Imogen Morris New Exhibition In Flux At Digbeth Art Space

Writer Emily Doyle / Photographer Jessica Whitty

In mid-June, Digbeth Art Space proudly unveiled In Flux, a solo exhibition from local artist Imogen Morris. Months in the making, the works push the boundaries of portraiture and the perception of thread in fine art. Boards are studded with nails, and then threads strung between them to map out faces.

“My main obsession has always been with the material thread and working in thread,” explains Morris. “Portraiture initially was just a means of creating form with thread. However, over the years I haven’t swayed from portraiture. I get a proper buzz from seeing an eye come together and being able to depict the characteristics or emotions of someone. The bigger the piece the more I can play with, so I want to continue working in large scale.”

Large scale pieces dominate the gallery, spilling off of huge canvases and creeping onto the ceiling or intersecting the space with fragile, polygonal forms. Long time followers of Morris’ work will be interested to see the artist spread out not only into three dimensions, but also into a broader palette of sugary pastels.

“I can’t remember the exact point I decided to experiment with colour and what it was that inspired me to go down that route. I think a lot of my influences come into my head subconsciously – I don’t realise I’m influenced by someone until after I create the work.”

“I have been working on the solo exhibition since January, and so in terms of a time it must’ve been then. This was also around the time that I saw Betsy Bradley’s exhibition at the Ikon and started getting into Sophie Tea’s work via Instagram so I can definitely put down my influences of working in colour to their work.”

The subjects of Morris’ portraits are of friends and of strangers, but they’re all of residents of the West Midlands. Personalities bubble though the woven forms, making the crowded private view feel even more busy. Wine Freedom keeps the drinks flowing and Selextorhood’s Dee’Cleo keeps the vibe going well into the evening.

“We had more people than expected,” reflects Morris, “and it was a really good relaxed vibe. I wanted to have proper chats with more people there as I appreciated every single person that came to the event, but annoyingly couldn’t get round to everyone. But aside from that it was a great night.”

In Flux runs until 11 July at Digbeth Art Space and is open daily 8am – 5pm, so catch it while you can. Meanwhile, Imogen Morris is off to complete a residency with DegreeArt at the Bankside Hotel in Southbank this summer.

For more on Imogen Morris visit: https://www.imogenembroideryart.com/

For more from Digbeth Art Space go to: https://www.digbethartspace.com/

Navigating A Mixed Existence: Unapologetically Other Exhibits At MAC Until 14 August

Writer Noah Lei Underwood / Photographer Jo Brown

 TW: discussion of micro-aggressions and racial abuse

Tucked away in a quiet gallery in the MAC (Midlands Arts Centre), I find myself choking up as I send a voice note to fellow mixed race editor Jaz: “I think I can write a really sick article about this; God, I don’t know why I’m crying.”

But that’s not quite true; I do know what’s causing this swell of tangled feelings. I’m looking around at unapologetic expressions of rage – mixed rage. Rage I had never felt justified feeling or expressing myself.

The Mixed Rage Collective, made up of individual artists, Sherrie Edgar, Sevonah Golabi, Sina Leasuasu, Niall Singh, and Jane Thakoordin, have partnered with the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games to produce this particular exhibition, Unapologetically Other.

Through video, textile, photography, and painting, they successfully communicate certain commonalities to a mixed existence – whether the inability to feel that you truly belong anywhere, or having your existence questioned by those around you, who expect some sort of explanation or justification from you for simply being.

In her series Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me stay forever, artist Sina Leasuasu seeks to reclaim the power behind verbal abuse she has faced.

By publicly sharing statements such as, “You don’t / deserve to be / called Sina,” she doesn’t deny the pain that they might have caused her, yet wishes to diminish their hold on her.

Here I see echoes of the countless casual micro-aggressions and blatantly racist abuse received from friends, family, acquaintances, and others, seared into my own memory:

“You’re only Asian when you want to be.”
“Where are you from? Wait, let me guess…”
“But you’re not ‘diverse’.”
“You don’t look Asian.”
“You’re so exotic.”
“Chinky-eyed yellow skin.”

In my own experience, to ‘qualify’ as the ethnicity that you actually are is merely whether or not the person you are speaking to ‘believes’ you, whether they ‘deem’ you to be sufficiently one thing or another.

That experience is mirrored here; our mixed reality “reveals the complexity of how you are seen,” in the words of contributing artist Sherrie Edgar. Her film Being Mixed, 2022, allows a space for mixed race individuals to relate their personal experiences with others whilst capturing their relationships with their own ambiguous bodies.

Here the camera lingers on hands tracing facial features, fingers moving across skin — parts of a whole person. A person who feels beholden to others; one interviewee talks about how they always felt like they had to explain that they were mixed race but have since stopped doing that. Another talks about how they felt as though they “broke a mental bone” as a child.

My existence and that of other persons of mixed heritage seems to be forever fed through the judgement of those whose existence is unambiguous in nature, particularly those who are white, offering unsolicited opinions over how white or [insert ethnicity here] they think that you look.

Not to mention how their perceptions of different ethnicities are all too often filtered through Western media, historically steeped in reductive and racist stereotypes – defining what it is to look or be anything ‘Other’ than entirely white.

Niall Singh exposes the violent historical backdrop of the British Empire and the modern day global economy through striking collages, presenting exploitation against a stark white backdrop, hung alongside his recipe-centred poem ‘Warlords’: “And the bodies on the news / Are the meat in a warlords pie”.

Whilst grappling with my racial identity I have repeatedly sought permission to access and feel joy in my heritage, permission to feel pain when confronted with racism, permission to address the prejudices I face, whilst acknowledging my privilege. Whose permission? Exactly.

With the snapshot of the beauty and multifaceted nature of the mixed experience offered by this exhibition, with many more thought-provoking pieces than I am able to mention here, it feels like we might finally begin to define this complex existence for our mixed selves, validating and claiming our complex heritage without seeking permission elsewhere.

Witnessing mixed race individuals unapologetically granting a voice to their pain and their joy, I for one, feel entirely unapologetic in granting a much louder voice to my own mixed rage.

 

Unapologetically Other is currently being exhibited at the Midlands Arts Centre until the 14 August, and can be found in the People’s Postcode Lottery Community Gallery.   

For more information visit: www.macbirmingham.co.uk/exhibition/unapologetically-other 

You can keep up with the Mixed Rage Collective via their Instagram here: www.instagram.com/mixedrage

For more from the artists see below:
Sherrie Edgar – https://sherrieedgar.com/work
Sevonah Golabi – https://twitter.com/SevonahGolabi
Sina Leasuasu – https://www.instagram.com/stuffbyseener/?hl=en
Niall Singh – https://niallsinghpoet.wordpress.com/
Jane Thakoordin – https://www.janethakoordin.com/about

Toni Chills In The Sweltering Heat Of 17 June At Muthers Studio

Writer Mirab Kay / Photographer Alice Needham

It seems Toni and the band have picked the hottest day of the year so far to showcase their setlist brimming with attitude.

Though the set starts rather abruptly, we are immediately immersed in the heavy progression of the first song which encourages us to begin dancing along.

Regrettably, the sound levels are such that Toni’s delicate voice is a little hard to hear, but this is a problem that soon sorts itself out as everyone eases into the groove. We are even given the privilege of becoming musicians ourselves, our claps providing the sole backing to a section of the song.

After a timid introduction to the audience, and a tuning of lead guitar, we venture into ‘You Oughta Know’ by Alanis Morissette. The shimmering guitar lays down a stable, rhythmic melody over which Toni has free reign to show off her light, pretty vibrato during the verse and pre chorus.

Then, with no warning, the band hurls itself into the chorus and graceful vocals erupt into powerful belts that boom through the speakers. This increasing energy is reflected in the audience who continue to show their support.

Next the band delights me with one of my favourite ever songs – ‘You Know I’m No Good’ by Amy Winehouse. Toni absolutely does Amy Winehouse justice, even adopting vocal cries to mimic her vocal style, though with a lighter approach and more focus on well-controlled fast vibrato.

I remain charmed throughout the entire song and commend the band for its faithfulness to the original track. This is somewhat shattered towards the end when the guitar and bass fail to communicate on where the song should end, resulting in a disjointed and partially formed conclusion.

Song four – ‘The Joke’ by Brandi Carlile – was undoubtedly chosen to showcase Toni’s incredible range and discipline over keeping her vocals slow. Yet again, she wows with her belts in the chorus so much so that the audience scream and cheer their amazement.

The end of the song allows Toni to perform some beautifully supported head voice riffs, boasting her versatility yet again.

The band closes the show with another of my all-time favourites ‘Feeling Good’, opting for the heavier cover by Muse. In all honesty I am thrilled and relieved that someone in the Birmingham music scene has finally decided to perform this song – it seems to have dropped off the setlists of many jazz and blues bands and I believe the world is definitely worse for it.

Even though I would love to hear Toni reimagine Nina Simone’s incredible scatting, this version allows Toni to exercise the lower end of her range and the transitions between chest and head voice.

The set ends almost as suddenly as it started with some awkwardness that could be avoided by an outro at least. Some more conversation throughout could ease everyone’s nerves particularly between band members who rarely seem to communicate, though miraculously this does little to damage their timings and transitions.

Do I wish the set was longer? Always. But I am happy with what I have seen regardless and with a little more experience, these young musicians will hold their fans in the palms of their hands.

For more from Toni visit their Instagram: www.instagram.com/toniannbarness

For more at Muthers Studio visit www.muthersstudio.co.uk

For more from The Future Sound Project visit: www.linktr.ee/thefuturesoundproject

Digbeth Photography Walk With Jack Lewdjaw

Writer & Photographer Beth Exley 

I’m helping to run a photography walk around Digbeth with Bristol-based visual artist Jack Lewdjaw, as part of the public programming for The Age of Dreamers is Over exhibition at Grand Union. I’ve been co-curating this exhibition with my university course-mates and the wonderful staff at Grand Union since September, so it’s such a relief to have the finished product out in the world.

Jack’s works that have been included in The Age of Dreamers is Over largely draw upon commercial signage and imagery, so this walking workshop has been planned to offer insight into his artistic process and how he draws upon features of urban landscapes for inspiration. To begin with, Jack encourages all of the group to sit on the floor of the gallery space – which is currently very dark and lit mainly by his neon work, ‘Happy Place’ (2019).

The atmosphere is cosy and relaxed; Jack cracks a few jokes and chats with us about his work and intentions for around twenty minutes.

It’s fascinating to hear an artist talk about their work when sitting directly in front of it. Jack describes how he constructed ‘Low Hanging Fruit’ (2019) from picture frames and acrylic, and then goes on to describe how different types of signage grab his attention – apparently flat, modern signs do very little for him. But he always finds his attention drawn to chunky 3D lettering.

After this short talk and a cup of tea, it’s time to head out and take some photographs. I’m not a natural photographer but the workshop has been advertised as ‘phone camera photography,’ and under Jack’s guidance I think I’ll be alright.

We head out onto the street outside Minerva Works and Jack immediately points out a large sign attached to a derelict building advertising TVs and Printers that looks like it must have been made in the 1980s. Jack explains that his background in freelance graphic design has left him with a keen eye for fonts.

Hearing someone be so interested in something as seemingly innocuous as fonts and signs is quite funny but also quite lovely – it’s great to see someone be so passionate about their work that they can make you interested in something you’ve not really thought much about before.

We walk further down the road, stopping at a few specific things Jack himself finds interesting – a door where the paint has been peeled away by tape, bricks filling a window, an unusually shaped bollard. Seeing him point out these small design choices and strange textures on streets I’ve walked down one hundred times is eye opening. I’ve lived in Birmingham for about five years, and I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the place in this much detail.

After letting us snap some photos of the street, Jack stops and asks us all what we’re interested in photographing, or what we notice we always end up taking pictures of.

One girl on the walk says any kind of dogs, another person says things that look out of place in the surroundings. I have a quick flip through my camera roll and see that I seem to take a hell of a lot of photos of reflections in water. I’ve never realised this is something I gravitate towards, but it is definitely something I find very visually interesting.

As we begin to head back to Grand Union for a second cup of tea and to get out of the rain that’s started to plop down, I find myself reflecting on the beauty that can be found in seemingly boring objects and locations. This walk with Jack has left me with the desire to slow down and take in my surroundings a little bit more – whether that be in Digbeth or further afield.

To find out more about Jack Lewdjaw visit his website here: www.lewdjaw.com 

The Age of Dreamers is Over is running at Grand Union until 25 June, find out more at: www.grand-union.org.uk/exhibitions/the-age-of-dreamers-is-over

Brum Review Goes Baroque: A Night With The Artisans Of Fantasy

Writer Reece Greenfield / Photographer Connor Pope

On Wednesday 15 June, I had the pleasure of attending ‘Stylus Phantasticus’ a night of 17th century music presented by Musica d’Outrora, a three piece chamber ensemble made up of Christi Park (baroque violin), Timothy Lin (viol) and Pablo Devigo (harpsichord and organ).

I enter the high-ceilinged Organ Studio and am immediately struck by the immaculateness of the environment. Two beautiful harpsichords stand before me along with Lin’s viol (named Felicity) who waits patiently. The organ to my right spanning the height of the room, a replica of 17th century German design, displays decorative cherubs carved into its wood accompanied by impressive gleaming pipes.

The musicians enter the room dressed to match the surroundings and kick things off with a sonata for organ and violin, a hopeful and optimistic array of sound reaches our ears as the sun through the windows illuminates the wooden instruments. The violin trills and sings playfully atop the robust foundation of the organ accompaniment, slowly ramping up then releasing into relaxing serenity, up and then down in waves of colour.

Next a solo harpsichord piece begins after a brief but not entirely unmusical interjection by a creaky door hinge. Devigo adeptly displays his abilities in capturing the musical caprice of the piece; his fingers effortlessly transforming the notes from pensiveness to frivolity but never straying too far from the warm embrace of the major resolution.

Thereafter all three musicians take up the stage weaving a rich tapestry in perfect coordination with the violin following just behind each turnaround. It was at this moment that I was struck by how truly well-rehearsed the ensemble sounded. It was as if the music facilitated a kind of telepathy enabling effortless rubato and impeccable musical chemistry.

The next piece hearkens back somewhat further into Baroque music’s roots featuring a danceable galloping rhythm which slows down in the second phase, enabling a rich background to the conversation between viol and violin. A conversation that, if held between two people, you’d assume they were lovers.

Now it was Lin’s time to shine. After a brief introduction he sits down with his viol, along with Pablo’s harpsichord accompaniment, and begins to dazzle the audience with acrobatic sheets of sound. His fingers are a blur as he works his way with undeniable grace through this difficult piece. Each turnaround is punctuated by a conductive, collective inhale momentarily pulling the listener out of the fantasy into familiar human territories.

The penultimate piece, ‘Sonata XII’ by Ignazio Albertini, holds a special place in Park’s heart and the wonder she felt in first discovering this rarity is transferred to the audience through her loquacious and emotive playing. This, for me, was the zenith of the performance as not only did the ensemble play their hearts out, but the piece itself was rich with narrative enabling a variety of moods and textures swooping in between realms of joyous pride and contemplative introspection.

The final piece of the evening is by far the most progressive and forward thinking. I can’t help but think that Musica d’Outrora are showing us glimpses of the future, hinting at what would later appear in classical and romantic music. We’re all well and truly stolen away on an epic journey in only eight minutes.

After rapturous applause that belies the small size of the crowd, they return to the stage with Park boldly saying: “We lied! We have one more for you”. They then go on to play a piece that aptly tied the whole evening together in a neat bow, displaying pulsating tempo and dynamics, and energetic violin interjected by plush harmony from the other instruments.

After the piece finishes, beaming smiles arise on the faces of the ensemble and then the audience, matching the streams of light still beaming through the window.  I realise what Park meant when earlier in the performance she had explained the meaning of ‘Stylus Phantasticus’.

“It’s a translation of ‘The Art of Fantasy’.” Quite so, and Musica d’Outrora are its artisans.

Birmingham’s Royal Conservatoire frequently hosts events in their auditoria. Show your support for Brum’s blooming jazz and classical music scene and check out their events here: www.bcu.ac.uk/conservatoire/events-calendar

For more on Christi Park visit:  www.facebook.com/viovitali.christi12
For more on Timothy Lin visit: www.facebook.com/timothy.lin.142
For more on Pablo Devigo visit: www.pablodevigo.com