Birmingham is full of itself

The current exhibition at Eastside Projects in Birmingham, looks inwards and backwards at the city and the artists it has given or nurtured before sending out into the world. Birmingham Show, running from 31 January to 11 April, casts a broad net across the art work of the city’s children, making for a compelling but not necessarily cohesive whole.

Tom Gidley
Tom Gidley

Curated by Ruth Claxton and Gavin Wade, the exhibition aims to connect the spaces between artists who ‘have lived, worked or studied within the city’ by bringing what might at first feel a disparate body of works into the one space, but begins to manifest into a cohesive meta-narrative about Birmingham, albeit eventually.

It’s a nice wide stroke of artists, includings Sofia Hultén, Tom Gidley, Antonio Roberts, Su Richardson, to name but a few.

Antonio Roberts shows one of his Pure Data-based glitch works; flashing randomly generated, sharp angled colours on a monitor which sits curiously against much of the static work on show. Alongside some of the paintings, it’s a good example of why these mixed artist exhibitions are worth visiting: any conceptual idea behind the work is free to breath freely beyond the weight of the medium used. So what of that conceptual idea?

Three key questions underpin the exhibition making – ‘What is the art of Birmingham?’ ‘Is there an accent to Birmingham’s art making?’ and ‘How is Birmingham useful for the production of art?’ – Exhibition notes.

Sofia Hultén
Sofia Hultén

Or perhaps: what’s the point of Birmingham? It would be easy to use the exhibition as a tourist brochure to encourage new artists into the city.Look at these artists, aren’t they doing great stuff? You too could be as great as them. But, even though Birmingham has a vibrant, continually evolving art scene, sometimes work can only come from fighting against the place you’re in. The best pop music came from rallying against the suburbs, rather than celebrating them. Some of the work feels like a cosy homage to art, some of it disturbs and challenges us to ask what art is (don’t you hate when that happens?). There’s something here for all the family then.

Sofia Hultén, is a child of Birmingham in a very particular way that so many people are. She was born in Stockholm, but moved to the city as a child. That duality of awareness reflects in her works, particularly her sculptures where she often uses ready-mades: turning industrial detritus into, as is the case with her piece in this show, from weighty, ugly artefacts, into something that appears to float in the corner of the gallery. Heavy chains, bobbing amongst the gallery visitors.

If Birmingham has one thing working against it when it comes to creating art, it’s that Birmingham knows who it is. There’s no challenge against the kind of existential despair you might find in the art coming out of (to name just one near neighbour), Coventry. At least not in any of the work on show in Birmingham Show. But then again, I think that may not be the point of it. Maybe you have to be from Birmingham to question the exhibition. For the rest of us, it’s a chance to enjoy a broad stroke of art works in a single location: challenging, responding to questioning, refusing to be bothered by what outsiders think. Hey, maybe that’s the voice of Birmingham?

Birmingham Show
31 January – 11 April 2015
Eastside Projects
86 Heath Mill Lane
Birmingham B9 4AR
+44 (0)121 771 1778