Foyle Studio, mac birmingham, Cannon Hill Park, B12 9QH

Girl’s Bike

Last March I heard tell of a show combining spoken word, hip-hop and contemporary dance, illustration, animation and music. ‘How can that be?’ I thought, not used to hearing my own discipline noted within the performing arts circuit. I naturally went to the scratch performance, experiencing the brash but brilliant storytelling of John Berkavitch for the first time as he tried out new show SHAME in front of an audience. 

One year on I eagerly returned to mac to see the finished performance. We were late; shuffling slowly along the back row as if gradual movement would render us less obvious, rather than simply prolonging our very own walk of shame. Berkavitch was making members of the audience cappuccinos using a coffee machine made of contorted B-boys, creating the swoosh and grrrrind sounds with their voice as he fitted imaginary cup after cup into their grip. Retelling self-confessed shameful moments from his life, it was impossible not to connect with Berkavitch’s words throughout the evening as he laid gritty memories bare onto the spellbound crowd. As with the early preview I was totally inspired by the blend of spoken word, movement and visuals to build strong narratives, with shapes and layered colours this time replacing line drawings to create a more vivid, simplified effect. To me the use of dance here was unique, creating emotive manifestations of our protagonist’s inner thoughts without becoming overly theatrical, in keeping with the urban environment and grounded discourse of each tale. The force of their movements could bully him into action or hold him firmly back, reflecting the conflicting notion of shame and how it manifests.

Once Kate Tempest has declared your spoken word show the best she’s ever seen there’s not really much to add, but as a relative newcomer to the genre I would credit SHAME with being not only a successful playground of creative disciplines, but a fresh, tender and hilarious experience from start to finish.

Words & illustration by LB.


Walk On
First Floor Gallery, mac birmingham, Cannon Hill Park, B12 9QH

Taking a Line for a Walk
6.30pm on a Friday night, I sought refuge from a long week. Sending out a silent SOS to every pair of eyes I met, I made a bee-line for the wine and allowed the nearest pillar to support my weight as I listened to rather lovely curators Cynthia Morrison-Bell and Mike Collier describe how great mac had been at understanding their vision for the show. Despite building up a strong relationship with mac myself, I’d never found myself at a private view here before and was disappointingly under-dressed; my hair a tangled crop and the pink highlighter stain on my checkered jacket a ramshackle badge of dishonour.

Following a brief speech from Ian Francis about neighboring exhibition The Dark River in mac’s Arena Gallery, I ascended the stairs and entered the main gallery. The climate was fresh here and an isolated calm eased my weary head instantly, as I looked up at Tim Knowles’ helmet swinging gently above me. Like a mangled mobile the grey shadows it cast lapped at the wall, with delicate suspension invisible to the naked eye, thus appearing to float. I decided to draw the sculpture, trying to make sense of all those line intersections and see how it fitted together.

Navigating some big names (Opie, Abramović, Long, Calle) I continued towards a dark space which drew me inside. As I looked down at a pile of plaster with an almost hologram-esque appearance, a tiny projected figure appeared to climb it, transforming the small mound that I could have trodden on into a vast mountain; a great expedition.

Upon leaving mac and heading out into the rain, it was nice to be accompanied by artworks all the way to the door. As well as leading visitors around the gallery itself, the exhibition encourages exploration of the whole building, making it an experience of unguarded orienteering and boundless creative curiosity. Visit at your peril, as whilst there’s no way of getting ‘lost’you may wonder where your time has gone.

Walk On
runs until 30 March 2014.

Words & illustrations by Louise Byng
#1 from Windwalk: Seven Walks from Seven Dials by Tim Knowles / #2 Hillwalker by Tracy Hanna


Photos from scratch performance of ‘Blue Cow’ at Pilot Nights at the MAC Birmingham July 31st. Blue Cow is a new solo work I am devising around the theme of contamination and partly based on a report on community responses to living on contaminated sites. Thanks very much to Marie Lousie Cookson for dramaturgical help and the Pilot Nights Team and co- pilots Toyin Omari-Kinch & Jouvan Fucinni for organising such a great night- it was a real pleasure to be a part of it.

Photo Credit: Alicja Rogalska

Here’s a brief overview of the Accidental Pathways seminar afternoon we held at mac birmingham by DMWM (Click on the title to read this on the DMWM website)…

On Wednesday 14 March 2012 DMWM, Craftspace and mac birmingham ran a collaborative seminar event for craft sector professionals to explore the impact craft has on other sectors and the potential opportunities for working with industry.

The event included fascinating talks from a variety of different sector professionals including:

Sarita Wilkinson from Nokia Design who talked about Nokia’s long-standing history of enabling makers through open briefs and collaborations with a focus on a recent project involving Made in the Middle exhibitor, Esther Lord.

Textile Artist Karina Thompson and Mike Harris Managing Director, Northern Europe, Pfaff Sewing Machines, ‘In conversation’ discussed Pfaff Sewing Machines sponsorship of the arts and support for makers, with a focus on the six year association with Karina.

Paul Laikin, Director at Unanico gave an overview of the company’s recent collaboration with Made in the Middle exhibitor AndrewTanner to create the English Hedgerow ceramic design and associated smartphone application.

Glass Artist Vanessa Cutler, talked about her experience and knowledge within the field of architectural glass and waterjet cutting and how this area of her practice has developed.

In addition please click here to download an ‘In conversation’ article between Silversmith Esther Lord and independent curator Kate Stoddart. Following Esther’s recent collaboration with Nokia to explore forms and surfaces in metal, Kate and Esther discuss the impact of the project on her personal practice.

The seminar event was is in connection with Made in the Middle Contemporary craft from across the Midlands


What’s The Agenda?
Foyle Studio, mac birmingham, Cannon Hill Park, B12 9QH

Viva La Cannon Hill Collective

Friday 28th March: the day had cometh for mac birmingham’s next generation of artists the Cannon Hill Collective to showcase what they’d been beavering away at for the last 5 months. As a member of last year’s collective and one of the many forces aiding this year’s cohort to realise their creative vision, the launch party for me was an arena for celebration, sparked conversation and a shared sigh of relief. Vibrant, makeshift and just the right amount of crazy, central structure Beacon became an ecclectic den of possibility; a watchtower from which to view film screenings, sip a mocktail, and even to do a spot of gardening if one was so inclined.

Occupying mac’s Foyle Studio for the duration of the festival, an array of installations and performances awaited those who entered. Haiku poetry, immersive theatre, sculpture, film and visual arts exhibition Side View were just some of the vessels employed here to investigate when art becomes a political act and how creativity can incite positive social change; a mixing pot which lay testament to both the collectives’ broad range of skills and the breadth of mac’s support for the regions diverse creative future.

Drawing in a variety of changemakers throughout the weekend, the final flourish was spoken word event Bare Bones and post-show discussion (DB84SC) with Birmingham gems Vanley Burke, Zia Ahmed, Jodi Ann Bickley and Immy Kaur making up the panel. An achievement in itself, the evening not only gave brand spanking new performers a stage and an audience, but created a meaningful discussion with the public about themes raised throughout What’s The Agenda? - loneliness, heritage and gender issues - acting as the exclamation and question mark at the end of a collective statement.

What I think those involved should be most proud of is that this is only the beginning of what has been instigated here. Feeding into the prospective future of Birmingham’s wider communities and shifting creative landscape, the group’s uninhibited flair and determination to make change happen now is infectious and not to be underestimated. 

To keep up with where their projects go next follow @ArchivalAct, @DB84Movement and watch art for social change film So It Goes online here.

Words by LB.
Photographs courtesy of Sam Orchard.