Thursday, August 18, 2016

Birmingham, UK

Part of my duties as Course Leader of the BA (Hons) Fine Art programme run in collaboration with Birmingham City University was to attend ‘School Academic Board’ meetings in Birmingham during April. Although this meant that I had to take a week out in the middle of the semester creating disruption to the several modules I was teaching, it did give me the opportunity to re-visit Birmingham School of Art, located in the beautiful Margaret Street building in the heart of Birmingham. This Venetian Gothic building was opened in 1885 and was wonderfully cleaned and refurbished in 1992 (exterior) and 1996 (interior). The interior is a wonderful labyrinth of rooms and staircases and no doubt provides tremendous inspiration for the students. My own art college at Leeds (then called Jacob Kramer College of Art) also had a certain amount of this charm and atmosphere.

Interior views of Birmingham School of Art

The week actually passed quickly, the meetings were fruitful and important planning was made for next year’s schedule. During the week I even managed to hold one-to-one tutorials with several final year Fine Art students. This was a real pleasure and for me sitting down with students in front of their work to discuss practical and conceptual approaches is what teaching is all about. The students were confident, ambitious and had a clear direction. One student had already secured a place at the Ruskin School of Art and despite having produced several strong pieces of work, he was still prepared to experiment with new materials and processes.

Before it was time for me to leave Birmingham, I visited the lovely local Ikon Gallery.

Birmingham Ikon Gallery

The gallery was featuring a solo show by American Dan Flavin, giving me the chance to see a major show of his work for the first time. I had previously seen individual examples of his work in various galleries as well as being familiar with his work via books, magazines and the internet but this solo show, entitled ‘It is what it is and it ain’t nothing else’ (sic) was a revelation for me. Each room in which his work was installed was transformed by the light emanating from the neon tubes in a variety of colour combinations. The light sometimes rendered the corners of the room invisible and sometimes it exaggerated the corners as if they had become acute gaps receding away from the viewer. The light also radiated away from the tubes, affecting and transforming the architectural details of the room itself. I thoroughly enjoyed this show and it made me completely reassess his work.
The week passed far too quickly and as I traveled back to Heathrow by train I hoped it would not be too long before I could return.

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