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Hello.  As it’s a new-ish year I have resolved to do my best to post here a bit more often.  I can run a little hot and cold with my engagement with the digital and virtual and tend to get a bit tied up in the real.  I will try much harder this year.

Artists on the Edge is the name of the (con)temporary artist collective/support group formed by the participants on our Walking Over Coals artist development programme. We’re having a really great time with this experimental project and it’s going so well (so far).

Walking Over Coals is a responsively-focused developmental programme for early and mid-career artists (post-emerging) who want to take that next step and need some help to do so.  The programme aims to develop their practice alongside their ‘business’ skills and is a safe environment to take risks and try out new approaches which may have seemed impossible to do alone. Everything about the programme is responsive to the needs and direction of the group and there is no set curriculum, instead the tutors design workshops and exercises based on what the group needs at this point in their development.   There is no distinction between artform and the first cohort includes classically-trained musicians, visual artists, theatre-makers, performance artists, video artists, spoken word performers and an architect.  One thing they all have in common is an interest in making work which is participative, either in the making or distribution.  We help them to push their work forward, to try out new approaches, put them in touch with other artists who can help them in their field, focusing hard on the development of their practice.  Alongside this we help them develop themselves as a ‘business’, give them open and honest insights on how you really survive in the arts economy (and outside it) and  help them to plug the gaps that the arts education system has left in their knowledge (if they have had one – we don’t just take on arts grads). This happens over 6 months or so – there’s no set timetable, that’s responsive, too – meeting together one evening a  week and every other  Sunday, with self-directed work and one to one mentoring in between. We also work closely with individuals on how  to scale-up their projects and help them with funding applications and other fundraising. We don’t just recruit for this, instead we take on previous volunteers or participants and people we know (or know of) already or who are recommended to us through our networks and ‘audition’ open applicants – it’s not output-driven, it’s about the quality of the people we select to participate.  The current group ranges in age from  19-58 and is properly diverse in regards to education, background and skillset.

We believe it’s a unique model and we’re keen to continue this as an annual programme (funding pending of course) as we’ve already seen huge differences in the participants through the programme.  One of the participant’s housemates jokingly calls it ‘Life Club’ due to her weekly reports on returning from sessions. We’re loving it on lots of levels, not least through the strength of the groups cross-peer mentoring approach and the equality between participants and mentors, everyone gets to contribute and take the lead at different times but with constant support and input. So far there’s been 100% retention and almost 100% attendance, people often move long-standing appointments rather than miss a session, which is a great measure of the groups commitment.

Well, you can judge for yourself soon enough as they will be putting together a group show for Artists on the Edge, appropriately enough at the Edge, over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.  In the meantime we’ll be hosting a couple of fundraisers for the show, over the two preceding Digbeth First Fridays in March and April.  First up on March  6th at 8pm is a cabaret-style ‘Fabarray’ which will feature music from ‘Fanny Jam’ and members of Inclement Quartet, performance from the Prozac Diva and Dr David Ethics will be deconstructing himself and Utopia in under 12 minutes. More tbc, and all for a small negotiable door fee and of course refreshments will be available.

 

As you may be aware, we’ve been doing our thing for almost a quarter of a century now, so for us it’s a good point to make a few changes.  We’ve  always  been the kind of people who abhor waste and have a tendency to avoid chucking anything away, which is one of the reasons we  keep taking on progressively larger studios every few years.  Seriously, I’ve got bits of wood that I’ve re-used so many times in shows and installations that they’ve become old friends (some of them are teenagers).  In an effort to avoid moving – we like our home at the Edge- we’re  selling off some of the treasures and artefacts we have collected making our hundreds of projects.   These objects range from the massive – a real red telephone box, a replica bombed-out house – to the antique – a 1930s Bulgarian bakelite telephone – to the downright WTF – a talking Snoop Dogg doll, still in the box.  We’ve got literally thousands of items to unload during the sale, some gorgeous furniture, most  of a pub interior  – I could go on for  a very long time.  Instead, every day up until the sale, we’ll be tweeting a  picture or two so you know what you’ll be able to get your grubby hands on, come the day.

It’s going to be quite a nostalgia fest for us, each item in the sale carries a story or a memory of a project or a person we’ve worked  with over the last 23 years, so it’ll be a cross between a retrospective and a yard sale. If you like the weird and wonderful, vintage and heritage items, are a theatre designer, artist, collector of curiosities or just a nosey parker, this sale is right up your street.

Anyway, whilst I’m here, we’d also like to quash any rumours that we’re leaving the Edge – we’re not, we’re just making it bigger by emptying it a bit, whilst raising cash for some much-needed repairs to the building, and shedding some weight in a post-christmassy way.

Friction’s  Januarish Sale

Saturday 24th January 2015 – 1st Feb

Opening times – Saturdays 1-6pm, Sundays 12-4pm

Monday to Friday 10am-6pm (by appointment please)

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Elvis-Presley-flyer 8th Jan 15For all fans of The King, a special night to celebrate his  life and works.  Starting at 8pm at the Edge, we’ll  have film screenings and live concert footage on the Big Screen,  followed by lots of lovely Elvistainment in the form of records and singalongs.  Irony free and free entry  – bring some stuff to share (e.g. deep fried squirrel, gallon bottles of soda, etc).

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international artists development on the mainland

Friday 2nd May
19:30-23:00

For our very first Digbeth First Friday event, Friction arts invite you to the Edge to celebrate our (collective) part in the ‘New Europe’.  What does it mean to be European? Is that the English Channel, or did we dig a massive moat?   How do we as artists create supportive networks across the moat, to create valuable intercultural exchanges and interventions?  What can we learn from, and teach, the rest of the EU?
Join us for an informal chat, European alcoholic and comestible refreshments and Euro sounds at the Edge

Admission £2 or a completed disloyalty card

From 11pm our neighbours, MSFAC will be hosting a Punk Heritage Brum Late Night Record Party –

‘Come along and rifle through our records.  Tell us your vinyl stories.

From 11 pm till late (ms)FAC will be hosting an open record party. So as not to clash with PunksAlive Collective’s Birthday Bash down at the Adam we will be running this as a special late night event. Open fire and records all night!’

Free

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We’re halfway through the first part of our residency in Leeuwarden, and I’m just taking time for a very brief catch-up before getting stuck back in.  It’s been a bit of a whirlwind ever since our arrival last Tuesday, to a welcoming committee, including local ‘paparazzi’.  We’ve cycled many a kilometer in our research of the city, on our rubbish bikes.  I like cycling in the Netherlands, it’s flat, you potter along, and rarely get some lycra-clad twonk’s bum in your face.  We met dozens of people in our first few days, including hosting a fantastic dinner on our second night.  The dinner was attended by artists, social workers and local residents and we had some great discussions.  We found our new friend Carmen, hooning around on her mobility scooter in the northern suburb of Vrijheidswijk who immediately agreed to come to dinner, and was definitely the ‘star turn’, saying that ‘we need to stop calling people poor, it doesn’t help them’.  A really great ‘find’.

 

Blokhuispoort

Blokhuispoort

We went on a graffiti tour of the city with independent worker Douwe and two local street artists.  They have organised over 3500 square metres of legal graffiti space which really adds some colour to the city, and allows artists to develop great work, as they can really take their time making it.  We’re hoping to bring some artists over to Brum later on in the year, and help lobby for some legal sites at home.

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We ran a really great (if I say so myself) workshop on Saturday, with a really mixed group of people, who all responded fantastically to the exercises we set.  We learned loads more about how things work over here and the group had a very intense, but fun, time.

IMG_0156IMG_0153We’re continuing our research this week, with many more meetings, coffees and, possibly the odd beer or so (I’ve developed ‘8.5% amnesia as a result of forgetting how strong the beer is, more than once).  We met with what seemed like half the council cabinet yesterday – when would artists ever get that treatment in Brum?  Everyone is up for a chat, and is happy to make time to meet ‘the dream team’ when we rock up, it’s very refreshing to be around such a ‘can-do’ environment and little wonder this relatively small city has got the Capital of Culture gig.  Everyone is happy to volunteer considerable time and energy on things that interest them and we are hoping we can import some of that attitude and energy back with us on our return. We’re also looking forward to finding out what the team from Asterisk make of our home city, when they visit us – St Patrick’s Day will be a very interesting way for them to land in Brum!

See you when we get back!

 

It’s almost halfway through the run of our Echoes show, and we thought we’d share some of our highlights so far with you.  We’ve had great responses to the show, from the widest audience possible (of course, this is us, after all) – visitors from 0-90 years old, of every shape and size.  Some of our favourites include:

Joyce, 90, who rocked up the exhibition with her son as a surprise.  Turned out she was born on the very site of the Edge in 1923.  We got our old 1889 maps out of the back to backs that predated the current building and number 79 turned out to have been exactly where we were sitting – proper shivers down the spine stuff.  She told us some fantastic ‘peaky blinder’ flavoured stories of her father (who was a right character by all accounts), and was clearly choked by the experience of ‘coming home’ all those years later.

Tony, who had such a great time, he went away and wrote a whole story about the show in a kind of ‘noir’ style, which you can read here

Various overseas visitors who completely connected with aspects of the exhibition (no spoilers), despite the subject matter being so specific (we must be doing our job).

Ryan, who was amazed that the show provoked ‘flashbacks’ to his childhood, despite not being born during the time period on show.

Everyone who comes brings something to the show, the experience never fails to trigger thoughts or memories, and subsequently conversations and questions and, more often than not, stories to add to our ever-growing collection.

Here’s a little ‘teaser’ trailer for the show –

Echoes runs until the 16th November, but tickets are going fast, so don’t leave it until it’s too late - book now

 

We’re a couple of weeks or so into the run of the exhibition, so I thought I’d let you know how it’s going.

Well, we’ve had some embarrassingy great feedback. That’s by the by, though. the best part of having the show open has been meeting new friends. Like Joyce, 90, who rocked up the other day with her family. I thought she’d never been to the Edge before. It turned out I was very wrong. Joyce came to the show because her son had seen a flyer and noticed the address. Joyce was born at 79 Cheapside, 90 years ago, in the old back to backs that used to be where the Edge now stands. We got out the old 1889 maps we have of the area and it turned out that number 79 was sited at exactly the place we were sitting. A very emotional moment for all of us. During the after show chat we heard some amazing stories, which we’ll be sharing with you once we’ve been able to get them properly recorded.

We’ve had great groups, children as young as 4, as well as older visitors. We had a young man in his early twenties surprised that the show was giving him flashbacks to his childhood – we offered to pay for his therapy.
The show is not pickled history, some rose-tinted view of the ‘good old days’. We’ve tried to be true to the stories we’ve been told and so there are ‘pg’ moments – tales of domestic violence, racism, poverty and exploitation (don’t worry, it’s not all a downer, either). Echoes is a journey through the stories of people who’ve lived and worked in the area over the last 60 years. Not all the history may be accurate, but the stories are absolutely true, and we hope we have honoured them as they deserve. Judge for yourself, by coming along to the Edge and experiencing some echoes of your own. Book now
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Okay.  Having just returned from our annual sojourn in the North West of Bulgaria I find myself rested, rejuvenated and ready to tackle what continues to be a very busy time in the life of Friction.  We always get a good recharge after our visit to Goat Milk Festival, and within our ‘eclectic’ approach to diary management it is the one fixed point in every year.  Goat Milk is unique.  Where else would you get to sit and talk politics, religion, art and, importantly, shit – with a former Umbanda priest, a Norwegian goat-herd, a Bulgarian miner, an Estonian documentary maker, a Cuban poet and the future dictator of Pomakistan? And that’s just at breakfast.  This year was really special and we made new friendships, strengthened old ones and just generally had the time of our lives.  It’s hard to describe Goat Milk, so I won’t bother too much.  Suffice to say, it’s not really a festival, there’s not really an audience, and as much happens spontaneously and ‘off the programme’ as not.  Big egos rarely return, though big personalities often do.  Venice biennale it really ain’t, it’s much, much better than that.

Marketing - Bela Rechka style

Marketing – Bela Rechka style

We’re cooking up various plans with our international friends, so watch out for film screenings, performances and workshops this Autumn under the banner – ‘The Bulgarians Are Coming!’.  Because they are, if we’ve got anything to do with it.

Our exhibition in the Community Gallery at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is now open daily until the middle of September-ish.  We had to postpone the launch until Thursday 6th June, due to a previous engagement (see above), so if you’d like to drop into the Great Charles St entrance around 6pm, we’d love to see you.  It’s been interesting for us working in the confines of such a venerable institution but, working together, we’ve come up with a great ‘taster’ for our exhibit at the Edge this Summer/Autumn.  We’re used to making work that’s a bit more interactive, so having to make relatively ‘bombproof’ exhibits that still tell the stories we want them to has been quite a stretch at times.  We think we’ve done a pretty great job all told, but obviously you must ultimately judge for yourself.  We have kept the work holding the contemporary/community line – retaining the voices of the people we work with whilst still ‘layering up the concepts’, well that’s our thing, I suppose.  We’ve had some fantastic contributions from Darryl Georgiou and MSFAC to add to the mix and consequently have created an exhibition that is very different from what you might expect to find in a ‘community gallery’.  Check it out and let us know what you think, and if you like it see the Echoes website for details of the Echoes at the Edge exhibition coming this Summer, and how you can get involved in the project.

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Things have been extremely busy, here at the Edge.  ‘Shut up!’, we hear you say, ‘you always say that.’  Well, that’s because it’s usually is.  Rare indeed it is, to get much quiet time in our busy little hub.  So, the main focus for the past few weeks has been in preparing for our Echoes exhibition in the Community Gallery at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  It’s always a challenge for us, working with institutions (and no doubt for them, too), and it’s been interesting finding ways to represent the Echoes project authentically in such a framework as an ‘old school’ gallery and museum.  We think we’ve done a pretty fantastic job of course and have tried to tell some of the stories we’ve been told through a collection of artworks, objects, photographs and audio.   We’ve had loads of help in the process from volunteers and other artists and it’s been a group effort, as most things we do are, that’s how we, as it were, roll.

Special shout-outs must go to our erstwhile neighbours, MSFAC, who have contributed a beautiful textile banner, made of ripped up punk clothing, which charts the influence of West Midlands punk rock on the world of music.  Darryl Georgiou has made some stunning large-scale images of tiny plastic toys, blown up to grotesquely massive size, reminding us of the toyshops and sweetshops of old, and some small, framed objects relating to the same.  We’ve made some installations reflecting on the people and the history around our HQ, including an installation with audio, that was inspired by the industry of our (sadly no longer) neighbours, John and Terry Cresswell.  Making this piece has been quite a poignant experience.  The piece is about the Cresswells (and the millions like them), who have contributed their hard work over decades to the ‘city of a thousand trades’.  Ironic then, that I should have made the work in the workshop that the recession caused them to vacate.  They can trace four generations back of Digbeth engineers, we were talking the other day and they seemed incredibly sad at what has happened to all that industry today.  Despite  a number of businesses managing to continue, there is relatively little being made in Digbeth these days, and fewer and fewer of those small engineering shops that gave us the ‘toyshop of the world’ title, back in the day.  Things change of course, but those skills that are lost, will be lost forever if there is no continuity.  John and Terry made millions of beautifully engineered objects in the decades they worked in Digbeth, perfect things, craft as much as engineering, andd we hope that people will continue to make beautiful things in Digbeth into the future.  So, if we’re taking over the lad’s workshop it’s our duty to make beautiful things in it – which I hope we have done.  Judge for yourself by checking out the exhibition in the Community Gallery, in the deepest depths of BMAG, right at the back, near the rear entrance (where else would we be) from the 20th of May until the 16th (or thereabouts) of September.  We’ll also be hosting a few events over the exhibition’s life, including a ‘meet the artists event’, (why would you, we’re always banging on about ourselves), but even better, a chance to meet some of the people of Digbeth and Highgate who have inspired the exhibition through the stories we have heard from them.  Check out the Echoes website for details of these events, including the launch event on the 6th of June, where you can meet us and hear about the project from us and from some of our local friends, while partaking of some of the most expensive tea and coffee in the world (we couldn’t afford wine, catering is way expensive).

AND

You didn’t think that was it, did you?  I haven’t got the time to do this very often so I have to splurge it, apologies. So, in chronological order:

Tonight, Friday 17th May  – It’s ‘Art After Hours’, which is one of those open studio/gallery events where everyone doing art in the ‘hood is throwing open their doors to the baying hordes.  MSFAC have an event in Unit 1 IZ-B12, with Daniel Salisbury – in their words ‘come along for a couple of drinks and a bit of art’.  We’re not running an event as such due to the BMAG install, but we’ll have our studio and workshop open if you fancy a guided nose around and checking out our fantastic roof view of Digbeth. 

(Aside) The Edge ‘vibe’ is really great these days, with our punk neighbours, locals dropping in for tea and chat (or oral history interviews if you prefer) and various pretty much outsider artists wandering about.  We’ve had a great student placement in Nikki Genner (totally changed my mind about placements, if you get the right one of course), Nita Newman is doing a stirling job in helping us develop our Art Club, and generally mucking in and we’ve got a great bunch of volunteers.  We have a great team and it feels good. (Aside ends)

Tomorrow, Saturday 18th (and every Saturday) – ART CLUB 10-1pm  Art Club goes from strength to strength under the leadership of Generalissimo Nita Newman. From foley workshops to charcoal drawing, stop-frame animation to video editing, it’s a great opportunity for young people to try out loads of art in the unconventional setting of the Edge. It’s focused chaos, and great fun every time, weirdly enjoyable learning in action.  One of our regulars, Kieran, announced last week that he’s got a place on the Foundation course at Bournville – good on him!  Art Club is free at point of sale.

Tomorrow, Saturday 18th 2-5pm –  Yard Talk, our regular monthly chat and lunch with our Echoes people.  This month’s theme is play and dens (we’re getting one made by the art club yoots to inspire the chat).  Everyone is welcome, and for once you don’t even have to bring some food, we provide the lot.  you don’t have to be a resident of Digbeth or Highgate to attend, just care about the area, and of course it’s free.

Tuesday 21st May – Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’re off for our annual visit to the Goat Milk Festival in North West Bulgaria.  We’ll be presenting ’10 Mirrors of Bela Rechka’, a performance lecture on our relationship with Gorna and the festival – having some much needed recharge time with the conflux of artists, poets, philosophers and activists that rock up in the village every year.  And no doubt we’ll be complaining about the food again.  Love it.

Thursday 30th May  – Rep Foundry night 8pm – a trio of performance from the Rep’s Foundry development programme.  I quite enjoyed some of the last one, and I’m racist about acting, so it might be quite good, I wouldn’t know. It is great having a very different audience come to the space.  I overheard one woman say on the way in ‘ooooh, isn’t it bohemian?’, which made me smile, ‘yes, it is a lovely mess’ I thought.

One for the diary – Saturday 15th June – B:ITPO or Blues: Is The Party Over?.  an exploration of the wonderful world of Blues parties, including a blues party installation, a discussion and lunch in the afternoon.  All topped off by a reggae-tastic evening with the legendary King Alloy sound system, feel that bass in your belly (seriously, he’s convinced he’s going to vibrate the building to rubble).  Really looking forward to this one.

Loads of other stuff, which I will get round to telling you at some point, possibly.  We’ve recorded 2  ‘Words From The Wise’ podcasts, which I’ll be uploading on our return from Gorna Bela Rechka (there’s s bit of editing to be done).  This time we’ve been talking to the legend that is Jonathan Kay about the power of your (in)visible world and your inner twin and veteran poet and storyteller John Row about art school in Ipswich with Brian Eno, punk poetry and life on the road.  Both 6 hour conversations, hence the editing. We’ve hosted Writers in Prison Network, West Midlands Participatory Arts Forum and Arts and Health for events at the Edge recently, all stuff we support and have a great interest in.  We’re continuing to explore our partnership with Sustained Theatre and a potential capital development of the Edge, which is all going quite nicely, thank you very much.  And of course, from August, our full-blown Echoes exhibition will take over the entire Edge for three months or so.  Much, much more about that later.

OK, time to go.  See you at the Edge soon.

 

The third and final part of our podcast with MSFAC and friends.  This one is now my favourite.

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