Minimum Monument – Reimagining the Memorial

DSCF1179

Gathering outside the Hippodrome on Tuesday afternoon, the sun is shining gloriously. Yet despite the baking summer heat, inside a nearby, disused Birmingham warehouse, a congregation of miniature ice men is rapidly growing its ranks. This is the making of Minimum Monument, a stunning, frozen art installation to be displayed in Chamberlain Square on Saturday to coincide with the 2014 World War I centenary.

Over the past few days, a team of 20 dedicated volunteers have been tirelessly working alongside Brazilian “urban intervention” artist Néle Azevedo and her translator to complete an ambitious total of 5,000 ice figures. At 1pm tomorrow (Saturday 2nd August), members of the public will then be invited to set down the sculptures on the steps of Chamberlain Square and watch them slowly melt away in a powerful representation of human fragility and mortality.

DSCF1187Conceived as “a critical reading of the monument in contemporary cities”, the ephemerality of Minimum Monument contrasts sharply with the solidity and permanence of traditional stone memorials. There’s more to this than simply visual effect, however: through the transience of her work, Azevedo seems to acknowledge the importance of letting go as well as remembering.

One of the key aims of the piece is to celebrate the life of the common man, giving recognition to those whom history has tended to forget and challenging established notions of who is considered “worthy” of being remembered. We have all seen engraved in stone the names of “brave” soldiers who fought to defend their nations, but what of those who were brave in other ways – staying at home to raise a family, for example, or healing the wounded, or perhaps simply listening to their consciences and taking a moral stand in the face of unimaginable pressure to conform? And then there are those who fought, but who eventually found themselves no longer able to be brave, such as Birmingham-born John Osborn Walford, an army captain who, overwhelmed by the trauma of his experiences in combat, tragically took his own life soon after returning home. Because of the stigma surrounding suicide at the time, Walford was not only excluded from all war memorials, but was not so much as given the dignity of a marked grave: his surviving family will be amongst the first to display a sculpture in the square on Saturday. The faceless anonymity of each figure and the open invitation to anyone to take part in the creation of the installation make this a uniquely democratic venture that allows for quiet, beautiful moments of personal catharsis to take place alongside big, public spectacle, reminiscent of lighting candles in a church.

DSCF1199It is interesting that Minimum Monument should arrive in the UK at a time when the ways in which we commemorate war are already being called into question, with much debate focused on the wearing of poppies, for example. While for many these remain a potent symbol of how we should remember the past to ensure it is never repeated, for others, they are seen as a means of glorifying war by turning those who fight into heroes.

Nevertheless, Minimum Monument need not be exclusively about war. In fact, Birmingham is only the most recent destination for a much bigger project that initially began as Azevedo’s Masters thesis and has already been taken to various cities around the world, each of which has interpreted the installation in its own way. In Belfast, Minimum Monument remembered those who lost their lives on the ill-fated Titanic. In Berlin in 2009, it was timed to coincide with the G8 summit and understood as expressing concerns about the future of a world devastated by the effects of global warming. Asked whether any of these interpretations of had surprised her, Azevedo replied that she had turned down a lot of invitations, only accepting commissions which she felt offered compelling readings of her work. According to Néle herself, the examples from Birmingham and Belfast are closest to her own original conception.

DSCF1192Sarah Allen, Creative Programmes Manager for Hippodrome Plus (responsible for the theatre’s outdoor and outreach work), described herself as having been “blown away” when she discovered Azevedo’s “poignant and reflective” work. She also explained that this would be the largest Minimum Monument to date, with previous installations having featured  less than half the number of sculptures aimed for here. It’s a huge undertaking, but one that Néle and her team seem confident they can pull off – provided they don’t encounter any problems with their freezers, that is!

Minimum Monument will be taking place in Chamberlain Square from 1pm on Saturday 2nd August. Those interested in participating need only show up on the day.

DSCF1196

 

Hippodrome Volunteering Opportunities – Minimum Monument & Summer in Southside

Minimum Monument

As part of its education and outreach programme, Hippodrome Plus, the Birmingham Hippodrome is offering two exciting volunteering opportunities over the summer, perfect for those with a passion for the creative arts or looking to add to their CV.

First off, from Thursday 17th July until Friday 2nd August, award-winning Brazilian artist Néle Azevedo will be working on a new public art project, Minimum Monument, in Birmingham’s city centre. Designed to commemorate the First World War 100 years on from the event, Minimum Monument will be a striking display of 5000 figures sculpted from ice, celebrating the common man and the bravery of ordinary people – not only soldiers, but also their families and all those who suffered and made sacrifices during the war.

Minimum Monument 2The finished piece will be presented to viewers in Centenary Square on 2nd August, but in order to turn the idea into a reality, Azevedo requires a dedicated team of 20 volunteers to help create the sculptures and to work alongside the exhibition production team. Volunteers will not be required to work every day, but will need to be able to commit to a minimum of 5 shifts between 17th July and the exhibition opening, and must be aged 18 or over. Those interested should fill out the online application form, or contact zaraharris@birminghamhippodrome.com for more information.

Summer in Southside

Following the exhibition, the theatre’s annual outdoor performance festival, Summer in Southside, will be making a return in three weekends packed full of short plays, dance, circus skills, live music and more. Thanks to the success of last year’s event, Summer in Southside has this year expanded from covering just two weekends, and as such, the theatre will need all hands on deck to ensure everything runs smoothly.

There are a range of roles available for enthusiastic volunteers to try out, including event promotion, stewarding and assisting artists and performers directly. In addition, all volunteers will also receive World Class Service training in Outdoor Arts and a certification of their volunteering hours. Those interested should fill out the online  application form or visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website for more information. All volunteers must be aged 18 or over.

4 Squares Weekender – Birmingham Celebrates Art and Culture

TheRedssampadCBSOandNoFitStateCircusat4SquaresWeekendercreditJasSansi2

There are honestly few sights I’ve seen more cheering than the enormous crowds that turned out for the 4 Squares arts festival in Birmingham last weekend. Even if the crazy-long queues for the library meant that I couldn’t get into the building to take a look around myself (don’t worry, I’ll be back), I couldn’t help but feel thrilled to see so many people getting so excited about a library – and more generally, across the city centre, to see so many people actively engaging with the arts. I’ve since been told that an estimated 95,000 people were there this weekend, with well over half of those having made a special journey for the event. It’s not a surprise at all. As Christopher Barron, Chief Executive of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, said:

“4 Squares Weekender proved, as if it were needed, the appetite of Birmingham audiences for high quality, spectacular and accessible cultural experiences.”

4-squares-birmingham-17-5852772

Just as exciting as the size and scale of this event, though, was its scope. With almost every major arts organisation in the city offering some kind of contribution, it’s little wonder that it attracted crowds every bit as diverse as its performances. The wonderful thing about putting everything together in one place, of course, is that people were encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and try out something new. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a range of arts and audiences manage to be so wholly integrated. Where else but here could you see old men and women, toddlers and teenagers of all races enjoying outdoor opera side-by-side and equally as much? Where else would you find adult men actively volunteering to participate in a ballet demonstration? Where else could you see the disparate stories of a rich-man turned homeless and a bulimic young woman effortlessly combined into a single fairy tale, told straight to the faces of a tiny audience packed into a caravan, decorated simultaneously as both a food bank and an allotment?

630

Without wittering on any further, then, I’ll give you a quick breakdown of the things that I managed to see – though I’m afraid there was plenty that I didn’t. Obviously I’m hinting here that I’d like the chance to see the rest again – come on, Birmingham!

630x3.fitwithoffset

Friday night was the official festival launch and, having arrived a little early for the press reception in advance of the show, I headed up to Victoria Square to take a look at the huge crane and moveable stage that would form part of the evening’s performance of As the World Tipped. Arriving there, I unexpectedly came across performance that had already started: a brilliant little group called Trio Damba, made up of three members of Birmingham band, The Destroyers, with Louis Robinson at the helm. According to the programme, their musical style is an unusual blend of “genres as diverse as Klezma, Hot Club, Tango, Country and Western and Fraggle Rock”. Later that weekend, I was to see them again with support from additional musicians.

4-squares-birmingham-5-5852791

The evening’s main event, As the World Tipped, was a little slow in starting. Sound effects announcing the beginning of the show were started up a good twenty minutes before anything actually happened, and there were other areas of the show that would have benefitted from some cutting down (the list of endangered species, for example, and the drawn-out ending). Yet the action and stunts were faultless and spectacular – this was definitely a way to get things started with a bang, and the crowds loved it.

4-squares-birmingham-22-5852777

I started Saturday with a ceilidh. There are few ways I’d rather spend my Saturday afternoons, given the choice. I had one at my wedding recently, and I’m rather of the opinion that mass outdoor dances should be implemented as a regular thing in cities every weekend. The novelty would never wear off, and sedentary arty types like me would all be an awful lot fitter as a result. This was an unusual sort of ceilidh in that it was quite stripped back to ensure that the little ones could get the most out of it. The Burdock Ceilidh Band even invented their own new dance called War and Peace (the abridged version), which seemed to mainly involve pulling silly faces at the people in the line facing your own. Everyone who was there had great fun, 25708_swhether or not they joined in themselves. After this, I headed out towards the Town Hall to catch a brief ballet show, but with time to spare, I stopped off at the stage in Chamberlain Square to pick up some dance moves from the mac’s Move Me workshop.

Birmingham Royal Ballet Presents…, it transpired, was less a ballet performance and more an insight into the rehearsal process and how a ballet production is put together, run by Assistant Director Marion Tait, Ballerina Callie Roberts and Pianist Matthew Drury. Callie is currently preparing to play the wicked fairy Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty, which will be showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from 8-12th October. Members of the audience were asked to stand in for the King, Queen and Catalabutte, the master-of-ceremonies who forgets to invite Carabosse. It was really fascinating to get a glimpse into this process, to see that even the most 300accomplished of performers have lots to learn before they get up in front of an audience.

After this, I headed back to Centenary Square for the Secret Drama at 2pm, with enough time to catch a little of three different performances. At the Musical PicnicLouis Robinson and Friends finished off a set, while over towards the Paradise Forum, colourfully costumed dancers showed off their moves in the Hooray for Bollywood! show. Meanwhile, The Russians Are Coming…. took place in the new library’s open amphitheatre, featuring fantastic Birmingham Opera Company baritone Byron Jackson performing four songs involving personifications of Death, accompanied by Sergey Rybin on piano.

The Secret Drama was a wordless, energetic, five-minute show, announced by a gong right behind me, which almost made me jump out of my skin! The performance involved fire engine ladders, abseiling, a skateboard, a police car and a giant key. What was it about? Well, it wouldn’t be a secret if I told you now, would it?

4-squares-birmingham-26-5852781

Following this, the CBSO Cello Ensemble assembled at the Musical Picnic stage to perform Notelets, a family-friendly show that got little ones joining in with familiar songs like “Twinkle Twinkle” and the theme tune from In the Night Garden. Simultaneously, Ex Cathedra entered the amphitheatre for a gorgeous rendition of a series of songs inspired by nature, rounded off with an a capella version of “Singin’ in the Rain” – fortunately not actually in the rain. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t find the promised CBSO Wind Ensemble, but there was more than enough to keep me occupied until I went off to queue up for my first Eat! experience.

676x400.fitandcrop

Eat! is a series of four intimate, 15-minute dramas, performed inside gutted and redecorated caravans to tiny audiences of 15. Each vignette is based on true stories gathered from interviews and online conversations with local people conducted in advance by the REP. Naturally, the caravans filled up quickly, so to be in with a chance of seeing any of the shows, one had to arrive a good quarter of an hour or so before the start. The first I saw remained my favourite of them all. This was the show I mention above, telling the stories of a fairy tale princess who lived with a wise old man (or an overweight teenager who lived with her grandfather), and a knight in shining armour who became bewitched by a magic potion (or a rich, smart-suited guy who became an alcoholic after being left by his wife).

800x600.fitdownSadly, this was the last thing I got chance to see on Saturday, but I’m told by the good authority that is the Twittersphere that Musical Youth were superb.

Sunday kicked off with a journey to the East through musical storytelling from Michael Loader at the musical picnic stand, enjoyed by children and grown-ups alike. This was followed by Metropolitan Brass, a brass-five piece who played familiar, family-friendly tunes including the themes from The Simpsons, Harry Potter and The Pink Panther.

My second Eat! experience, also in Centenary Square, was much more lively and upbeat than the first. This caravan combined singing, beatboxing and heightened theatricals to run through a series of food-related snapshots, rather than one or two full stories. To fit with the show’s “theatre” theme, the inside was decorated in rich red and gold colours, with heavy curtains surrounded by an ornate arch. I couldn’t help but wonder what will happen to all these beautiful sets now that it’s all over – I hope that the company at least get to extend their tour.

Reviews-Blog-700x463

After this, I aimed for the Victoria Square Eat! show, but failed to make it on time, so I headed over to Oozells Square to check out Clayground Collective‘s giant clay city and the other Eat! show. Before I’d gone very far, however, I encountered a crowd in the middle of the ICC, surrounding a band which turned out to be the energetic and experimental Perhaps Contraption. The volume level in the corridor soon led to a collective decision to take the show outside, and I followed them out to listen to a couple of songs.

3-perhaps-contraption

Conscious of time however, I wasn’t able to stick around for too long if I wanted to catch the next caravan perfomance, so I pressed on, arriving with just enough time to listen to a rendition of Jessie J’s “Money” by the Occasional Brass Band just outside the square.

Occasinal-Brass

The Clayground Collective activity was something beautiful to see, with hordes of children gathered round to unleash their creativity. The “war” themed Eat! production was beautiful too, but in a very different, much more poignant way. The show told a haunting wartime tale of suffering, starvation and survival against the odds, inside a caravan kitted-out with seats made of books and walls plastered with printed pages. “There are friends, and there is food,” the story began, “but food is your best friend.” This caravan, too, suggested one possible answer to the question of what would happen to the sets next – it would be lovely to see this bookish set as a permanent installation in or around the new library….

630

Back in Centenary Square, the CBSO String Quartet were due to start at the same time – and in the same place, it turned out – as a repeat of the Birmingham Opera Company‘s performance from the day before.  Unable to find the string quartet, I caught a little of the CBSO Cello Ensemble and The Russians Are Coming… before settling down at the musical picnic to listen to Soweto Kinch‘s bizarre blend of jazz and hip hop. Soweto free-styled impressively, using words thrown at him by the audience to go with each of the letter in “music”. The “i” was for “intellectual”, and with all the wit and Latin words being rattled off here, it seemed apt enough. Soweto Kinch will be performing his show, The Legend of Mike Smith at the Birmingham REP from 12-28 September – I’m definitely going to try to catch it there!

1376699032-soweto-kinch-performs-at-the-canary-wharf-jazz-festival_2440574

Before seeing the final Eat! production in Victoria Square, there was time at this point to enjoy some impressive circus skills displays from NoFit State, and some soul and motown classics from the Brothers of Soul and Divas of Soul in The Magic of Old Skool Classics.

DSC_2269-251678

The final Eat! show followed a wedding theme, telling the story of a woman who “live[d] to eat“, and describing the food at her weddings to multiple husbands from around the world. Despite her larger-than-life cheeriness, however, there was a subtle, half-hidden sadness in the tale: our protagonist, we learn, is a recovered anorexic, with a secret sense of loss clouding her past.

tippa-305x199

Last but not least was Tippa Irie, reggae legend taking over the Simmer Down stage outside the Town Hall. A troop of loyal supporters swarmed round for his set, willing to stick it out even when the heavens opened above them.

4-squares-birmingham-21-5852776

4 Squares Weekender, I think, perfectly represented the West Midlands at it’s best, and perhaps for the first time, I felt truly proud to be a part of it. As Peter Knott, Director of Arts Council England, put it:

“4 Squares Weekender was an iconic opportunity for Birmingham to welcome visitors and locals alike, showing off the world class cultural offer in the City and heralding a new way of working which places the Library at the heart of this community.”

4-squares-birmingham-19-5852774

Suddenly, it seems like a thoroughly exciting time to be in Birmingham and the surrounding area, and I join with Christopher Barron in hoping that “the launch of the new Library, the re-opening of The REP and 4 Squares Weekender are not the end of the story.”

4 Squares Weekender – Free Theatre to Launch the New Library of Birmingham

_69619223_69619222

If you’ve been following the news this week, you may well have spotted that the new Library of Birmingham was opened on Tuesday by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who survived being shot by the Taliban for championing girls’ rights to education.

Speaking on the day, Malala described books as weapons for beating terrorism, claiming that “the only way to global peace is reading, knowledge and education”. With characteristic eloquence, she went on to explain that,

“Books are precious. Some books travel with you back centuries, others take you into the future. Some take you to the core of your heart and others take you into the universe. […] It is written that a room without books is like a body without a soul. A city without a library is like a graveyard.”

Malala also spoke about the importance of Birmingham as a city, describing it as “the beating heart of England“.

as-the-world-tipped-by-wired-aerial-photo-bysophie-laslett_005crop-700x4660

Following on from this official launch, a weekend of free live performance across Birmingham City Centre will celebrate the library’s opening, beginning at 9.30pm tomorrow with As the World Tipped, a spectacular, aerial outdoor show by Wired Aerial Theatre, set on a huge 12 metre screen against the night sky. Watch this space for updates: I’ll be attending and reporting back on both the show and the media launch beforehand. If you can’t make it tomorrow, the performance will be repeated at 9pm on Saturday.

sampadAnaya

Across Saturday and Sunday, you’ll be able to see a diverse range of shows taking place across Birmingham’s Oozells, Centenary, Chamberlain and Victoria Squares, with something for all ages to enjoy. In the words of Peter Knott, Regional Director of Arts Council England, 4 Squares Weekender is, “a spectacular weekend to celebrate arts and culture”, offering “something to suit all tastes”.

IMG_6569_Warmed

In Oozells Square and Brindleyplace, there’ll be a series of performances and activities organised by mac Birmingham. Inside Ikon’s galleries, there will be music by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, as well as dance from Sampad and contemporary circus by Pif-Paf. Outside, you can take part in family-friendly activities, helping to build a giant city out of clay.

CONCERT_StPAULS_77_1945472b

A musical picnic will take place in Centenary Square, courtesy of Town Hall Symphony Hall, and featuring performances from Birmingham-based saxophonist Soweto Kinch. Meanwhile, inside four converted caravans, the Birmingham REP will be providing impromptu acting and storytelling, and inside the new library itself, there’ll be music from Ex Cathedra and the Birmingham Opera Company.

Soweto-Kinch-Legend-of-Mike-Smith-wide

TippaIrie2013In Victoria Square, NoFit State Circus will be providing performance and circus skills taster workshops. If you missed them at Summer in Southside, this is a great chance to catch up with their incredible acrobatics, as well as to take part and learn some skills yourself!

Finally, in Chamberlain Square, The Drum’s Simmer Down stage will be hosting a range of reggae, ska, bhangra, sufi and hip-hop music, including performances from Tippa Irie and Musical Youth. Inside the Town Hall, you’ll be able to see dance performances from the Birmingham Royal Ballet and DanceXchange, including opportunities to take part, while the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery will be presenting a full day of film courtesy of Flatpack Festival.

early-images-2-co

Said Stuart Griffiths, Chief Executive of the Birmingham Hippodrome, “”Birmingham’s arts organisations offer some of the most vibrant and exciting programmes in the country. We are delighted to come together to welcome the new Library of Birmingham at this incredibly exciting time for our city.”

SWAN LAKE.BRB. Belfast. 5-2-2008

If you’re attending, don’t forget to tell us about your experiences on Twitter, using the hashtag #bham4sq. As with the Summer in Southside festival, I’ll be hanging around over both days, so check back here if you’re curious about anything you don’t manage to attend.

Hope to see you there!

dancexchange