During 2012 artists Sophy Rickett and Bettina von Zwehl were commissioned to develop new work in response to the Sir Benjamin Stone Collection at the Library of Birmingham. The artists decided to focus upon one album in particular, a miscellaneous album which did not follow Stone’s usual rules of classification, known as Album 31.
The first outcome, which included the production and exhibition of 11 Album Pages, was exhibited at the Library of Birmingham during Spring 2014. Following the positive reviews and reception the project was extended and new support and partners sought to create a major exhibition opportunity and an international outcome.
In 2015 the new exhibition of Album 31 was shown at the Library of Birmingham Gallery and at Ffoto Galleriet, Oslo, Norway. The exhibition of new work by Rickett and von Zwehl was befitting of the Stone album where images were collated apparently at random, as if the ‘rules’ that applied to the rest of the collection were temporarily waived, so that subject matters, processes, time frames and approaches co-existed, creating a kind of chaotic spontaneity full of poetry, humour, and also some darkness.
In 2013 Mat Collishaw was invited to create a limited edition as a Grain, New Art Gallery Walsall and Library of Birmingham co-commission. The print is available to purchase at a special price. Visit www.grainphotographyhub.co.uk for more information.
Collishaw makes alluring, poetic and shocking work with a visual language that embraces diverse media. Themes and subjects from histories and religion are explored, often the darker side of nature and human character, and yet the work is beautiful and awe-inspiring. He is interested in the history of photography, in its subjects, techniques and machinery and often references histories in his work, in particular the Victorian period.
As an extension to the Reference Works project, artists Andrew Lacon and Stuart Whipps were commissioned to develop a new relationship with Guangzhou Library, China. The commission was supported by Arts Council England and the British Council.
The artists developed a new proposal that interrogated and explored the shared and divergent histories of the two cities and the series of complex relationships; the relationship between the materials of the former and current library buildings, the similarities and differences that exist between the material housed in the two libraries, and the relationships between the people of the respective cities and their former and present libraries and collections. Following a period of research and making formal studies in the studio in the UK they spent an intensive period in Guangzhou in November 2014 making and exhibiting new work throughout the duration of their stay.
The work was exhibited at Guangzhou Library and gifted to their collections as part of this international Artists Exchange and Exhibition supported by British Council, Arts Council England and the two libraries.
In 2014 internationally renowned and critically acclaimed photographer Mark Power was commissioned to make a new body of work in Stoke-on-Trent as a collaboration with Appetite. The resulting exhibition was presented in the new city centre square as a public realm event over a period of three months. Over 50 new works made by Power were distinctive, illustrating the city as he found it, like visual stories or postcards from the city, a narrative in pictures, telling the unique story of life in the city and communities. In undertaking the commission Power remarked that in the city there are layers of history everywhere. Behind every new build is a sign of the past, while in front of every ruin, ancient or modern, there’s evidence of potential change.
Working with curator, educator and writer Moritz Neumuller an international exhibition exchange was curated and produced to support five emerging photographers who were based in the Midlands to exhibit alongside five Madrid based practitioners. The exhibition took place at the Altamira Palace Gallery, IED Madrid in Autumn 2014 and then toured to the Library of Birmingham in Spring 2015.
The selected photographers were; David Shepherd, Dean O’Brien, Lauren Spencer, Nicola Onions and Oscar Parasiego, and from Madrid; Angela Losa, Anna Fawcus, Eoin Moylan, Inge Trienekens and Juan Pablo Fassi.
The projects exhibited were selected because of their exploration and themes of memory, identity, space, the human condition and eternal subjects in the field of photographic creation. Following the exhibition at the Library the works entered the photography archive.
In 2014 Nathaniel Pitt was invited to curate our exhibition as part of Brighton Photo Biennial 2014. Plane Materials was a Grain and Photoworks co-commission featuring an exhibition of new works by Cornford & Cross and Andrew Lacon. In the exhibition the artists explored the dialogue between photography and sculpture. Lacon’s studio based practice draws on historical documents and photographs from the Library of Birmingham’s archive that are specifically concerned with Roman antiquity and the framing of photographs of Roman sculpture. Cornford & Cross work differently, a non-studio based practice, they create work through discussion and debate, positing different conceptual ideas.
The Plane Materials publication is now available from GRAIN and Nathaniel Pitt and was published by the Library of Birmingham.
Following her acclaimed exhibition in New Art West Midlands at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery Lucy was awarded the residency by Grain and Turning Point West Midlands in 2014.
The residency provided an opportunity for the artist to make new work in response to the photography collection. Following a period of research the artist chose to work with a unique Victorian carte de visite archive that has certain resonances with her own artistic concerns. Lucy is interested in the construction of class and her study of the carte de visite portraits enabled her to see first hand constructions of Victorian class, status and taste.
Lucy is a Fine Art graduate from Coventry University and is based in Birmingham. As a result of the residency Lucy exhibited the new work at the Library of Birmingham and at Croome Abbey.
In 2013 Tom Hunter was commissioned to create new work in two districts of Birmingham. His work saw him finding, exploring and revealing places and spaces that were usually out of public view, closed off or accessible to only a few people in the city. He made exquisite images of member’s clubs, temples, political chambers, heritage sites, factories and churches using a pinhole camera the pictures were rich and engaging.
The 60 new works were exhibited in the public realm in curated exhibitions in two public squares. The exhibitions were sited in the business district and in the Jewellery Quarter.
Artist David Bethell was awarded a residency at Wolverhampton Art Gallery during which he created a fictitious character and narative based upon their fine art and geology collections. Following the residency Bethell made new works, including sculpture, installation, photography, film and performance, in the Staffordshire landscape. The new work was curated for exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery during 2013.
The exhibition documents the adventures and explorations of fictitious character Dr. Bird, an eccentric adventurer, gardener, inventor and explorer. Bethell’s work is about land, landscape and our place within it. The exhibition is an artist’s response to the Victorian Fine Art and Geology Collections alongside ongoing concerns relating to human influences on the rural landscape.
The project also saw new writing commissioned from Anneka French and Anna Falcini. A publication by the artist accompanied the exhibition.
Reference Works was devised as a major new photography commission in which four leading photographers made unique creative responses to the old Central Library building and to the build, transition and relocation to the new Library of Birmingham. Launched in April 2012 the commissions were awarded to Brian Griffin, Michael Collins, Andrew Lacon and Stuart Whipps. Alongside the main commissions a mentoring and professional development programme was delivered in collaboration with Birmingham City University.
The commission was established to reflect and record a momentous event in the city’s cultural history, the project, supported by Arts Council England, represented the largest and most significant photography commission ever undertaken in Birmingham.
In September 2013 four exhibitions were curated as part of the Reference Works commission, including a major new show in The Gallery at the new Library of Birmingham, complimented by a series of events and artists’ talks.