of the art world”.

The Manchester Contemporary runs from 12-14 October 2018 at Manchester Centreal. Tickets are available now at themanchestercontemporary.co.uk 

AirSpace Gallery, Meter Room and Recent Activity to exhibit at The Manchester Contemporary, the UK’s only invitation art fair for critically engaged contemporary art outside of London.

France-Lise McGurn, Rabbit, 2017, installation view at Recent Activity

In July, I undertook a trip to Glasgow to meet young artists and connect with artist-run spaces. I currently have two strands to my practice, making work and organising exhibitions for others through Recent Activity, a curatorial project I run with Andrew Lacon. Earlier this year, we opened a project space, providing a fixed location to our previously itinerant activity. Visiting Glasgow, I hoped to meet artists with a similar balance and range to their practices.

France-Lise McGurn, Rabbit, 2017, installation view at Recent Activity

Michael White, an artist who also runs Gallery Celine was extremely insightful. Unfunded and independent, the gallery operates from a living room in shared flat. The energy and ambition of Gallery Celine is exhilarating and such an urgent attitude to staging exhibitions would hugely benefit the artistic Birmingham.

David Dale Gallery revealed a different model – a larger gallery space with connecting studios. It was useful to see how a space might develop. An outdoor courtyard had been activated as a site for showing work and making pizzas in a clay oven. This resourcefulness and fluidity was interesting to see and particularly relevant to my work with Recent Activity.

Matthew and Jessica from The Good Press were also very interesting to meet. Formed in 2011, The Good Press provides a platform for the production and sale of independent publications, as well as a site for exhibitions and projects. Their range of activities and open approach to collaboration is compelling and has inspired some new conversations about the possible direction of Recent Activity.

I visited France-Lise McGurn in her studio prior to her exhibition at Recent Activity. It was great to discuss her developing work and talk more broadly about the artistic landscape in Glasgow. Having returned to Glasgow after time in London and Berlin, it was useful to talk about her relationship with the city and the changing roles of galleries and artist-run spaces.

Steven Claydon’s exhibition at The Common Guild was a highlight of the trip; the collision of materials, imagery and forms was really exciting to see first hand. Claydon’s broad range of cultural references and the overall composition of his exhibition made a huge impact on me.

Andrew Gillespie
www.awgillespie.com

Andrew Gillespie reports from his research trip to Glasgow last summer, made possible via an Engine Micro Bursary.

Kira Freije, The Dark Away, 2017 at Recent Activity. Photo: Stuart Whipps.

Recent Activity is a curatorial collaborative project by Birmingham-based artists Andrew Gillespie and Andrew Lacon. They have recently opened a space on Floodgate Street in Digbeth. We found out what they have planned for the space.

You have worked on projects nomadically for some time. What prompted the move to open the Recent Activity project space?

We have operated an itinerant programme since 2015, activating spaces and audiences across Birmingham and beyond. Although exciting, we wanted a new challenge and to form a different dialogue with artists and the city. Our other projects still continue – we recently presented an iteration of Nomadic Vitrine with Alex Frost at The Royal Standard in Liverpool.

What is the ethos behind the space?

Our attitude to the space is very much the same as to our previous projects. We hope to bring new artists to Birmingham and provide for the display and discussion of context for contemporary. We have always tried to work with a sense of urgency and tried to utilise the inertia of each project to propel the next one.

Why now?

We had been working in a particular way, with certain parameters for over a year. We wanted some continuity, a fixed location with a new set of possibilities.

What do you hope the space will bring to the art ecology of the city?

We hope to contribute to the existing landscape, generating more activity and dialogues. We have both benefited hugely from Grand Union and Eastside Projects.

How does your curatorial work with Recent Activity feed into your individual artistic practices?

Recent Activity forms one strand of our practices. Each exhibition or project feels like new collaboration, exposing us to different artist’s practices and undoubtedly informing our own approaches.

What are your plans for the future of the project space?

Exhibitions and events will run throughout the year. In August, we are working with James Parkinson on another Nomadic Vitrine presentation, whilst France-Lise McGurn is making a new exhibition in the project space.

 

 

Recent Activity is a curatorial collaborative project by Birmingham-based artists Andrew Gillespie and Andrew Lacon. They have recently opened a space on Floodgate Street in Digbeth. We found out what they have planned for the space.

https://www.a-n.co.uk/news/new-artist-led-hot-100-launched-assembly-liverpool

Six art organisations from across the West Midlands are included in this years’ Artist-Led Hot 100, an artwork by Kevin Hunt. These include BLOK in Worcester, Portland Inn Project in Stoke-on-Trent, Office for Art, Design and Technology and Classroom in Coventry, and Recent Activity and Modern Clay in Birmingham.