24 Feb 2020

Whitworth Wallis Fellowship 2019/2020 Part 1

Birmingham’s social history is rich, complex and nuanced, and too large for me to comprehend, however I thought I’d have a go nonetheless.

Growing up within a traditional working-class family, in Northfield, Birmingham, I have witnessed first hand the shift in social class categorisations, mainly due to the shift from production to consumption. Every male member of my family is or has been employed within some form of manual labour based occupation, and has experienced the turbulence that comes with this in the current economic climate. My formative years have acted as the foundation for my artistic practice, as I explore social class categorisations and how the traditional working class exists amongst contemporary societal shifts.

Being awarded the Whitworth Wallis Fellowship is an unprecedented opportunity for an emerging artist such as myself, and one working with ideas of social class categorisations. Museum collections can seem impenetrable to some, of another world if that exposure to culture capital isn’t present from a young age, therefore being awarded the chance to investigate the collections to social class is a crucial opportunity to attempt to address this. Initially I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the reserve and on display collection, so my immediate ideas and interpretations were a bit scattered.

Eventually I stumbled across signage from a café located in the Old Bullring, Area Café or Arena Restaurant depending on what sign you read first. The Arena Café was a traditional ‘greasy spoon’ café situated in the Old Bullring before its demolition, and from what I can understand acted as a communal hub for a number of people. Instantly I was attracted to the saturated and sickly visuals of food items that would have been on display, instantly within context of the rest of the collection I thought that these begun to convey and document a lifestyle not well trodden within museums and also a wider creative context.

Menu photos from Arena Café, Birmingham (pizza)

Using the Arena Café as a catalyst for new work seems to be the natural fit, as my work often explores the class connotations around food items and what they can suggest about a community or a set of people. In relation to process, I had been working with photography, film, and found objects for a few years so I knew this was the trajectory I wanted to follow, therefore myself and David Rowan (Museum Photographer) spent a day in the Photography Studio capturing images of the transparencies from Arena Café. Spending the day with David was extremely beneficial to my own practical development, just seeing first hand his studio practice taught me an awful lot.

Menu photos from Arena Café, Birmingham (Egg)

Now that a project is outlined I endeavour to photograph the rest of the objects relating to Arena Café in Birmingham Museum's reserve collection. However I need to attempt to think how this can be translated and how this may manifest as a physical exhibition or other variant of that.

Menu photos from Arena Café, Birmingham (milkshakes)