New Art West Midlands - giant red spiders and how to make coffee with dew?


Yesterday I took the family on a trip to Birmingham to visit the New Art West Midlands exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. There was an interesting mix of work: video, sculpture, painting and drawing showcasing graduates from various art schools in the Midlands. I'd first heard about this exhibition last year when I stumbled across it by accident one day with an hour to spare in the middle of Birmingham. 

There didn't seem to be as much on display this year compared to what I remembered last year but the exhibition will be shown in various locations so I think that each will have different pieces. 

My favourite and for me the most memorable piece in this exhibition was a series of photographs by Laura Haycock. Her work consists of a series of large-scale photograph prints showing the artist, naked, and posing in various stances either looking directly at the camera (viewer) or indirectly via a mirror. It felt almost as if she was staring at the viewer challenging them to form an opinion about her based on her appearance and make a negative judgement. I felt almost embarrassed that she could somehow sense that. Even though I didn't want to make a negative judgement, the thought came into my head. It was if she was reading my mind. The series of images are extremely powerful and thought-provoking. They were crafted to reflect Renaissance nude paintings and they resemble giant oil paintings (I thought they were oil paintings at first glance).

I also admired the work of Ruth Morby and Esme Dallow, who both work in the still-life genre but in two slightly different ways. Ruth Morby's piece was a series of photographs of a chosen selection of objects accompanied by a plaque detailing an imagined narrative about the person who might own the objects in each image. There was something quite contrived about this but it made me think: are our assumptions about personal objects and the connection they have to a personal history naturally quite contrived? Esme Dallow's still-lifes consisted of small oil paintings depicting cakes and pastries, painted with a somber background. There was something traditional and old-masterly about these paintings, as if such cakes had been around for a couple of centuries when in reality are quite contemporary and they last just a small fraction of our lifetime. I liked the irony of this.

In addition there were a few videos that intrigued me including Some Bloke's installation piece recording his attempt to make coffee from dew and a collage-style video based on the Turkish attach on Cyprus in 1974 highlighting the effect of that event on the artist, a child at the time, living in a different location but with a connection to the region.

I'd highly recommend a visit to the exhibition. Overall, there was something quirky, almost humourous, about the works. I loved the large red spider with oozing red foam of Jack Marder and the simple, ironic, drawings and playful sculptures using ordinary objects of Hannah Honeywell.

All very inspiring indeed. It would be nice to be able to see my own work there one day. I can but dream.

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