The Birmingham Big Art ProjectSelection Panel, Steering Group and Trustees have announced the shortlist of five artists for the forthcoming £2million permanent public artwork in Birmingham.
The shortlist includes artists with a wide range of approaches to art making from laying ‘Battenburg Cakes’ made of bricks, and pouring crystalline caves to singing psychologically charged soundscapes.
The selection panel made up of national art commissioners and curators and Birmingham planners, head of collections and artist-curators were struck by the vitality and originality of the five artists proposals. Gavin Wade, chair of the selection panel and Director of Eastside Projects said ‘We feel very strongly that we have some important ideas and approaches to making an artwork like no other in the world. We believe that each of the five could create an artwork as a new destination point in Birmingham, and the whole group are excited about the next stage of the artists developing their ideas to be shared with the public. We can’t wait for the whole of Birmingham to start imagining how these challenging new artworks will come to life.’
The five shortlisted artists are:
Griffiths was born in Stratford-upon-Avon and now lives and works in London. He likes to tantalise the viewer of his work. Guardian Critic Jonathan Jones has described Griffiths’ work as having a touch of magic to it. Likewise, the writer JonathanGriffin believes that his artworks “tug at the thread of curiosity, wonder and imaginative projection that weaves through 18th– and 19th-century adventure novels, 17th-century curiosity cabinets, circuses, science-fiction and television detective dramas.”
Some of Griffiths’ sculptures arereally kitsch and playful. ‘Battenberg’, 2010, an oversized sculpture made up of multi-coloured house bricks to look like the eponymous cake, his proposal for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth sculpture, is a case in point. His artwork is representative of a very British sense of humour. Griffiths explains “I think of making sculpture and installations as almost like a dress-up box of wearing different sorts of skins, and different sorts of languages.”
Heather and Ivan Morison
Collaborative duo Heather and Ivan Morison lived in Birmingham between 2000 and 2006. They now live in Herefordshire and also own a wood in West Wales where they nurture,construct and grow their mythical artworks. The Morisons make artworks that are very much connected to their surroundings, rooted in a sense of community and collective action. A good example of their work is ‘Sleepers Awake’, 2011, first shown in marshland in Sittingbourne, Kent, and later exhibited in 2013 in Bungarribee, an empty site in the Western Sydney Parklands, Australia. The artists explored the scale and particular characteristics of these two verydifferent landscapes by raising a ‘second moon’ into the air. Made up of a large, internally lit helium balloon, the glowing object was hoisted high, “a ghostly form that turned suddenly into a blazing white orb”, in the words of journalist Mark Hudson. Hudson comments “The effect was like moving through intensely bright moonlight, tinted not silver but the yellow of daytime sunlight.” He goes on to remark “Indeed from the first moment the ‘moon’ appeared two days before, people had been on the move towards it, jumping in their cars in their pyjamas to find out what was happening.”
Born in Birmingham, and now living in Sheffield, Wilson has exhibited widely across the UK, notably at the Royal Academy, Milton Keynes Gallery and Compton Verney in Warwickshire. His sculptural works are held in world-class collections such as the Saatchi Collection, Welcome Trust, Contemporary Art Society and Leeds City Art Gallery.
One of Wilson’s highest profile commissions is another very large sculpture sited in the landscape. His work ‘Steles (Waterworks)’, 2012, was commissioned for the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London. Studded along the Waterworks River, in the water itself, are thirty-five pillars of varying lengths, their shape modelled on giant wax crayons and their colours based on those of the Olympic rings. Providing the function of mooring posts, the pillars are made from the same material as buoys that are often found in seas and waterways. On the work, Wilson said his “colourful totems … will serve old functions in a new way… and help create a distinctive identity for this newest and boldest of London parks.” He also noted of ‘Steles (Waterworks)’ that they “connect the parkland with the river, the canal and by extension the wider world.” In keeping with the playful nature of the sculpture, Wilson added that the work reminds visitors of “memories of many a good day out.”
The Glasgow born 2010 Turner Prize winner, Susan Philipsz, now based in Berlin, is best known for making sculpture that primarily uses sound. As an untrained singer, the artist uses her own voice, and others, within her work, and the breaths are kept in the final edit. These imperfections lend the sounds a sense of intimacy, and help to animate stories and histories.
There are often more tangible elements within her work too. ‘Part File Score’, 2015, for example, was shown at Hamburger Bahnof in Berlin and featured a number of large screen prints of musical scores alongside an installation of twenty-four speakers playing individual notes. Each piece of music was composed by Hanns Eiser, an Austrian Jewish composer, who fled from Nazi Germany to Los Angeles in the 1930’s. The printed scores Philipsz presents are from Eisler’s FBI file and show notes and black lines censoring and deleting his work. Though he was a Hollywood filmscore composer, Eisler was also suspected of being a Communist and was blacklisted. Philipsz is fascinated by such psychologically charged histories and embeds these memories and references within her soundscapes.
Born in Birmingham, Hiorns studied on a Fine Art Foundation course between 1991 and 1993 at Bournville College, Birmingham City University before moving to London to study BA Fine Art at Goldsmiths College. Since these early days he has gone on to be one of the most significant British artists working today.
Using 75,000 litres of coppersulphate solution, Hiorns converted a sad, abandoned interior of a council flat on the estate into a glittering wonderland of blue crystals. This is Hiorns key work, ‘Seizure’, made in 2008. “Caves are the earliest forms of dwelling and crystal caves do occur naturally in the form of salt and gypsum caves,” Hiorns notes. “In a way this project is converting a concrete modernist building into a cave. The work isn’t about architecture but there is that element of architectural reversion about it. Plus I am from Birmingham, so, for me, being surrounded by concrete is natural.”
Nobody had done anything like this before, nor seen anything like this before. ‘Seizure’ was so popular with visitors that its original three-month duration was extended for a further six months. It was supposed to be a temporary work of art that would be destroyed when the estate was demolished. The artwork has been acquired by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, however where the flat’s constituent parts are preserved, still covered in blue crystals, and can bevisited. “This wasn’t a work that we wanted to be destroyed,” the artist explains. “It took a lot of time and effort to make and I didn’t want it to become just a memory for people.”
‘Seizure’ remains hugely popular with visitors to the Park and according to critic Jonathan Jones is “Destined to be remembered as one of the truly worthwhile and significant moments of modern British art.”