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Echoes From The Edge is a unique living history contemporary art exhibition, housed in a converted factory in Digbeth, Birmingham. Over eighteen months, Friction Arts worked with US artist, Shannon Flattery, to create an interactive exhibition reflecting the voices, thoughts and histories of the residents and workers of Digbeth, Deritend and Highgate as the area undergoes it’s most significant changes for forty years.
From in-depth interviews with community members with diverse interests and backgrounds a series of themes emerged, which we used as an inspirational framework for our artwork. The work touched on themes of the industrial heritage of the area, the diversity of communities and the relationships this creates, the old ‘rites of passage’ for young people, and what may have replaced them.
These themes and others are then interpreted by the artists and transformed into a series of ‘rooms’, each containing a range of interactive elements and artworks and each featuring the genuine voices of members of the community. The exhibition is navigated in a tour group of twelve people at a time who are met by an artist-facilitator to explain the ‘rules’ and then left to explore the exhibition alone. The tour proceeds through the ‘maze’, all the time listening to the voices of local people and encouraged to delve into the exhibition with impunity. After the end of the tour the audience sit down at a dinner table for refreshments and a short facilitated discussion about the experience.
For this initial project we responded to people’s interviews by producing four ‘rooms’, based around four general themes. The first room was inspired by stories of ‘bomb pecks’, a peculiar local term for bombsites or bombed-out or semi-demolished buildings. A number of our interviewees had talked about playing in such places and the rites of passage experience (youthful risk-taking and environment-testing) they provided. Questions were presented about the modern equivalent and attitudes to health and safety and personal freedom.
Room 2 began life as the ‘Culture room’, attempting to reflect the diversity of the area, a ‘landing place’ for successive generations of immigrant communties for hundreds of years. We soon came to think of it as the ‘home’ room, and it became more about people’s search for a sense of place, of identity and community.
The third room resembled a pub and contained a series of artifacts relating to the industrial heritage of the area. Pubs have always been important (if increasingly less numerous) in the area, serving as social centres, meeting places, jobcentres and information gathering places for the very different communities inhabiting the area alongside each other. Interviews could be heard from a series of telephones installed in the room, with stories of industry, ‘the theatre of drink’ and of the 1974 IRA pub bombings, which had a huge effect on the Irish community in the area. Despite the serious subject matter, people always let their hair down in this room, on more than one occasion we had groups singing and dancing together.
The final room contained an animation created alongside a group of young women from the area, who talked about their own experiences and their own rites of passage equivalents, alongside a self-penned song describing their lives.
After each tour we would sit down and discuss issues that had been stimulated in the audience by the exhibition. There was much discussion around the experience of the young and how they are socialised into society, personal and community safety and personal reminiscences comparing the past with the present. We always encouraged people to remove any rose-tinted spectacles in these cases. Many people talked of a desire for increased dialogue between the differing communities inhabiting our cosmopolitan city, despite a sense that their was greater integration and dialogue between people, there was a percieved need for greater demystification. There were many further issues discussed and we are currently compiling a report from over a hundred hours of recorded discussion.
Echoes From the Edge is the first phase of a project that will last for a number years and will change and develop in response to the area and community. The project intends to mine the rich seam of human experience, history and heritage in a unique part of the city, if not the world. We encourage the audience to contribute to the future development of the project through the discussions at the exhibition, through signposting us to new people to interview, to new avenues of research and other resources that could aid in the development of future projects arising from this first phase.
Phase one of Echoes From The Edge was a partnership project with Shannon Flattery of Touchable Stories, using an approach and series of methodologies she has developed working in marginalised communities in the United States over the last ten years.
Tweets"Yard Talk at the Edge 2pm today, it's all about dens, hideaways and secret places accompanied by Brummie Bolognese and conviviality"19 hours ago"Generalissimo Nita Newman sets up tons of cardboard for yp's at ArtClub on Saturday, leading to den stories from elders at Yardtalk sweet! x"yesterday"A bit of an update - http://t.co/PjnLcfKBC8 A lot going on, exhausted me just writing about it!"yesterday