Tag Archives: Exhibitions

Eastside Projects: Eloise Colbourne on volunteering at the gallery and their current exhibitions

I have just completed my first year at the University of Birmingham and I have been volunteering at Eastside Projects since Easter. It was a trip to Eastside Projects during my Object and Medium module that inspired me to start volunteering there because I am very interested in contemporary art and I like the gallery’s culture and ethos. Working at Eastside has provided me with many invaluable opportunities to develop my skills and knowledge of this area of the art world, including helping during gallery installations. Furthermore, I have been able to attend very interesting talks and late night gallery openings, as well as being introduced to curators, artists and like-minded students. Volunteering at Eastside Projects is something I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in contemporary art and information on becoming a volunteer can be found on the gallery’s website (http://www.eastsideprojects.org/volunteering/). The current exhibitions are Silks by Samara Scott and YOU AND ME HERE WE ARE by Roger Coward, and I hope that this post explains a little bit more about how the gallery functions as well as serving as a taster of the current exhibitions.

Eastside Projects


Eastside Projects is a contemporary art space in Digbeth. The gallery is curated by artists who commission experimental contemporary art exhibitions in order to demonstrate the use of art in society. The city of Birmingham’s motto is ‘Forward’ and this is displayed all over the city through official documents, civic buildings and street signs. However, Eastside Projects believe that Birmingham should have a new motto: ‘Layered’. This is because, as described in Eastside Projects User’s Manual, Birmingham Council can be symbolised as a hammer; forever knocking things down in order to move ‘forward’ and start again. In response to this, Eastside Projects propose that instead of always knocking things down with the negative connotations of Birmingham’s motto of ‘forward’, art and artists should be involved in every level of the development of the city. In this way, the city could have an ‘alternative urban landscape’ where cultural history could coexist. The gallery is an interesting and eclectic mix of artworks past and present. When exhibitions finish, the gallery holds on to parts of the exhibitions (for example the door handle, black pleasure, chairs and table cloths) to create the ever evolving and layered landscape that is Eastside Projects. Currently at the gallery are the exhibitions ‘Silks’ by Samara Scott and ‘You and Me Here We Are’, by Roger Coward which are open until July 11th. Further information on both of the artists is available to explore at the gallery. Eastside Projects is very inviting and friendly, with an endless supply of tea available at the honesty café. It is well worth the visit Wednesday – Saturday 12-5pm during the week, and particularly on Digbeth First Fridays.


Samara Scott, Silks


Noodles, glitter hairspray, household chemicals and pistachio shells are just some of the misused materials poured and pooled into the recently dug up holes in Eastside projects concrete floor. Samara Scott’s new exhibition ‘Silks’ combines and contrasts products you could find in a supermarket and demolishes our intrinsic desire for order and perfection. Realistically, the very notion of order and perfection is flawed. We walk into shops daily and scan the isles methodically and meticulously for the products we want. We never question why a yam from Africa is in the same location as Ribena manufactured in Poland. Products are ordered by their packaging and advertising materials, but Scott argues this is only to make us feel in control. In Silks, Scott blends these materials together in her pools of disorder and chaos, she works with no clear structured idea of what she wishes to produce because this would destroy the emphasis of the show. In this way, the flat paintings in the ground depict instances of beauty clashing together with moments of scum, like the splodges of milk plopped into the pond of oil.

The works are alive and fragile, with the materials constantly evolving as they decay, rot, and in the instance of the salt crystals – grow. So called man-made materials are not stable, and these microbiomes are in a continuous state of flux. The publication ‘Lonely Plant’, which is about Scott’s residency in Turin, discusses the way she explores ‘the life span of materials in their interaction with processes of decomposition and intermingling’. The very title of the exhibition ‘Silks’ connotes the artist’s desire to express movement and fluidity. Scott’s works take influence from Wabi-Sabi, which is the Japanese world view or aesthetic centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The miniature worlds are sensual, tangible and above all mysterious. The swirling colours and contrasts of textures make this exhibition a sensory delicacy and the exhibition is a fascinating visit. It will be interesting to watch the ponds change as they evolve and decay throughout the exhibition.



The Artist Placement Group (APG) was established in London in the 1960s. The organisation’s aims were to reposition the role of the artist within a wider social context, including government and commerce. It also played a key part in the history of conceptual art during the 1960s and 1970s. Roger Coward is a filmmaker who created a series of films and plays with residents and this exhibition explores Coward’s 1975 APG in Small Heath, Birmingham. Coward was the first artist to be placed in a government department on an open brief as negotiated by AGP and the Department of the Environment. The purpose of the urban studies, which were initiated by the Department of the Environment, was to develop a new approach to making improvements to environments such as Small Heath.

Coward worked with four other artists – Gavin Brown, Roland Lewis, Evadne Stevens and Frances Viner. Crucially, the group emphasised the importance of art in society. They trained three community groups to use video in order to present their views on the environment to the City Council officials and these are included in the film ‘Spaghetti Junction’. By encouraging the use of VTR (video tape recording), local residents were able to communicate effectively and vividly with political representatives and officials as well raising awareness amongst their own community. Coward offered video training so that the community could produce films about the issues they faced and said ‘all I did was supply the equipment needed and explained how it worked. They then made the film on their own.’ The exhibition is a fascinating exploration into the integral use of art in society and the way it can function to deliver a comprehensive and articulate argument to people in power.

The exhibition includes original material from 1975, such as the film ‘The Most Smallest Heath in the Spaghetti Junction’ as well as a symposium ‘The Studio in Society’ (Saturday 4th July), and a revival of two plays which were performed in Digbeth in 1975 which will take place on the 5th and 6th July.

Eloise Colbourne

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Grayson Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ at BMAG

The Vanity of Small Differences opened at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery on Feb 13th, amid a flurry of excitement. I went along to the opening to take a look at this intriguing set of tapestries by Grayson Perry, which have been touring the country over the last several months, attracting plenty of attention.

Grayson Perry is a famous artist, probably one of the most famous British artists. In the guise of his flamboyant alter ego, Clare, he is instantly recognisable. I have seen, and enjoyed, some of his work from the 80s and 90s before. This mainly takes the shape of highly decorative ceramics (an example can be seen in BMAG’s permanent collection here) and deals with themes of identity, sexuality, gender, and self-discovery. Since the early 2000s, though, Perry has produced works of sharp and insightful social commentary, and this is where The Vanity of Small Differences fits in. I was less familiar with this aspect of Perry’s work, and keen to explore.

The Vanity of Small Differences (the title references the mainly middle class obsession with individuality) is about people; it is a commentary about and of contemporary Britain. It is also the tale of a journey. This set of six tapestries not only tells the story of their hero’s journey, they also tell the story of Perry’s journey in researching a producing this intriguing artwork.

The Adoration of the Cage Fighters

Perry designed thetapestries after working on a (BAFTA nominated) documentary series with Channel 4, All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry (2012). In it, Perry explored how ideas of social class and taste and inextricably linked in British culture. He was fascinated by the choices that people from different backgrounds made in ‘curating their possessions’, and the different messages that this transmits. Perry observed that taste is a particularly British sensitivity, because ideas about taste are linked to a class system that is still evidently very much alive in our culture. Perry knew that he wanted to create art based on the research he did while working on his documentary, and it is possible to hear the voices of the people he visited and interviewed, from the estates of post-industrial Sunderland to the estates of Cotswold gentry, coming through in the text and images.

All six tapestries follow Perry’s hero, Tim Rakewell, who is based on Tom Rakewell, the main character in Hogarth’s series of moral paintings, The Rake’s Progress. Perry cites Hogarth as a major influence on his work, and it is easy to see the parallels between Tim and Tom. Hogarth’s character inherits a fortune from his father, only to fritter it away on a life of extravagance and debauchery. In the end he can be seen naked and crazed in the poor house. Similarly, as you make your way around The Vanity of Small Differences, you watch at Tim rises to fortune and fame, climbing to the precarious precipice of the slippery social ladder. From ginger baby competing with his mother’s mobile in The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, we watch as Tim achieves success and great wealth, eventually transforming into a new money gentleman of leisure. Strolling in the grounds of his Cotswolds mansion, he watches as red dogs, bearing the words ‘tax’, ‘social change’, ‘upkeep’, and ‘fuel bills’, tear down a stag, clad in patched-up tweed, representing the aristocracy, in The Upper Class at Bay. Finally, in #Lamentation, Tim meets a grizzly and inglorious end, lying bloodstained and half-naked in the street, after wrapping his red Ferrari around a lamppost. We see how he could never really escape his roots, as the text proclaims, ‘All he said to me was “Mother”. All that money and he dies in the gutter.’ Following the tapestries around the room at BMAG, I felt genuinely wrapped up in Tim’s story. The larger than life caricatures are undoubtedly amusing, though in a gentle and inoffensive way, and this only adds to the richness of the story, bringing Tim’s tale vividly to life.

Walking into this exhibition space for the first time was like getting a slap round the face; the tapestries are so impressive, so vibrantly coloured, and so intricate. They have irresistible appeal, drawing you in closer in order to pick out every detail, to avoid missing anything. Impressive though they are from a distance, it is only once you get in close that you start to fully appreciate the intertwining strands of narrative and symbolism that run through the set, following the trail scrawly text from one scene to the next as it narrates Tim’s story in different voices. I defy anyone not to find some witty detail in each of the tapestries that provokes grin to spread across their face, from the pug sitting in the left hand corner of The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, to a tomato-faced Jamie Oliver cast as the ‘god of social mobility’, grinning down from the heavens in Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close, or the boney-fingered angel/business partner announcing Tim’s new found mega-wealth in The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal.

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal

For me, as a student of Renaissance art, this exhibition was full of amusing moments, as I looked out for the witty references to Renaissance art in each scene. As their intelligently playful names suggest, each tapestry draws on one or more Renaissance or old master paintings, and in each one, Perry plays around with Renaissance themes and iconography. The connection with 14th and 15th century religious art, he says, was used to lend moral weight to Tim’s story, as well as providing recognizable Biblical themes. The Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close, for example, mirrors Masaccio’s The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (c. 1425). The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal draws on three different paintings of the Annunciation, by Carlo Crivelli, Matthias Grunewald, and Robert Campin, and the convex mirror on the wall, replicating the scene from another angle, is reminiscent of the one found in the famous Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, a 14th century display of status. #Lamentation was inspired by a painting of the same name by Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1460), but Perry has substituted the skull at the bottom of that picture with a smashed smart phone in this.

Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close

It seems right that this artwork should have taken the form of a set of tapestries. Historically, tapestries acted as decorative objects that displayed the wealth of their owners, owing to the great expense and skill involved in their production. This links in nicely to the main themes of The Vanity of Small Differences, class and taste. Tapestries were also mobile, and were taken with their owners from home to home, like movable instant decoration. Mirroring that, this set, which Perry has gifted to the Arts Council Collection and the British Council, are destined for a nomadic existence. They can, as they have done already, travel from place to place, art venue to art venue. Unlike the historical tapestries of the very wealthy, these will be seen by all sorts of people, the length and breadth of the country.

I found Perry’s tapestries extravagant and enthralling, and the story woven into them thoughtful and entertaining. I also really enjoyed this exhibition, I’ve been three times already, and will go again. Each time I’ve visited the exhibition space has been packed with people of all backgrounds, busily picking out little details. I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t yet seen The Vanity of Small Differences to go to BMAG for a peek. I also highly recommend investing in the exhibition catalogue, which is beautiful and full of interesting insights into Perry’s research and the processes behind producing an artwork like this.

The exhibition is totally free, and open daily until 11 May 2014. For more information visit here.


You can read more from me, and find out about a plethora of arts and cultural events across Birmingham, over at Polaroids & Polar Bears.




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