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21 Apr 2020

Birmingham celebrated in huge new Cold War Steve artwork created for Birmingham Museums Trust

A new artwork which celebrates Birmingham and its people has been revealed by satirical collage artist Christopher Spencer, aka Cold War Steve, and Birmingham Museums Trust.

The hugely detailed work, Benny’s Babbies, is the artist’s most complex photo collage of his career to date and was due to be revealed in his hometown at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery but has now been shared online whilst the doors to the museum are temporarily closed.

Spot comedian Joe Lycett and cricketer Moeen Ali, alongside Duran Duran and activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, with the members of Black Sabbath rocking out on top of the Rotunda building behind, where Benny from TV soap opera Crossroads (filmed in Birmingham) peers out over the crowd full with many more famous and recognisable Brummie faces. 

Birmingham Museums Trust commissioned Cold War Steve to produce work inspired by the Trust’s digital image database, which hosts thousands of out-of-copyright images from the city’s collection which can be downloaded and used creatively for free.

The background of Benny’s Babbies is the View of St Martin's Church Birmingham from the Bullring,1815-1835, by Thomas Hollins, which features on a japanned tray. The backdrop has been updated with familiar city scenes, including the Birmingham Pride Festival, the brutalist architecture of the now demolished Central Library, Birmingham’s beloved Mr. Egg takeaway, and the Central Birmingham Mosque.

The artwork is being hosted online at www.thesocial.com/bennys-babbies/ and includes written submissions about the city from Cold War Steve, Joe Lycett, and novelists Kit de Waal and Jonathan Coe.

Christopher Spencer, aka Cold War Steve, said: "Outside of London, I feel that Birmingham is unparalleled in the sheer diversity of its contributions to British culture. A multicultural city, where the influence of so many heritages has enriched our lives immeasurably – be it in the music, the art, the food – and this is what I am most proud of about Birmingham. This collage was certainly the most time consuming piece of work I’ve ever done – but it was also the most fun to research and execute. The final composition is a massive celebration of the diversity of the city.”

Benny’s Babbies is part of a series of artistic interventions and events planned in partnership with Cold War Steve and Black Hole Club, called Cut, Copy, Remix. The project set out to encourage creative use of the thousands of public domain images from Birmingham’s collection to celebrate the extensive resource and support emerging digital artists to use the images to inspire brilliant and bizarre new work.

Following an open call out for artists, the Birmingham Museums team also commissioned Mixed Milk, a Birmingham artist called Martin McNally, to make a film about the works in the collection. Black Hole Club, an artist's development programme based at Vivid Projects that supports artists in the West Midlands, have also commissioned artists Rosa Francesca and Alis Oldfield to create developmental digital art responding to the digital collection and its data.

Over the coming weeks, Birmingham Museums and Black Hole Club will be sharing their works on social media and online, both as works in progress and finished pieces, alongside interviews with the artists.

Linda Spurdle, Head of Digital at Birmingham Museums Trust said: “Cut, Copy, Remix set out to inspire people to use Birmingham Museums images by working collaboratively with Cold War Steve and Black Hole Club to create new digital art works. It has been an exciting process, as everyone involved has been enthusiastic, supportive and inventive. The closure of our sites has forced us to think creatively and we’re thrilled that this project has been able to continue online. We’re looking forward to sharing what has been created, and seeing what other artists of all ages, and the general public, will be motivated to do as a result.”

Cathy Wade, Producer Black Hole Club, Vivid Projects: "Partnering with Birmingham Museums Trust on Cut, Copy Remix has been an invaluable opportunity for us to explore how artists can engage with the Trust’s Digital Image Resource through creative practice. To utilise the collection and to connect it with the present. It has been fascinating to see the work of Black Hole Club’s Rosa Francesca and Alis Oldfield engage critical questions on the narratives and histories present in the museum, focused through new works that are open to the public to engage with. We are looking forward to sharing the development of these works with audiences online with Birmingham Museums Trust and through exhibition in the future."

Cold War Steve has also taken his own satirical slant on some of Birmingham’s Pre-Raphalite works, for which Birmingham Museums hold one of the most important collections in the world. These additional two works will be released in May. All three Cold War Steve commissions will eventually go on display proudly at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery when it is able to re-open.

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Watch this space, as the team will be finding new ways to keep in touch with audiences over the coming weeks. Keep up to date at www.birminghammuseums.org.uk and via social media.

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