Monday, 29 November 2010

Post-Industrial Revolution is baking a cheesecake

We, as the Post-Industrial Revolution team, were recently invited to baking competition by new Birmingham based creative organisation, the Neighbourhood. They have invited all other creative organisations they could think of, to create interesting platform for getting to know each other better. Behind us the most difficult part - we had to bake a cake! We will  bring it along on the aforementioned chilly November Eve, and their panel of judges will pick a winner. Me and Kate met yesterday to conjure amazing Polish cheesecake with English Custard powder in it! We will let you know if we win soon. 

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Irish community in Digbeth

The presence of Irish people in Birmingham was first recorded in the 1600s.  However the first major waves of migration began in the 1820’s as large numbers immigrated to England in a bid to find work and escape poverty.   Even larger numbers began to arrive during the 1840’s to escape the devastation of the Great Famine.

During the 19th and early part of the 20th century every inner-city district of Birmingham had an Irish quarter or an Irish street. At the beginning of the 19th century large numbers of Irish people lived in the poorest parts of central Birmingham, gradually moving outwards as the city itself grew. In central parts of the city over 20% of the population were first generation Irish, while in parts of Digbeth the Irish population reached 55%. 

High unemployment in Ireland during the 1950s lead to another wave of migration, many migrants took up jobs building Birmingham's roads and housing estates.  Economic problems during the 1980s brought more Irish people and by the 1990s approximately 70,000 first generation Irish people were living in Birmingham.

Although the Irish community has dispersed across the city, many view Digbeth as their spiritual home.  There are a large number of Irish pubs in the area and the headquarters for the Irish community Forum. In addition Digbeth boasts the third largest St Patricks day parade after Dublin and New York.

The influence of the Irish community in Digbeth is now visually represented through a public artwork by Irish artist Dave Sherry situated at the entrance of the newly renovated Digbeth coach station.  The Irish Quarter Visual Artwork greets visitors with The sign  ‘A Hundred thousand welcomes’ A  translation of a traditional Irish greeting, in Gaelic ‘Cead mile failte’

Friday, 26 November 2010

Custard's second face: Budyn

I have to admit something. When I was writing the post about custard, I knew custard only from descriptions. When I finally tasted it yesterday I was astonished that actually I know custard very well, as it is know in Poland as Budyn (pronounced boodinn )!  On this blog you can read about the discovery of Budyn by one Englishman. What is more, while Custard is always vanilla-flavoured, you can find Budyn in a whole range of flavours, such us: strawberry, chocolate, cherry, raspberry and many others.  

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Rescue Geography: Digbeth's 'forgotten' past

Lonely survivor of the clearcutting to create the Ventureast site, photo: David Miller 
In 2007 and 2008 experts from the University of Birmingham developed a project to make sure Digbeth's past is not forgotten. ‘The Eastside project’ focused on redevelopment of the Digbeth and Deritend areas of Birmingham. Experts researched sites being redeveloped for historical artefacts, record interviews and exhibit items. They gathered people's stories about this part of the city. As you can read on Rescue Geography website sometimes they've just chatted to people in cafes, but they also asked people to give them guided tours of the area, recording what they said and - using sat nav technology - where they said it. Researchers invited a photographer Dan Burwood, who  took pictures of interviewees in places within Digbeth that have particular meaning to them.  From artists’s statement: ‘In 2005 I started to make portraits of people in Digbeth, on the street and in pubs, pictures that evidenced a context visually, and interested me more and more in the place as I spoke to the people that allowed me to take their pictures. You could see how fast things might start to change in the area, and, as much as I was happy with some of the images, it was the stories and people I met that made a greater impression, and which seemed to be lost behind the surface of the prints, and my poor retelling of our meetings’.
An exhibition of the work in Digbeth and Eastside took place 24-31 October 2008.  You can see details of the interviews here 
You can also Download the exhibition catalogue  and many other useful documents 
photo: David Miller

Saturday, 20 November 2010

the Custard Factory

Every Anglophile knows what the custard is, but not everyone knows - that this traditional English sauce, eaten with so many traditional puddings, was created in Birmingham! It was first made in 1840s by pharmacist Alfred Bird, for his wife who was allergic to eggs. This egg-free alternative very quilckly swept away the original egg-based custard sauce and went into mass production! It was produced in the Custard Factory in Digbeth. The factory was built 100 years ago by the inventor of custard, and as you can read on the Custard Factory website, at one time he had even a thousand people working there. After many years original Bird's Custard is still there, available on the supermarket shelf. Also the building, where it was produced, remained till today and  is home to a vibrant community of 500 artists and small creative enterprises. Artistic comunity has been there since 1990. 

Custard Factory circa 1995:

The Rea Garden - triangular piece of land located in Digbeth

The Rea Garden is a triangular piece of land located in Digbeth. Once there was a factory there, now only some ruins and a few burned beams remained. After twenty years of lying fallow, it was restored to life by three artists hiding under the name Behind Closed Doors . They invite other artists to produce work relating to the space and also organise exhibitions. That idea absolutely amazed us, especially because is very similar to what was happening in Gdansk in the 80s on the Granary Island thanks to artists like Grzegorz Klaman, Kazimierz Kowalczyk, Jacek Staniszewski, Eugeniusz Szczudło, Jarosław Filiciński, Robert Rumas and many others. Here, too, artists have grubbed up bushes overgrowing the space between the ruined walls and created a gallery - studio under the open sky, where nature mixes with culture.

Below there is a photo of the show of Claudia Borgna, who uses plastic bags in her art and creates installations that are not only aesthetically beautiful but also raise a very important problem of production and collection of waste. Traveling around the world made her realise how great the production of waste is, and how much it is settled in the natural landscape. Claudia does large scale installations, massively invading the space, thus referring to mass production. She tries to build awareness of overproduction of waste. Her works emphasize the conflict between culture and nature, and their interactions.

Claudia Borgna

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Event 2009

The Event 2009 was a contemporary arts festival which took place in Eastside (Digbeth) intending to highlight artist-led activity within the city of Birmingham bringing together a multitude of artists, curators and artist lead projects. It was developed by Birmingham Contemporary Art Forum (established in 2006).

The Event was delivered by some of the city’s key artist-led groups in an attempt to explore a variety of contemporary arts activity demonstrating the diversity of the thriving arts community in the city.

For more information regarding the Event visit

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Florilegium, Jacques Nimki

Florilegium, Jacques Nimki
Another project directly referencing Digbeth’s regeneration is Florilegium, installed at Ikon Eastside by artist Jacques Nimki during the summer of 2007. For Florilegium (traditionally a Victorian pastime, meaning to collect and catalogue plants) Nimki collected weed specimens from in and around Digbeth, an area of Birmingham going through a surge of regeneration. These specimens were then cultivated and eventually planted within Ikon Eastside creating a visually stunning indoor meadow within a former factory space.  Nimki highlights these seemingly overlooked weeds encouraging the viewer to reconsider them ‘bringing to light their medicinal, magical and aesthetic qualities, thus challenging traditional notions of value and beauty’ encouraging the viewer to reassess their surroundings.

‘Here, the outsiders of the plant world can be found, determinedly pushing through cracks in the concrete or 
 wrapping themselves around street signs and lampposts. Undervalued and overlooked they nevertheless thrive in this most urban of environments. ‘

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The distance between us - Digbeth based project relating to site, regeneration and themes of a similar interest

Public Notice by Karin Kihlberg & Reuben Henry. Originally commissioned as part of 'the distance between us' curated by Capital Art Projects, 2004. Re-presented for Architecture Week 2005. Photo by Chris Webb

the distance between us (developed by Capital Arts Projects in 2005) focused on two districts of Birmingham with strong links to the city’s indusial heritage, Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter.    the distance between us sort to commission three new artworks responding to the changing nature of these areas as the result of regeneration, the demise of industry/manufacturing and the development of new enterprise.  A major objective was the commissioning of works that existed in the public realm but not necessarily dependant on a physical/ permanent realisation.

The first of these commissions, Public Notice was developed by Karin Kihlberg and Reuben Henry and comprised of a tour of public houses within the Jewellery quarter and Digbeth.  Public Notice aimed to address the ‘social, architectural and cultural traditions associated with “the public house” a quintessentially English tradition. 
Kihlberg and Henry suggested that the regeneration programmes in Birmingham are partly to blame for the disappearance of the traditional public house, now being replaced by themed bars, gastro pubs and national chains.  Traditional pubs have historically played a huge part in the social structure of industrial areas such as Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter, but with the demise of industry and its workforce many have become redundant.

The tour offered an opportunity to voice the artists concerns over their decline but also act as a celebration or homage to the remaining pubs within these districts.  ‘The tour was commemorated in a limited edition artwork – a box containing illustrations, historical trivia, anecdotes and colour swatches.’ 
The second commission was a series of site orientated photographs by Sans FaçonSans Façon ‘began in 2000 as a collaboration between artist and architect, their work attempted to reveal the idiosyncrasies of a city through its imperceptible and often disregarded detail’.
Albion Street by Sans Facon, 2005. Commissioned as part of 'the distance between us' curated by Capital Art Projects. Photo by Ming de Nasty.
Albion Street by Sans Facon, 2005. Commissioned as part of 'the distance between us' curated by Capital Art Projects. Photo by Ming de Nasty.

For the distance between us they attempted to capture aspects of Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter by photographing elements and then installing the photos at the precise locations of which they were taken; the works are then frozen in time and remains constant while surroundings constantly change.
This series of interventions is a direct response to the regeneration of Birmingham but is something which echoes redevelopment both nationally and internationally.  It acts as an archive of activity preserving a specific moment in time.

The third commission by Simon Pope, took the form of a series of short texts related to his research into ‘the act of walking as contemporary art practice, suggesting ways we might sense and make sense of the city’.
‘The Text offered the reader simple instructions through which they could ‘investigate a particular aspect of an urban environment through everyday activity for example what it is to remember, meet, follow or know’
For the distance between us Pope developed texts written in response to Birmingham’s Digbeth and Jewellery Quarter, however similarly to the work of sans façon, these text pieces could reference regeneration on a larger, national scale. 
Between where we are and where we want to be, 2005. Commissioned as part of 'the distance between us' curated by Capital Art Projects.. Photo by Capital Art Projects

These text works originally intended to be presented through local newspapers were placed within the publication for the distance between us as a removable insert.  One final text piece ‘Between where we are and where we want to be’ was placed on a placard and walked around the city.

Kate Pennington-Wilson 

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Find out more about Digbeth

Find out more about Digbeth on the 'We Are Eastside' website! This is a brilliant guide to 'Birmingham's cultural playground'.

We especially recommend text We Are Eastside – Birmingham’s Creative Playground by Ben Waddington.