Whilst working at Birmingham City Council I was involved in the ‘Big Culture Blog’ which was a 24 hour live event. I went along with my then two colleagues Shahid & Hayley as their photographer.
The below post was written by Hayley on the same day we returned back to our office from the ‘Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery – So a big shout out to Hayley for a brilliantly written post.
The original post can be found here.
Friday afternoons in the council’s press office are routinely hectic, so I jump at the chance to contribute to Birmingham’s 24 hour live blogging event – ‘The Big Culture Blog’.
Challenged by our culture press officer Geoff Coleman to lead by example, myself and two colleagues set off in our lunch hour to “do a bit of culture”, whatever that entails.
My day to day job involves handling media enquiries on adult social care, regulatory services and transport, so I rarely get a chance to leave my desk, let alone experience any culture.
Shahid, my companion on my culture search, looks after the Children Young People and Families directorate and has an equally challenging working day.
Regular readers of the Birmingham Post may remember Shahid in his previous incarnation as the paper’s Education Correspondent, where he also single handedly managed to alienate the entire Shetland Isles (google it). He’s also been banned from keeping a cat near a main road, but that’s another story.
Our social media specialist Dal completes the trio, and off we go. Being somewhat unadventurous budding culture vultures, we amble from our office in the Council House round the corner to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG). I have a vague notion of seeing the Bridget Riley – Flashback exhibition, not that I know anything about the artist, but because I like the poster and it reminds me of the cover of the Pet Shop Boys ‘Introspective’.
Shahid is keen as mustard, unaccustomed as he is in his new life as a press officer to actually leaving his desk, his days as a roving reporter now a fond memory. Entering BMAG, Dal excitedly pipes up “let’s check this culture out!”, “yeah, let’s get this culture out of the way”, is Shahid’s response. I am beginning to see how he caused a diplomatic incident with our Scottish friends.
I am ashamed to say that I can’t remember the last time I visited an art gallery, and despite working next door, I think I have only visited BMAG once in my 19 years of living in Birmingham, and that was to see a theatre performance. Like a lot of people, it’s not that I don’t like visual art; it’s just not something I tend to think about very often.
Dal is taken with ‘Lucifer’, an imposing semi-naked bronze with outstretched wings by Jacob Epstein. Although, given his disappointed “Oh, it’s a bloke, I thought it was a woman”, I mistrust his sudden enthusiasm for sculpture.
After roaming about for a bit looking for the exhibition, an attendant points us in the direction of the Waterhall, where the exhibition actually is. Shahid is taking a keen interest in the restaurant sign, conscious as he is of his rumbling tum. “This must be what it’s like to be a starving artist”, quips the enemy of the Shetlands.
“Keep focused” orders Shahid as he leads the way to the Waterhall, deeply engrossed in a conversation with Dal as to the merits of art galleries as a location for meeting sexy women. Dal’s conclusion? They might be classy women, so therefore a bit high maintenance.
Finally, we locate the exhibition, and are informed that Bridget Riley made a big impact in the 1960s with her geometric forms. We are all very taken with a big black and white canvas entitled “Movement in Squares”, which plays tricks with your eyesight, and does, as promised, seem to move.
Shahid and Dal are particularly keen on a piece entitled “Late Morning”. Apologies to art lovers everywhere, as I lack the art lingo to properly do this work justice, but imagine a big stripy duvet on a wall.
A woman who is also viewing the piece seems particularly amused by the sight of our dynamic duo slowly walking backwards away from the canvas like a pair of pallbearers, to get the full visual impact.
Shahid seems to be having some sort of seizure, repeatedly muttering “green, red, white, red, blue, white green”, with his nose pressed up against the canvas. I think this is what they mean by art moving people, even if they do proclaim “it’s making me feel a bit squiffy”.
Moving on to a squiggly piece called “Song of Orpheus”; it is my turn to be a philistine. “What’s this about then? A juxtaposition of curves and straight lines that go together?” queries the now inspired Shahid, “I don’t know, am not too keen on pastels”, is my response.
He is then even more chuffed to see a quote on the wall taken from “Working with nature”, where the artist explains:
“In working on a painting I choose a small group of colours and juxtapose them in different sequences, to provide various relations and to precipitate colour reacting. These ‘colour events’ are delicate and elusive, they have to be organised to make them more present – more there, more real.
I take for example three colours, say magenta, ochre and turquoise plus black and white, a situation which then triggers off iridescent bursts of colour.”
Shahid’s reaction? “See, juxtapose, I used that word, I’m right”. Could this be a moment of revelation for our intrepid culture seeker?
We finish our visit by sitting down and watching a short film about the artist that has a lovely soothing sequence of some waves sloshing against the shore. That combined with the hypnotic effect of the paintings themselves made for a very pleasant and relaxing experience.
We are struck by a line in the film that explains that Bridget Riley was interested in getting people to experience “what seeing feels like”.
Last word as ever goes to Shahid, “I feel culturally enriched, but still hungry”, as we emerge from the cool sanctuary of the gallery into the sunlight and head back to the land of ringing phones.
Although none of us now work for Birmingham City Council, to this day both Shahid and Hayley are still my very good friends.
I think I’ll rope them in for another day out to an event or somewhere and have Hayley write another post for my website whilst Shahid has his nose pressed against the wall muttering random words to amuse us all – so watch this space!
Thank you both Shahid and Hayley.