Zang Productions

23rd Apr 2012

Barrowclough: 48SHEET and Brum art. An ill informed rant.

On Sunday afternoon, my family enjoyed a unique and satisfying excursion. We drove around Birmingham city centre looking for art. It was kind of a safari, a treasure hunt and a gallery rolled into one. We loved it.

Basically, for those who have no idea what I’m on about, 45 advertising billboards in Birmingham city centre have been given over to artists to beautify England’s second city. It is a project called 48SHEET and is one of the best ideas I’ve seen come out of Birmingham’s art scene since I moved here 16 years ago.

Our afternoon then was spent following a map of the exhibits from Highgate to Hockley. While I appreciated the majority of the pieces displayed, the whole project had an effect beyond the individual billboards. As we searched for the exhibits amongst Renault Clio and vacuum cleaner advertisements, it made me start appreciating beauty that I’d never noticed before in my city. Impressive pre-blitz architecture. Original grafitti. Even some of the decay and urban squalor became striking in a way that could be enjoyed. Our conversation wandered on to the place of advertising in our lives. To the nature of art. To the mysteries of existence. Etc, etc.

I’ll be honest, we didn’t really get some of the exhibits (mostly the clock faces and surrealist slogans of the Delhi based Raqs collective) and didn’t get to see all of the billboards we were looking for (most regrettably Lucy Mclauchlan’s and the holiday and death ones) but for me the project worked utterly. It provoked thought and discussion and displayed some excellent pieces of art (Fazely St, in Digbeth, being our favourite cluster with Log Roper’s hand painted board and Steve Parson’s ‘Curiosity’)

However, at the same time, this ingenious exhibition was also incredibly frustrating. The 48SHEET project is an example of all that is good and bad about the Birmingham art scene. You see, nobody in Birmingham actually knows this is going on. I only found out about it because I happen to know one of the artists involved (Log Roper) and stumbled across one of his facebook posts. Nobody who I have mentioned it to had any idea what was I was talking about. Nobody. Not one person. The Ikon magazine gave over one page to it. Birmingham Whats On didn’t even mention it. Either this is a subversive attempt at anti-promotion as an artform or simply just an example of poor promotion. In either case, its inexcusable considering the wealth of talent on display and presumably the amount of money it cost to borrow all those valuable ad spaces. If you don’t know what is going on, in the majority of cases, you will simply find it annoying that so much of the advertising in your city has become so vague and arty. You definitely won’t take your family on a pre-Nando’s art safari on a Sunday afternoon and notice Curzon Street Station for the first time.

This is absolutely typical. How many times do us Brummies find out about some cool event just after its happened? You really have to work pretty hard to find out when things like the Flyover show or the Flat pack festival are happening. And that is if you care. Everyone else just goes on with their lives, oblivious of the fact that Birmingham is packed full of quality artists and has the potential to be a thriving, creative hub.

Someone needs to get hold of the Birmingham art scene and all its hidden genius and organise it. Promote it. Shout about it. Come up with a 5 year plan. Some targets. Maybe something could be learnt from the billboards that are being replaced and cleverly derided. At least JCDecaux and the corporations that use their spaces have a plan. The Birmingham art scene has one off ideas galore, but appears to be going nowhere in a very pretty, clever fashion. I really hope that this appearance is a deceptive trick hiding a well thought out path of momentum leading to Birmingham becoming the European Capital of culture in 2016. I have my doubts.

Please go and do the tour ( At least, commute with your eyes open. But it’ll be all gone by 29th April, so don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

48sheet, barrowclough, Birmingham
Benjamin Blower
Fiction Fight
The Custodians
Josiah Gillespie
Bethan Marshall
University of the King
Selina Blakeney
The Zang Productions Ensemble
Vincent Gould