Sunday, October 29, 2017

Goodbye Rotten

But before I get to that title, what has been going on?
I find myself so busy these days - now that I'm Programme Leader for the HND Jewellery at the School - that I keep forgetting to update on what has been happening!

Pots of Joy - 2017 - 1

Since the last post, we've had the BA Students complete their expressive "Pots of Joy" project, where they make a little vessel to express something about themselves, a project of which I love seeing the outcomes...

Pots of Joy - 2017 - 4

Pots of Joy - 2017 - 3



We also had the talks from our extensive programme of Artists-in-Residence (AiR) who come and work in the studios with our current students, helping them out as required, as well as developing their own practice, getting support, mentorship and facilities in return for their valued input. I am lucky to be mentoring an excellent wax-carver this year, Andy Marriott.

Artist-In-Residence Talks - 2017 - 4



A dinosaur tried to escape from the Technology Hub but was, fortunately, stopped by getting caught in the door:

Escapee



We had a massive storm here - well, like the last massive storm, it didn't amount to much where I was - but it did cause us to have an amazing red sky and sun:

Red Sun

The light was so strange that my camera couldn't really deal with it and this shot even looks a bit solarised!



Thames Scene

I was sent to London to represent the School of Jewellery and Birmingham City University at a careers fair in Docklands. It was, in the end, great fun. I hadn't been looking forward to it, but a calm train journey down, a fairly comfortable hotel, good colleagues on the stand and it proved to be exhausting but enjoyable.

Careers Fair - 1

On the second day, I gave a talk about Contemporary Jewellery and took a handling collection of work with me:

Careers Fair - 2

Being on long train journeys and staying in an hotel also gave me the chance to finish reading a remarkable book that I didn't even know about:


Anthony Burgess' response to Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four", 1985. I found this after reading up on the connections between Orwell's book and Murakami's "IQ84" which I read over the summer.



I've been making up stock for the dreaded Christmas period, as well as a few commissions. Not much to see just now, but I will have some photographs of finished works at the end of the week, including the "Repair" rings about which I wrote in my last post.

Making Stock - WIP - 1

The earring trio on the left include a new material I found this week: Bowden cable! It was being stripped out of the old windows at the School and dumped in the back car-park, from where I rescued metres and metres of the stuff... expect to see more made from this.



Conservatoire Jazz - 2

Had a night at the Birmingham Royal Conservatoire with colleagues to listen to two student bands playing the music of Wayne Shorter. I initially bought a ticket for this as the poster made it look as if Wayne Shorter himself were to have been playing, but he wasn't. Mildly disappointing for a £3 ticket! The bands were fantastic and we realised that we were actually watching an assessment of their work.



Which brings me to the end of normal business and to the sorry tale of "Hello Fresh", Nadz and the title of this post, "Goodbye Rotten".

There exists in the Jewellery Quarter, a number of non-jewellery businesses who take advantage of the cheaper office accommodation than would be found in the city centre. Often, these are marketing- and design-based businesses. One of them, "MJ Experia" marketing runs a setup which, from the outside, seems very odd indeed, to say the least (and their reviews on Google Maps seem to back this up - "...They made me cancel a holiday to get the job, which I earnt next to nothing at, and what I did make they never paid me and stole. I worked about 70 hours a week for over a month and got given a total amount of £24...").

I should explain what makes them seem so odd: first of all, there are the cheap suits - I cannot express fully enough my disdain for the cheap, ill-fitting, lairy suits worn by the people who go in and out of this place; secondly, the chanting - they spend the day chanting and shouting and listening to crap, loud music; thirdly, the things they throw out of the windows - for a while, several times a day, a shower of pens, stress-balls, markers, paper cups and other detritus would be thrown out of the window. On the command of the instructors. Yes, really. They TELL their victims to throw things out of the window into the space around, never a thought for clearing up the mess, even when it falls into private land.

And this is how I came to make this post as one of their victims, "Nadz", threw her notebook out of the window:

The Tragedy of Nadz - 1 - Cover

It lay about for a couple of days and as she had plainly decided that it was not to be reclaimed, I couldn't resist the sinister drawing on the cover and took it home. Inside were some quite science-fiction drawings which I rather liked:

The Tragedy of Nadz - 2 - Fantasy Building

Unfortunately, however, the contents never again reach these heights as the poor author is cowed by her indoctrination into the MJ Experia way of high-pressure door-to-door sales for a company called "Hello Fresh", nauseatingly interspersed with 'high fives':

The Tragedy of Nadz - 4 - The Work Begins

The business of "speaking to all of your neighbours" is a common thread. As is lying to them about the neighbours all signing up.
And more 'high fives', this time with a  'Yeah!!':

The Tragedy of Nadz - 6 - Yeah!! (High Five) Welcome to Hello Fresh

As well as the inexplicable plagiarism of the name of a popular TV Shopping Channel!

As could have been expected, Nadz soon became disillusioned with all this superficial nonsense and returned to drawing:

The Tragedy of Nadz - 8 - House of her Dreams

This reminded me somewhat of Garth England's "Murdered With Straight Lines". The next page initially made me laugh out loud but then took on a rather darker complex the more I thought about it:

The Tragedy of Nadz - 9 - Daddy Issues

The bit which made me laugh out loud was "Am I on the right path to becoming an architect", immediately following that drawing: what turned it darker was that it is apparent that Nadz realises that she is trapped, wants a better life and is having some sort of an existential crisis while the cheap suits around her high-five and chant and 'Yeah!!' and believe their own puff. Nadz is better than this. A lot better than this. Nadz has been duped, led on, led to believe that this is the limit of her abilities and yet plainly wants so much more. She realises that she is stuck in a dead end McJob.

In short, this is a modern tragedy. We are squandering the talent of young people like Nadz, and, I dare say, the people in the cheap suits, on this sort of crap which functions only to make money for large corporations without any regard for quality of life or self-respect: worse than that, these people have been lied to, sold some sort of a dream based on... fast cars? ill-fitting suits? big houses?

The reason I decided to post these pages was that about ten days ago, I received a mailshot from, of all companies, "Hello Fresh":

Goodbye Rotten - A Hello Fresh Update

In which, in the first paragraph, CEO Claire Davenport seeks to insult my cooking as being "basic, uninspiring". It seems that the contempt for these marketing types stretches not only to their employees but to those that they seek to market to.

As we near the end-of-days for late-phase Capitalism, I don't hold out much hope for things improving in the short term. When it happens, however, it will be a pleasure to remember Dingo's quip when I showed him this letter: "Goodbye Rotten".

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Nuts!

This week kicked off with "Maker Monday", a fairly regular event in the city at which people who make discuss the philosophy, practice and politics of making. It is part of the University "Steamhouse" initiative and not only was this the first of the events I've attended, but I was also speaking at it. The theme this week was about digital practice and I chose to illustrate it with a talk about my "Pulling Rabbits Out Of A Hat" watch.

Pulling Rabbits Out Of A Hat - Professional Photograph

Friends and colleagues were also speaking, including Tina Francis, Sian Hindle and Frilly Industries and I'm pleased to report that the event was jammed full... standing room only! I'll be going to more for sure.

Maker Monday - 1



Tuesday night, I was off to hear Music Theatre Wales perform a work by Hungarian composer, Péter Eötvös, "The Golden Dragon". Set in a Chinese restaurant, this is the second opera I've seen where the orchestra dress like kitchen porters and the orchestra includes scored kitchen implements!

The Golden Dragon - 2

The whole piece is marvellous... an illegal immigrant has a rotten tooth which the kitchen staff try to remove, killing the boy in the process: his spirit seeks a return to home: brutal, hilarious, bloody and touching, this was a brilliant performance of a brilliant piece of work.

The Golden Dragon - 1

And in case you're wondering about the other opera set in a restaurant, it was David Shrigley's masterful "Pass the Spoon" with David Fennesey in 2011!

Pass The Spoon 3



On Wednesday, we took all the students to Chatsworth House for a specialist visit looking at the jewellery in the collection there.

Chatsworth House Trip - 1

With some very impressive Andrew Grima pieces!

Chatsworth House Trip - 5

They had laid on talks from buyers, suppliers and from the collection historian and after the main part of the visit was over, I spent the rest of the day in the amazing gardens.

Chatsworth House Trip - 22



On Thursday, we had the judging for the IAAF World Indoor Championship medals... I've been under embargo until now, but I can now reveal that one of my students has designed the medals which will be given to the athletes in this prestigious world-wide athletics event. I'm still embargoed on the name and the design, but they put out this small video on Twitter to explain:


So pleased and proud!

Thursday also brought an "In Discussion" evening for the ACJ as part of their AGM. The event was a conversation between Head of School, Professor Stephen Bottomley and Emily Kidson and was chaired by the estimable Terry Hunt, chair of the ACJ.

ACJ 20:20 - Discussion - 2

I was really pleased to see a good turnout for both the talks and the reception after.

ACJ 20:20 - Discussion - 3



Friday night was my first visit to the newly-built Birmingham Royal Conservatoire to hear the Alternative Orchestra perform 6 new works in the inaugural concert for the concert hall. The music was all by student and ex-student composers.

Birmingham Royal Conservatoire - 2

I was especially taken with two pieces: Oliver Farrow's "Polyphonic Music" and Rob Roberts' "Or is it?", both deploying the strange ensemble in very different ways whilst still utilising them to the full. I'm really looking forward to being able to attend lots of concerts at the Conservatoire in the future.



Work-wise, I've been working on some very new nut rings. I found these split nuts on my last visit to Dungeness and decided immediately that they had to be used:

Nut Rings - Repair Series - 1

I tried sand-casting silver into the space but the size of the nut chilled the metal and prevented it from casting properly: I realised that I would have to use a lost-wax casting process and started by laser-welding a scaffold of silver wire into the gap:

Nut Rings - Repair Series - 2

I then built wax up around these scaffolds:

Nut Rings - Repair Series - 3

And had these cast in silver:

Nut Rings - Repairs Series - WIP - 4

I'm very pleased with the way these came out.

The other nuts I've been working on were a set of square nuts given to me by Mark Fenn. I learned all about using a 4-jaw chuck on the lathe this week and set about milling them out. Having milled them out, I wasn't exactly sure how to go with them and a chance discussion with my colleague, Drew Markou, led me to think about how to use my endless and relentless drawings as a direct part of my practice, so I decided to set the rings unconventionally on one side face and then use one of the flat faces to draw in inlay. I am really pleased with the results:

2049 - Inlaid Nut Rings - WIP - 1

I'll finish here on a video of me doing the inlay:


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Round Again

Freshers' Challenge 2017 - 5

It is that time again when the School kicks off and the eager new-starts arrive. We've just completed our "Welcome Week" in which we get the new first-year students into the way of the School of Jewellery.  As happened last year, our very loud colleague, Andy Howard, arranged the ice-breaker, a challenge to use common objects to build a machine which would traverse the atrium at the School and this is really just an excuse for a certain mayhem... The object above is the rather lovely winning entry, which sailed with ease over our heads to a length of 17m, launched with a balloon and running along a zip-wire:

Freshers' Challenge 2017 - 9

There were some excellent solutions:

Freshers' Challenge 2017 - 10

And, of course, if all else fails, BOOT IT!

Freshers' Challenge 2017 - 13

I don't think the cleaning team were very pleased with the residual glitter and sequins, but it was great fun.

Starting education in earnest on Monday.



A fairly relaxed weekend at events which are being held around the city for the "Birmingham Weekender", a biennial free culture event, which is great. It is hard to believe that the last one was a full two years ago, three weeks after I moved here.

I'm going to apologise in advance for the fact that most of the photographs which follow are taken on my phone: the battery on the camera ran out on Saturday when I was touring the events.

Things kicked off on Friday night with (Bowie collaborator) Tony Oursler's "The Influence Machine" in Cathedral Square, a multimedia installation which used the square to talk about the influence television has on the culture. I am not sure it was successful and was best categorised as 'interesting'! Elements of it looked very good indeed:

Birmingham Weekender - Tony Oursler - 2

Birmingham Weekender - Tony Oursler - 4

Birmingham Weekender - Tony Oursler - 1

Birmingham Weekender - Tony Oursler - 3

On Saturday, I headed off to town to hear the marvellous Birmingham Opera perform three very short operas, new commissions especially for the festival. First up was the remarkable Alison Rose, singing "Freedom Bridge" by Susanna Self. This was performed in the most bizarre setting of a corporate shopping centre, "The Mailbox":

Birmingham Weekender - Birmingham Opera - 5

There were a good number of opera fans there for the event but there were a lot of casual passers-by who didn't quite know what to make of it!

Two more works followed, the utterly miserable "That's Just Life, Isn't It" an emotional tour-de-force by Chloe Knibbs and sung by Stephen Bowen:


And the amusing "Hi Sam" by Yfat Soul Zisso, sung by Maureen Brathwaite:


After the operas, I whizzed along the canal to hear the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group perform "Canalside Serenade", a strange piece for canal-boats, musicians and two other luminaries of the Birmingham experimental music scene, Ex Cathedra and BEAST.


The performance was a bit shambolic and beset by technical issues which meant that it was difficult to hear certain sections of the work: a great shame. The bits I could hear were great and I particularly enjoyed the choir chanting some of the notices and signs to be found along the canals, as well as the domestic percussion!


The evening was filled with "Clash of Drums" in the East Side park, an event of Bhangra with the Lions of Punjab Bhangra group followed by a face-off between two percussion orchestras, Les Commandos Percu from France and Deabru Beltzak from Spain.

The Punjab Lions were full of enthusiasm and having fun with their dancing, there was a lovely sense of the pleasure they were getting out of the music and their individual personalities influenced how they worked within the ensemble.



They ended their set with a mass dance! I think it might have been meant only for the children but ended up with about half the park joining in...


The following percussion and firework event was quite other: much more dangerously playful and was really a kind of fireworks concerto, where pyrotechnics were woven into the performance as much as sound as spectacle: very exciting indeed. This is the troupe at the end of their set:


Here is a video of them performing in Skegness to give you an idea of what they do:


This evening, I am off to the Town Hall for more Punjabi music, this time the devotional Sufi singing of Hans Raj Hans. If this is anywhere near as thrilling as the singing of Rizwan Ali Khan (whom I saw earlier this year - read about it here), it is going to be another excellent night.