Currently viewing the tag: "The Edge"

We’re starting our new ‘art club’ for young people this Saturday morning (10th Nov) from 10am until 1pm.  We’re intending this to be an ongoing project and hopefully it’ll run and run.  Sessions are being led by artist Nita Newman, assisted by Holly O’Meara, and are aimed at any young people with a passion for the arts. There’ll be drop-in workshops with artists from all kinds of artforms, drama, dance, visual arts – anything creative in fact.  Here’s a little ‘mission statement’ about Art Club to give the project some context:

What is Art Club?

Art club is a portal into art for young people.  It is a place for them to experiment, to try out a range of artforms and processes, and to explore their world through making art.  It is a foundation course for foundation courses, where eclectic approaches to art making can be tasted, and followed through if the taste is good. It is a place for fun, for meeting others from outside your peer group, who have a shared interest in the arts.  It is a place for visual art, drama, dance, for painting, drawing, sculpting, and sometimes just making a mess.  It’s a chance to meet artists working in all kinds of artforms, to hear their stories and to learn from them, and sometimes to teach them.  Above all, it’s a place for sharing, ideas, art and thoughts, and to find ways to express and communicate this to others, and with each other.

So, if you’re a young person, 12+ for preference, (but if you’re talented and committed we can take young people from 8+), or you have one knocking about the house who would love this opportunity, come along to the Edge, 79-81 Cheapside, B12 0QH (look for the massive white sign), this Saturday and every Saturday, from 10am until 1pm.  Or if you’re an artist and you want to hone your skills in working with young people we always welcome volunteers.  The opportunity is open to all young people from Birmingham – as long as you care about art and are willing to get stuck in!

Oh, and did we mention it’s all free?

And I managed this whole post, without once saying ‘the first rule of art club is…’

See you there.

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Definitions, and their importance or relevance, seem to be cropping up a lot at the moment.  Assumptions, misplaced perceptions are the building blocks of human interaction, a place to start until evidence of what’s what emerges.  We tend to see parts and think that’s the whole, the necessity of decision-making fooling us into thinking in terms of either/or, particular encounters continue to cloud our judgements forever, when maybe that person was just having an off day?  Working contextually, as we do, requires us to work on suspending judgement, to take a watching brief and be responsive to the evidence presented, rather than making snap judgements, reflective, rather than responsive approaches to interaction (That does not mean we have no rapid response reflexes, we’re bloody brilliant when the shit hits the fan!).  ‘There are as many paths to heaven as there are souls on earth’, according to at least one holy book (I forget which, it doesn’t matter), and that’s the approach we like to take, to try and understand and contextualise, rather than judge, even if we disagree, we at least know why.

What’s got me thinking about this lately is some of the circumstances surrounding our practice at the moment which has made us reflect on the past, peer into the future, create legacy and make new work.  As it should be, perhaps, but in such a distinctive way at the moment that it’s brought certain things into sharp relief and triggered a whole bunch of thinking. I do love my ‘job’.

Our ‘Echoes’project has been developing nicely, and we’re learning new things about our beloved Digbeth, hooking up with new people and hearing some fantastic stories on a daily basis.  Funnily enough, nobody ever talks about ‘Eastside’, I wonder if ever anyone will say anything like ‘I remember, back in the day, we were in Eastside and…’?  Almost definitely not.  There’s an interesting attempt at redefinition, re-branding.  Take a smelly old industrial inner-city area and give it a shiny new name and watch the developers pour in.  It didn’t quite work like that, did it (yet?).  Lucky for us, because this fails to take into account what matters about a place.  Digbeth has an identity, dirty, yes, but in a good, honest ‘sons of toil’ kind of way, a ‘dirty energy’ out of which has emerged so much over time, and so much promises to emerge in the future.

So we’re working on developing the Edge, (in Deritend, quite close to Digbeth, though most would consider it the same place, as do we, as do we), and this has involved expanding somewhat and taking on the two ‘wing buildings’ and the whole front yard.  There are strategic reasons for this, which I won’t go into right now (more later), but this has left us with a couple of thousand square feet spare for the next year or so.  So, in an effort to ‘maximise  our assets’ (albeit not financially), we decided to find someone(s) to take on some of that space for  a year’s residency.  We asked around, ‘who has recently been working at Margaret Street and spent the most time in the studios there?’.  We kept hearing about a ‘group of punks’, so went out and found MSFAC (Margaret Street Free Arts Council), had a mutual ‘sussing out’ session and they are now proud residents of Unit 1 at the Edge and are hosting an exhibition next week, ‘Kill the Beast, Cut his throat, Spill his blood!’ (I think the public view is the 13th) to start off their year-long residency.  We’re helping the collective to develop the group and their ‘survival skills in the funding jungle’, with some intensive mentoring, in return for some labour and some cash when they can get it.  I could have called that ‘an informal professional development programme’, but I didn’t, though it is and it isn’t, it’s better than that because we’ve just done it.  No funding, no ‘outputs’ to ‘deliver’, just mutual support, because we want to.  It’s been fun so far, a pleasure to be around their energy, and their commitment to their practice and we’ve all been good at delivering on our promises – so important when you want mutually-nourishing relationships.  Some of our core value statements, or whatever, are – ‘do what you say you’re going to, or just don’t say it’ and ‘if you’re not doing what you say you are doing, change what you are doing or change what you are saying’ – and we try and adhere to these statements, and all in all we do.  I would hope that others recognise this too, we are nothing if not consistent with our approach and values, we have stuck to our guns over the twenty years we have been practicing and remained who we are, despite sometimes being bent out of shape (I never wanted to learn about running a business) by our environment.

Which brings me to the downside of this.  One of the major frustrations we have with the arts ‘sector’ is this continual (and perhaps inherent) misrepresentation.  From artwork that fails to live up to it’s interpretation panel (e.g. ‘immersive’, when it’s not even a paddle), to organisations that spectacularly fail to do what they emblazon on their webpage, the arts seems to be an object lesson in sleight of hand (often, but of course not always).  We’ve had a particular issue around a local organisation lately, who I’m dying to ‘name and shame’, but I still want to give the opportunity to step up and sort themselves out.  For the time being.

To attempt to be fair, we could be accused of misrepresenting ourselves in some ways.  Friction are a bit of a mystery to some, despite our efforts to explain ourselves, there’s always that tightrope to walk, we want people to know us, but we have responsibilities, to our constituents, audience, participants, to our funders and supporters and to ourselves, which does mean being a little ‘all things to all men’, and to a tempering of our projected perception.  Someone said that you only know us, if you know us – meaning perhaps that it’s only when you have a deeper understanding of us as people that you get an understanding of what we do.  Some people think we do workshops with kids, some people think we run a venue, some people think we swan around on international projects, some people think we’re worthy, political, activists, hippies, some people think we’re ‘too arty’, some people think we’re not arty enough, some people like us, loathe us, are intrigued/annoyed by us, some people think we’re brilliant, some people think we’re shit.  That’s their perception, but if they take that contextual approach, be reflective, rather than responsive, we hope they’ll get a better picture.  See things in their complexity, be a mentalist, not a judgementalist.

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Our Monstrous Bastard Child is a two-week workshop in the art of performance, collaboration and intervention, led by celebrated theatre maker Mark Storor and Friction Arts, here at the Edge in central Birmingham.  Week one will be led by Mark, focusing on creating a landscape for our  internal lives , while week two will be led by Lee Griffiths and Sandra Hall of Friction Arts, taking the work further into the world. There will be a public sharing of work created during the workshops, during the final weekend.

Mark Storor has been making heart-breakingly deep performances and projects with a range of people, from examining male sexuality in prison, performed with ex-prisoners deep below Smithfield Market, to working with children in renal units to create a performance celebrating their, often too short, lives.  Described by Lynn Gardner as:  ‘a genuinely visionary performance maker’ Mark makes incredibly moving, sensitive work in contexts that others see as ‘no-go’ areas.

Similarly, Friction Arts (artists Sandra Hall and Lee Griffiths) have made projects at home and abroad, from South Africa to Brazil, working with groups from allotment gardeners to young people on ‘tag’.  Friction work collaboratively and contextually – always responding to the ‘who, what and where’, listening, reflecting and responding, to create appropriate and effective interventions in the public realm.  Their work is often described as ‘life-changing’ and bridges the gap between art and activism in an attempt to create a world in which we would all wish to live.  Friction have collaborated with a vast number of people in their 20 year history, some of which can be seen on this website.

This intensive ‘Autumn School’ is suitable for anyone wishing to develop new ways of looking at themselves, their practice, methods of collaborative working and making work that defies the normal boundaries of what may be considered traditional contemporary approaches.  You do not need to be a performer to attend, but you need to have a will to experiment, to explore and to stretch your own boundaries.

Dates: 17-21st September 2012  and 24th-29th September

These are full-day workshops, and will start promptly at 10am each morning, and finishing at 6pm – there may be requirements to work later.

There will be  public sharings of work made during the workshops on the evening of Friday 28th of September and the afternoon of Saturday 29th.

Cost: Total cost for the two weeks of workshops is £420

There will be two bursary places available for full-time students or people on benefits at a greatly reduced cost, get in touch for details on how to apply for these if you qualify.  Places are limited to 12 in total.

For more information please get in touch with us via or call us on 0121 772 6160


Workshop leaders

Sandra Hall and Lee Griffiths

 Sandra began her career in traditional theatre, TV and film.  Desiring to experiment and to have more control over her practice, she went on a journey of development, taking her from Paris to Java, training with the likes of Philippe Gaulier, Prapto Suryama, Augusto Boal and Guillermo Gomez-Pena.  !n 1992, she set up her own company, Friction Arts, alongside artist Lee Griffiths and has made hundreds of projects, locally and Internationally, from Birmingham to Brazil.

Lee Griffiths set up Friction with Sandra in 1992 and has been co-instigator of their very many projects and programmes of work.  Coming from a background of Communist agitators and Travellers, Lee has an idiosyncratic approach to his work, which enables him to go to places that others fear to tread.  Lee is a director, performer, technician, researcher, builder, writer, artist, and sometimes stand-up comedian, with an almost spooky ability to retain useless knowledge.

Mark Storor  

Mark Storor is an award winning artist, working in the space between live art and theatre.  His work is devised, often site- specific and always collaborative.  Recent works include ‘A Tender Subject’ and ‘For the Best’ .


Links to recent work by the workshop leaders:

Mark Storor

For the Best –

A Tender Subject –

Friction Arts

‘Casa Catraia’ –

Methodology –

I know I post inconsistently, and I apologise, but we have a pretty inconsistent life.  Part of the reason we have this blog is to reveal to people a bit more of who we are, where we’re coming from, and what we do, and we do a lot.  Barely 1% of our activity, and the work we do to make it active, is possible to show here, but we like to give it a go, every now and then.  So – this week we have:

Worked hard on recruitment for – Echoes project manager, Echoes evaluator, and an administrator for Friction.  We take HR very seriously and spend a lot of time reading, assessing, discussing and sometimes arguing about who we want to work with and why.  We’re obviously keen on equal opps – genuinely and ethically, rather than being policy-led and work hard on ensuring it’s embedded into the process. We always offer feedback to interviewees – however tough this can sometimes be, we usually find some reason to want  to employ everyone, and certainly giving them feedback is the least we can do in return for their time and energy.  So the process takes a long time.  We have now appointed the Echoes staff and will be interviewing for our administrator over the next couple of weeks and will be making appropriate announcements at the appropriate time.

Floated a knitted coral reef in the Floozie in the Jacuzzi – as a test for 80 year old artist Sheila Artur’s AACV installation for the torch relay on Sunday (it worked)

Submitted a bid to start a new ‘art club’ for young people in Highgate (successful – woohoo!)

Delivered a workshop with our Autism group at the Windmill centre, including developing some work to add to the exhibition at the Public, and being shadowed by Ricardo, a regular volunteer and Nicholas, a youth worker from Castle Vale.

Worked on a stakeholder map for the Echoes project, in preparation for the new project manager starting – fortunately we have had a 4m square vinyl map of Digbeth and Highgate made (available to hire at reasonable rates), which is ideal for sticking post-its to.

Delivered a workshop with the group from Blue River, who will be exhibiting work as part of Yard Talk next Saturday 7th July at the Edge.

Cleared out and rearranged loads of equipment in the Edge and ‘The Third Space’ (our new, as yet unnamed annexation), in preparation for next weeks event

Moved some of Vivid’s stuff out of the way.  Currently, this is taking up about a third of our first floor meeting space.  As you may know, Vivid is now defunct and, despite having a bit of a variable relationship with them over the years, we offered to give them space to house and digitise their archive.  We believe it’s an important part of Brum’s arts heritage and it would be an awful shame if it was binned, so we’ve supported making this happen.  Without being paid for it. ‘Cos that’s how we roll, or because we’re idiots, not sure which.

Loads of other bitty housekeeping and admin jobs like ordering new bins (actually quite exciting, we’ve been smuggling trash into our domestic collection for the past four years, to avoid bcc’s exorbitant charges), promoting Yard Talk (a lot of our marketing is face to face or at least phone to phone, given our audiences), meetings, working on budgets (always the most demanding part of any project) and research, research, research.  We are also continuing to develop our relationship with Sustained theatre, in anticipation of our feasibility study starting in a few weeks.

And it’s only Wednesday afternoon.

Anyway, in many ways a fairly typical week, in that there is no such thing, here at the Edge, but typical in the varied ‘work plan’ (haha) and work/life balance (bigger haha, we’ve got it sussed, it’s all work or research, so we don’t have to worry about keeping it balanced).  So, there you go, a little snapshot of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ to make our stuff happen.  It’s a lot of fun.


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So, after all our International shenanigans, we’re back at the Edge, where we belong… Things are busy, busy, busy here and it’s all hands to the pumps as we bring you loads of fantastic news.

Our three-screen video installation ‘To You From Super Me’ has been launched at the Public in West Bromwich and will be available to view until the 9th of September.  It looks fantastic, beautifully synced and presented and well worth a look if you are in West Brom – worth a visit in itself in our opinion.  We’re really proud of the piece, and all the work by the artists and participants and we’ll be holding the official launch from 6pm on the 20th June, and would love to see you there -

On July 7th we are hosting an event at the Edge as part of our Echoes programme of work. ‘Yard Talk’ will be a fun event, with live music and free Caribbean barbecue, where’ll you’ll be able to hear and share stories of blues parties and all the work and play we used to partake in ‘back in the day’.  With reggae sounds provided by Pekka Don, Bongo Damo and music from Birmingham Community Gospel Choir – and reggae bingo! – this promises to be a fun Summer afternoon in sunny Digbeth (sunshine has been booked and guaranteed).

Yard talk flyer front

We’re expanding!  After many years trading, our neighbours, Ready Rads, have moved on from next door, so we’ve taken over Unit 1 – the Friction Empire grows by another 1000 sq ft or so!  Look out for more opportunities for studio and making space in the near future.  We are also pleased to announce that we have received funding from ACE’s ‘Renew’ fund for a feasibility study into making a large-scale capital bid to develop the Edge for the long term as a ‘making and showing’ space for’ Southeastside’ (keeping the innovative and creative district-naming of our beloved council).  We’re partnering with Sustained Theatre on this project, and also sharing the Edge with them – so, welcome home guys!  We’ve got all kinds of ideas for how the space will develop – we’re very keen on keeping the post-industrial beauty of the Edge intact, but we’ll be developing the space to have the facilities for artists to make and try out their work in a comfortable, supportive environment and hope to be able to support many wonderful failures as well as many fantastic triumphs over the next ten years or so – wish us luck!

Opportunity – sadly, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, our administrator, Marta, has had to hand in her notice and move back to Bulgaria – boo, bloody hoo.  So we are looking for a new arts administrator for thecompany.  If you are keen on our stuff, have amazing admin skills and drive, initiative and the ability to work like a Trojan if called upon, please contact Marta for an application pack.

That’s it for now – skyward ho!

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5th May. The Edge (79-81 Cheapside, Deritend, Birmingham, B12 0QH)

Tickets £6 / £ 4 adv

Even though Friction Arts is going to Brazil for a month or so, The Edge will be still alive and hosting other artists. Sound Kitchen will come to feed our ears with their program of eclectic music. An evening of live improvisation, instruments and electronics with De Type Inconnu, a duo featuring Pierre Alexandre Tremblay (Huddersfield) and Sylain Pohu (Montreal) that are coming to Digbeth with “lots of strings, lots of sounds, lots of notes, lots of noise and lots of styles” and Rodrigo Constanzo, a Spanish-American performer and composer living in Manchester, who is an avid improviser and will come with a modified drum kit augmented by home made electronic instruments.

You can visit Sound Kitchen for more information on the artists and the evening or to book tickets in advance.

Hope to see you around!


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Here’s a really lovely review of the recent Sonic Asylum at the Edge by John Kirremuir – and some nice pics:

I used to like going to music events and festivals when I was young(er). The buzz, the crowd, the jostling, the raw energy lifting you into an intense place.

But then I got un-young. Not old; I’m 43, and in my head a lot younger when the mood arises. But I like my comforts now; so judge me. I get cramps in my legs. My back hurts from falling out of one too many trees. So, as on a plane or train, legroom is great, especially if the journey lasts several hours. And OMFG a comfy seat yes yes yes. And I’d like to hear the music and for everyone else to STFU so I can hear it clearly – especially when, at contemporary events, you pay a bundle of notes for the ticket, another bundle for the booking fee, yet more cash for the “drink”, and so forth. Go to a concert nowadays, and you’re lucky if you can hear what you want, and you leave with any change out of fifty quid.


End of grumpy middle age man rant. I just want to leave an event less stressed, and more chilled out, than when I went in.


Hence, the last concert in Birmingham I saw was Amiina, sitting down in quietness while listening to six heartbreakingly talented, shy, demure, Icelandic musicians coax notes, tunes, melodies out of all manner of instruments and kitchen implements. I spent the concert blissfully being gently flown away, and idly wondering how I could successfully propose to Hildur Ársælsdóttir who played the saw (seriously). And I left the concert relaxed and content, not stressed. That’s how it should be.


So I took a punt on Sonic Asylum at The Edge. The admission was only three pounds, so that was low risk; hell, it costs more to get a return ticket on a local psychopathically driven  bus. I’d been to The Edge in Digbeth before, and knew what this unassuming building, in a part of Birmingham bearing more than a passing resemblance to Detroit in the Robocop films, looked like inside so the venue was okay with me.


And I wasn’t disappointed. Fairy lights hung around a giant playing card. An artist in one corner, who designs the flyers for Sonic Asylum, was busy at his craft. Bar staff wore colonial hats straight from the shoot of the Madness “Night Boat to Cairo” video. Musicians milled and spoke to people who turned up early. The dirty laugh of Sandra, one half of Friction Arts who inhabit the bat cave that is The Edge, floated over the people who drifted in early, like the laugh Sid James made just after Barbara Windsor’s bikini top flew off in Carry On Camping. And while the staff wore doctors coats – the ethos of Sonic Asylum is to cure your ills and stresses – Lee, the other half of Friction Arts and a man who has without exaggeration read many thousands of books, decided to dress like a patient.

The Edge sort of filled up, but not to an annoyingly crowded level. The place does take a little finding – it’s on Cheapside in Digbeth – which may put off a few people. But, it’s eight minutes walk from the Bull Ring, and a few blocks from the 35, 45, 47 and 50 bus routes. So it doesn’t take *that* much finding. Those people who didn’t make the effort; well, their loss.

And it filled up with nice people. Quiet, friendly, non-aggressive, unpretentious people of a wide age range. No egos, or pretentious people in ironic red snow coats, or hipsters with ironic beards and ironic £145 adidas retro bags. Just … normal people. I bought a beer (no queue!), said hello to some people I slightly recognised from Brummie social media and cultural stuff, said hello to some total strangers, used “the facilities” – again no queue! – and wandered back.

 The first act politely took his seat, so people took theirs. I chose a sofa. A Sofa. A SOFA. Not a muddy puddle in a field in Leicestershire with alternating rain and bikers piss raining down on me (bad memories). Nor a manure-sprayed field with twenty thousand undergraduates who know only the chorus, and not the verses, to James’s “Sit Down”, and pass around a rizla filled with nutmeg while pretending to “get down” with the “crazy beats”. Nor an eight square inch of neon-dazzled floor boundaried by people half, or a third, of my age who again do not STFU (yes, I have got a thing about people who turn up to cultural events, ignore the performers and make noise, and I think it is legitimate to at least slap them lightly).

But, A SOFA.  With as much leg room as I wanted.  That’s a point – I’d happily pay a premium for a sofa on a train, or even a plane. Especially a plane. But I digress. Again. Badly.

The first performer was Charles H. Wolfenbloode / Rupert Tsua, a musician, scholar and robemaker from Birmingham. Studious, concentrated, but warm in demeanor, he played a seven stringed traditional chinese instrument called the guqin zither, laid out in front of him. His fingernails were noticeably cut, rounded, to an exact length, shape, as he plucked strings. Before each piece, he’d explain the historical context, and the title, such as Geese Rising from the Sand Bank.  You could have heard a pin drop, as the cliche – in this case accurately – goes.

The audience politely applauded between piece, held attention. I tried to discreetly take photos, and not appear to be a dickhead amateur photographer (don’t get me started on people who now hold up iPads at festivals to record performances). The lighting in The Edge was subtle, picking out his fingers on the strings. And, it needs repeating, we could hear Every. Single. Note. Clearly. (Kudos to Peter the sound man).  It was the kind of performance you’d pay 30, 40, 50 and more quid to go and see in the Symphony, or Royal Albert, hall.  I paid three quid and this was just the first act. As we’d write on twitter: #win.

The next act, as with the others introduced by the irresistably friendly Dr Soesmix, came on. Danny was a solo guitar musician hailing from Scotland and had risked the train ride over the border for this event. His quietly understated songs, with for those people listening nicely sharp lyrics, continued the relaxed atmosphere initiated by Charles.  Half time. I bought a large slab of cake. It cost me a pound. Supper. Super. Super Supper. Whatevs; it was nom and I was full and halfway to a diabetic coma.

Though all good, the third act, Arkala, were my favourite. They performed one long, sinuey, thirsty piece using guitar, drum, fading feedbacked miniature megaphone, miniature hurdy gurdy (yes! eighties pocket instruments!), and other exotic equipment. Imagine a longer, more epic, twisty version of the Chemical Brother’s Private Psychedelic Reel, but reinterpreted by múm while being played by Jóhann Jóhannsson sitting in an Icelandic volcanic-heated lagoon (yes I am obsessed with all Nordic culture; deal with it) – and that’s part of the way there. The only downside: it eventually finished :-(

The final act were a local three piece band, three guys playing the kind of array and combination of instruments you don’t usually see being played together. A loud cheer went up, announcing the local support, and Mendi Singh on the tabla, a crossed legged drumming arrangement, led on the first piece. It was interesting watching him play the tabla close up, and the sounds it made finally made sense, seeing how he used the palm and heel of his hand, not just the fingers, to produce individual sounds which … curved … in pitch and tone.  Mendi was joined by two other musicians who (as I’m not an artist or musician, and not part of the local scene) I appeared to be the only person in the room not to know. And all three were seriously good, at one point playing what appeared, and sounded, to be Persian, sub-continental and Irish music at the same time. And it worked. A broadsheet reviewer would come up with some wanky term for this (“Global Jazz Fusion”?), but for me it just … worked. As individuals, and as a group, all three were tremendous.

And then they finished and, despite three or four hours of music and chat, it was over. More conversations, then a walk back through pre/post apocalyptic Digbeth.

And the cost, for the economically minded. Admission: 3 pounds. Booking fee: erm, what booking fee? Beer: 2.50. Soft drink: 50p. (Seriously – when was the last concert you went to where soft drinks were 50p each? The Wurzels in Taunton in 1977?) And a large slab of cake: £1.  So, I saw four quality acts, spread over several hours, had left the house with ten pounds … and still came back with three.

But even better, I returned back to base and to two perpetually pretending-we-are-unfed cats blissed, and with a lower blood pressure. Which is just what the “doctor” ordered.


Thanks John – nice review, fancy going myself!  Everybody else, don’t forget this weekend’s Flatpack-flavoured goodness at the Edge – two special Outersight Psychedelic Psynema Pshenanigans, we received this postcard the other day…

Psleepover postcard

psleepover message

Looks like it’s going to be a blast! There might be one or two (literally) tickets left, so scoot over to Flatpack festival to get your hands on ‘em.

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It’s the end of February already – soon be Christmas I guess – so Mad March will be upon us very soon.  We had a great gig last Friday, with encore’s and plaudits from the headliners, Milky Wimpshake – ‘favourite venue on the European tour’.  Aaawwww, shucks – it was great to have you guys here, indie to the bone…

So, next up we have lovely Sonic Asylum next Friday 2nd March (see below for details).  The usual eclectic mix of healing live acts on and offstage, this time we’ve got four acts and two DJs – all for three quid – how do we do it?  Well, mainly by not getting paid (though all the acts are!), it’s a labour of love.  So, come on down to the Edge, relax and be healed and transported by the great music and the chilled family atmosphere.  We welcome everyone here at the Edge (we’re physically accessible and equipped), no matter what age.  Last Sonic we had a young girl tucked up fast asleep next to the stage during a particularly mad drum solo (more a drum freakout), she didn’t bat an eyelid and slept straight through the whole gig, safe and snug. No need for babysitters at the Edge. (It’s not a creche, though, at your own risk, etc) ;-)

The very next day, Saturday 3rd we have our annual residency by those crazy travelling folk, The Nomadic Academy of Fools!  They’ll be running workshops over the weekend and through the week, leading to performances the following weekend.  Check  back or get in touchfor more details.  If you’re into theatre I urge you to go to some or all of the workshops – they will change your life.  Jonathan Kay, the ‘foolish Lecoq’ (my words, not his and don’t tell him I said it) turned me from a non-performer to someone who isn’t afraid to stand in front of 5000 people and make a tit of myself (and I have). The workshops are cheap as chips and work on a ‘pay what you can’ basis.  Super recommended.

Flatpack – we’ve got two great events over the Festival.  On the Friday night we have a Outersight special – big screen projections, live sounds, unseen footage galore, all curated by Brian Blessed’s little brother, Scott from filficciones – chemical brain augmentations unnecessary, the visuals will do the job!  More info (and more to come) on the festival website.

The Saturday night (17th March) we have an extra super special secret, limited edition, never-to-be-repeated event- Outersight Overnight.  A very lucky 20 people only will be coddled to sleep by South American peasants after a strange ritual led by a mysterious shaman, all on a massive bed in a specially created jungle mountaintop retreat.  In the heart of Digbeth. You’ll be able to cuddle up overnight, with filmic magic projected over your head, slipping in and out of consciousness while being watched over by our team of servile shepherds.  Snap those tickets up when they’re out! (keep checking the flatpack website.)

Later in March, there’s more to come, including a vegan festival (BRAVE) and loads more, watch this space!

Loads of good Friction news, too, but I’ll save that for later ;-)

We just returned from our annual trip to the Goat Milk Festival, in Bela Rechka, Bulgaria after having the time our lives and making a very beautiful intervention in response to this year’s theme ‘abandonment’.  Abandonment is something that affects everyone, one way or another, and was a great subject to respond to.  In context, in a tiny, possibly dying village in the North West of Bulgaria, it is something that is perhaps more evident than ever.  Someone told me that the average age of the inhabitants was 70, after having met several 90+ years olds and only 2 people under 16, I believed it.  Like many countries, particularly on the edges of Europe, Bulgaria is suffering from the effects of rural emigration.  The young flee the villages in search of opportunities, leaving behind an ageing population and rapidly-decaying infrastructure.  In Bela Rechka it seems every third house is a crumbling ruin, and the sense of abandonment is palpable.

So, how to describe Goat Milk?  It’s a unique festival, kind of the anti-Biennale. You’re not there to show off.  You’re not there to sell anything.  You’re there to meet other artists, thinkers, poets, photographers, musicians, you name it, and to participate together.  There’s not that much ‘art’ on show, there’s a linear programme of workshops, talks, discussions, film screenings (followed by more discussions), and a very long dinner queue at the only place to get food, staffed by incompetent, hungover Bulgarian local lads.  I guess I’m not selling it well, because I think it’s the best art festival I’ve ever been to.  It’s all about the conversations.  Artists from all over the World gather there, unpaid for the most part, so engage in such a wonderfully open and uncompetitive way (for the most part) that the experience becomes a great source of energy, a revitaliser.  Our friend Murat, a drummer and activist from Turkey put it best, ‘we all come together from our different ‘war fields’ and we rest and talk, and realise we are not alone, then we go back, energised, to continue’.  He is pretty dramatic sometimes, particularly after a few rakias, but you get the picture.

So we went over mob-handed, accompanied by Si Walker, as always, Nicky Getgood and her ‘man’, Carl along with Soesen Edan.  We’d decided before we went that we’d try to make an artwork of some kind and had been considering the abandoned houses which were the focus of the festival this year.  We hooked up quickly with Iranian artist Gita, who had a microphone permanently clamped in her hand and was recording everything, and with our friend Antina who grew up locally and had made a beautiful installation, mapping the abandoned houses and interviewing locals to find out their stories.

We looked for a house to respond to and settled pretty quickly on a pretty dangerous looking blue house, which was due to be demolished in a month for safety reasons.  Sandra and myself designed a process for the group to respond to the house.  Working in silence, we would investigate the house, inside or outside. We would respond to a set series of themes, using our sense of smell and touch, noticing patterns and movements.  We would then go and have lunch, without talking about the experience, letting it sit for a few hours, before coming back together to feedback to the group.  It’s harder than you think, you really want to go ‘did you notice, so and so?’ and the resultant feedback sessions produced a series of amusingly arm waving pixelations.  So, much discussion about the house, and the context ensued.  One of the things we had found was a ‘necrolok’ – a poster with a photograph of a deceased person, displayed annually on bus shelters, lamposts, walls, in an effort to remember the dead – we also found the original photograph. I should say at this point that there was much debate on the voyeuristic nature of what we were doing – ‘going through someone’s knicker draw’, as it were, but we trusted ourselves to take a respectful approach and to replace everything where we found it.  At times the house felt like a museum, at others like a mausoleum, and this related directly to the issue at hand.

Bulgarians, we were told, particularly the old, fear being forgotten more than they fear death.  As long as they are remembered, they are somehow still alive, and the necroloks are an obvious example of this.  And here we were in a village, with a population of the old, surrounded by decaying and crumbling houses, all at risk of being forgotten.  We started to formulate a response, a way to commemorate the situation, and an intervention began to take shape.

We made a series of announcements around the festival – ‘look for a sign at 9.45, and bring something to leave behind’, we told people.  There was soon a sense of intrigue, particularly amongst the more adventurous festival goers – though some people clearly wanted to know what was going to happen.  So at 9.45, some of our group gathered with Murat, the drummer, near the Kazan (rakia house – ‘party central’ at the festival) and began to lead an impromptu procession up the lane towards the house.  Swinging lights and lanterns, drumming and dancing, a party atmosphere developed, as we passed the ‘pub’ (the only bar in the village) a bunch of local people joined, to see what all the fuss was about.  As we reached the house Murat’s drumming became softer and the whole ‘audience’, turned to look up at the house.  We’d lit a single window in which we had placed the necrolok poster, the original photograph and a jar of preserved peaches we had found inside the house.  After a while, one of our group stepped forward and laid an object down into a small circle of stones we had made in front of the house.  Then stood up and looked at the house for a while.  The audience needed no more instruction and for the next ten minutes object after object was placed in the circle, each audience or group member then paying their respects to the house, and it’s history.  When the final object had been placed in the circle, the eight members of the group, until then part of the audience,turned around, made eye contact with someone in the audience, then walked towards them slowly, before cupping their face with their hands and leaning forward to kiss them and whisper the word ‘goodbye’, then disappearing into the darkness.  The audience were left with the house to make their own way back.

So that was our response, a simple, beautiful act, yet interrogated constantly over the 30 hour development period in the most complex way.  We made an intervention that respected and responded to the theme, whilst giving ‘entry points’ for the audience to ask their own questions.  We don’t proscribe what these questions may be, and rarely provide ‘interpretation’ or artist statements to explain what the work is about – it’s either obvious, or there’s enough going on that telling people what it is would seem limiting.  This unnamed intervention worked incredibly well – more than one audience member was in tears (we had to administer rakia to one young lady, for medicinal purposes) – in fact, when I demonstrated ‘the kiss’ to our group, out of context, one of our group began to cry uncontrollably.  Everyone understands abandonment, or has been abandoned at some point in their lives, so the theme resonates with us all.  In Bulgaria, the fear of being forgotten is so real that people try and get remembered through leaving traces of themselves.  Our experience in Bela Rechka taught us that we need to remember what has gone before, but perhaps sometimes, we need to learn to let go more readily.

Will post some photos when we get the time.

And in other news

This Friday 3rd of June at the Edge, it’s Sonic Asylum 4 – whoopee!  The usual triple bill of  live musical performances, weird stuff, sonic installations and cake.  And a return visit from  – The Auctioneer!  From 8pm, 3 quid on the door.

Thursday at  the The Edge, Fierce are showcasing work from the Platinum programme, set up to develop live artists in the region.

We are beavering away all week to install our exhibition ‘To You from Super Me’, at the Public.  We’re dead excited about this, it”s a video triptych featuring life size projections of 8 of the young people with autism we’ve been working with for almost a year now.  We love working with these extraordinary young people and wanted to find a way to share what we have learned working with them, so image-maker Chris Keenan, Marvel comics artist John Macrae and ourselves have put together this fantastic installation.  Show opens this Friday and runs for a few weeks in the lower gallery at the Public in West Bromwich, try and make it over.

We’ve been working hard on our3 Minute Heroes (3MH) project, and we’re very proud of what that work has achieved.  Si, Soes, Sanj and the team have been working with some great people to find out who inspires them, to reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary.  Please go to 3 Minute Heroes and take a look at some of the material they’ve created and feel free to nominate your own hero.  The stories people have told us have ranged from the heartwarming to the heartbreaking and we have responded to them in a whole variety of ways.

On Saturday 16th April, at the Edge, we will be launching 3 Minute Heroes with an exhibition made in response to the stories we have collected through the project. To help to celebrate the unsung, a series of sonic installations, projections, performances and sculpture  have been created by a team of artists using the stories and voices of the people we have worked with as inspiration.  We’ve worked with extremely diverse groups on the project and it’s been wonderful hearing their tales of the people who inspire them, local heroes and people in their lives who make a difference.  You’ll see in the exhibition just how extraordinary the ordinary is, the hidden gems that you walk by everyday – and that everybody can be somebody’s hero.  Now, how did that song go? ‘You’ve got to search for the hero inside yourself’.

See you there or on the website

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