Issue 493
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RUE BRITANNIA  

"I spent years trying to get rid of my accent to sound more intelligent," says Dudley's Dion Kitson "Now I'd take f*cking elocution lessons just to get it back." The accent may not be as pronounced as it once was, but Kitson has all the other hallmarks of a Black Countryite. Grounded, humble, family-orientated (an entire section of his work is dedicated to his dad, who he ribs relentlessly but with that wonderful warmth of a West Midlander) — the entire Ikon Gallery collection has nods to Dudley, a place he says has "an allegorical message for the rest of the country".

There's wry smile on his face at all times, as if the joke's on us, and he shifts about on his seat incessantly, seemingly uncomfortable surrounded, as he is on this occasion, by representatives of English Heritage. I'd wager they're not his archetypal companions and his occasional profanity lands awkwardly right back at some of them, shifting in their seats just like him. If Dion notices it too, he doesn't care.      
We've all just had a brief tour around Dion's first solo exhibition, Rue Britannia, which takes place at Ikon and runs concurrently with guided tours of another of Dion's exhibitions over at J.W. Evans Silver Factory, in the JQ, which is under the stewardship of English Heritage. I've not had the chance to see the JQ works yet (I'll tell you what I know about them further down) but his art at Ikon is, and I say this with no hyperbole, the most engaging and curious work I've written about in ten and half years of I Choose Birmingham. I can only beg you to go and see them.  
AT IKON
Incisive, enterprising and laced with wit, Kitson’s work dissects British class and identity, reshaping its visual hallmarks and traditions across sculpture, installation, film and found objects.

Ode to Rubbish Mountain (above) is a miniature recreation of the pseudo-iconic landfill pile that was removed from Brierley Hill in 2016 after a five year local battle to have it sorted. Nearby a fish flaps about, dying in a net, near a tackle box marked 'Shakespeare'. A torn trampoline bedecks a wall (top), echoing Lucio Fontana — there's madness and genius here. And fun.
Kitson’s lifelong fascination with the royal family comes to expression through a ‘waxwork’ of a young Prince Harry (above) after the death of his mother. Facing the floor, and a wall, it's haunting stuff. Your emotions are lurching from laughter to sorrow in just a few steps. 

Visitors can play on a functional pool table, as Kitson brings the staple of the British pub into the gallery. Unable not to tinker, of course, the pool cues are topped with mop and broom heads. Nearby, a school table with rulers laid out like a music box plays the tune of Rule Britannia! on a loop – a hubristic swansong of empire... 
Elsewhere a real BT Openreach greenbox is attended by a waxwork 3D printed engineer, kneeling to a shrine dedicated to communication. "These workers are always in High Vis clothing and yet they're the blink and you'll miss them heroes of society," says Kitson. "Where would we be without them?"

Slung from a suspended telegraph wire are the unmistakable ruby slippers of Dorothy. The Wizard of Oz — a whimsical, trippy and yearning tale of searching for the way home — is a key reference point for Kitson and a self-portrait as the Tin Man also appears in his installation at J.W. Evans Silver Factory.
AT J.W.EVANS
Through Silver Lining, an off-site commission for English Heritage, Kitson honours a lost industrial past, utilising new technologies to create sculptural interventions in the former silver factory, celebrating the history and popular culture of Birmingham.

In 2008, English Heritage acquired J.W. Evans Silver in the Jewellery Quarter, which began as a cottage industry in 1881. The workshops are preserved in situ, containing thousands of dies for the manufacture of silverware; the entire factory’s working equipment; and the workers' ephemera, magazines and posters.
Like J W Evans himself, Kitson studied at Birmingham School of Art and worked in the Jewellery Quarter learning the metal casting process. The exhibition comprises twenty works in total. In the former Director's office, for example, a Newton’s cradle is made from laughing gas canisters (above), perched on the office desk while a hammer, apparently bent through telekinesis is found among tools; as is a Frosty Jack cider bottle cast in metal and a silver heroin spoon.
An empty cupboard is transformed by Kitson into a cabinet of curiosities, filled with deflated footballs resembling oversized jewels of baroque proportions, while a 60s clock is filled with beans. Nope, no idea either. 
In one room fifteen mugs of tea are dunked by mechanised biscuits while nearby a vice clings tight to seven golden cigarette butts.
One of the most complete surviving historic factories in the area, J W Evans Silver Factory is a preserved time capsule of a lost industrial world — art in its own right. At its heyday in the early 20th century, the JQ employed tens of thousands of people, but as demand for the ornate table silverware produced by businesses like J W Evans’s slowly declined, the factory finally closed in 2008. Today, it is as if the inhabitants of the factory simply walked out, leaving the remnants of their skilled craft, including machinery, dies and finished works, behind them, Dion's addition making the tours an absolute must between now and September 6, two days before Rue Britannia closes at Ikon.

Rue Britannia is free and does not need to be booked (do make a contribution if possible) while tours of J.W.Evans can be booked here at a cost of £11 per person. English Heritage members go free.  
 

THE ULTIMATE MUSIC QUIZ


There are music quizzes and there are MUSIC QUIZZES. Sounds Familiar 100% falls into the latter category.

Continuing its barnstorming residency at Mama Roux's in Digbeth, on June 6, it is without a doubt the Rolls-Royce of the genre and the answer to that night out of giggles you and your pals have been mulling over on Whatsapp.

Essentially a party disguised as a quiz, Sounds Familiar offers a joyously chaotic atmosphere with a wide range of music spanning the 60s to current chart-toppers, including Mash-Ups, Floor Fillers, Indie Anthems, Power Ballads, and Guilty Pleasures.

With weekly sell out events including brunches in London and even playing Glastonbury more times than David Bowie, SFMQ runs its Brum shows (and they are shows) at the newly refurbed and gorgeous Mama Roux's. 

If you're umming and arring then check out this trailer on YouTube and have a mooch around their Instagram. Then make like a referee and book. Further dates are confirmed for July, August, and September!

BODY CLOCKS, BEASTS
AND BULLYACHE


The manner in which the University of Birmingham has fully immersed itself in the city it calls home in recent years has not gone unnoticed.

The borders between Uni and city blur even further as UoB puts on three ground-breaking performances to be premiered this spring, featuring emerging artists as part of their Sounding Change programme.

Azizi Cole (above) presents Body Clock, a new work that combines music, movement and body percussion to reflect on the influence that music can have on the body. Using unison, syncopation and rhythmic techniques, this is a live music and physical dance experience that you'll not want to miss. Check out this video and catch the performance, May 25, at the stunning Elgar Concert Hall. Book

Meanwhile BEAST (Birmingham Electro-Acoustic Sound Theatre — love that name) takes its sound system on the road and joins forces with artist and musician, Antonio Roberts, to co-curate a night of electronic and experimental music and visuals at Centrala (Digbeth), May 30. The evening includes the premiere of a new audio-visual work by musician, sound designer and DJ, Mwen. Book

And finally Bullyache (below) is a dance company and music duo consisting of Courtney Deyn and Jacob Samuel with a focus on working-class and queer perspectives. Think Pina Bausch cosplaying as Dua Lipa in their parents’ makeup, performing albums as theatre works.

For their show, Who Hurt You? (trailer here), they will be joined by famed drag queen Barbs, dancer Oscar Li and new orchestral arrangements by Magnus Westwell, performed by the Uni's String Ensemble. The show is set outside Barbs home, where she lives with her two backing dancers and continues to perform her Vegas set to anyone who happens to pass by. Lost in a state of traumatised amnesia after a long run on the Blackpool pleasure beach strip, the performers-cum-directors exploit their trauma to its inevitable conclusion, each vying for the spotlight. A reality where physical space has broken down, the theatres have closed, no money is left, but people still drag themselves to perform, even if it's in a car park. They too will play Elgar Concert Hall, June 8. Book

The Sounding Change programme aims to tackle issues of under-representation within the arts, encouraging innovation in the practices and study of music.   

HENRY WONG: EXPANDING ON A LOCAL LEGEND


The team behind Harborne's iconic Henry Wong restaurant are pressing two peddles simultaneously to pull the almost 40-year-old venue (and its new sister sites) into the modern day.

For two weeks now the restaurant has been on Uber Eats, whizzing wonderful Chinese to doorsteps around Brum and on a recent visit there, I was blown away by the quality — the honey pepper king prawn immediately making its way onto my own personal five best dishes in Birmingham list. More on that another time. 

"I'm 32," says co-owner, Zi Wen Boo, who is also behind Thai Classic and Malaya Classic in China Town.  "And I'm taking over a restaurant with 39 years of history. A lot of pressure comes with that but equally a huge amount of pride. It's an institution here in Birmingham, but one that we need to open up to the new world of dining, a world that very much includes delivery."

Their foray into Uber Eats coincides with recent expansions under different brands. Zi Wen Boo and Jeremy Mun launched The Thai Classic a year ago, before following that up with Malaya Classic, in February.

"Customer habits have changed, so we need to be able to offer quality menus in-house, as always, but also through Uber Eats. And that goes not just for Henry Wong, but Thai Classic and Malaya Classic. Our offering, our packaging and our prices hopefully reflect that we care about getting our food out there as best as it can possibly arrive, as well as welcoming people in, like we always have and always will.
THE THAI CLASSIC
The most intimate of their venues, it has just 44 covers which adds to the warmth. It's a neighbourhood restaurant-feel, but in the city centre. "You feel like a family is serving you" says Zi. "Being small is a strength, not a weakness. The chef will come out and introduce the food to you — it's that sort of place. And it's a reassuringly short menu. If you're feeling brave, we have a separate menu of our most authentic Thai dishes, they're rare to find anywhere elsewhere in the UK. It's mainly for our numerous Thai guests, who are used to the heat, but anyone can, of course, order of from it. Website, Uber Eats
MALAYA CLASSIC
"We have a lot more space here," says Zi. "People arrive with buggies and entire families. The restaurant is over two floors, with two private dining rooms. Our signature dish is Nasi Goreng Kampung — a fried chicken and rice dish — and I'd recommend it if you're visiting us for the first time, and it travels well too, if you're ordering in. I'm Malaysian myself — Malaysia is a Muslim country and yet it's rare to find a Halal Malaysian restaurant in the UK. Well, this is. And in Birmingham if you're ordering Malaysian food, chances are it's Chinese Malaysian. Not here. Here it's Malay-Malaysian. The real deal. Website, Uber Eats
HENRY WONG
And finally Henry Wong. It doesn't get the flowers it deserves in terms of what it has done in the Brum food community for the best part of four decades. A trailblazer that has perhaps been guilty of treading water until recent years, there's a new life and soul to it. It has its older customers, of course. They've kept it in business for donkeys and are valued. But now there's a younger crew cottoning on to the brilliance. Sure it's probably a special occasion kind of a place but, by god, when the food arrives you realise how cloying some Chinese deliveries can be. Website, Uber Eats

"SILVIA?"
"YES MICKEY" 


Have you heard the one about the themed Indian restaurant called Dirty Dhansak. Their tagline's 'Nobody puts bayleaf in the korma'. The house special is the Swayze Jalfrezi. Anyway, that doesn't exist, but what most definitely does exist is the Dirty Dancing Bottomless Brunch, at Millennium Point.

Join Brum's biggest Johnny Castle fans at the city's biggest screen while the Prosecco flows. Top Me Up signs can be raised to avoid that awkward moment where you're chasing a member of staff around the venue, awkwardly asking for another refill.

Food-wise it's beef, chicken or vegan burger options with salad and chips, at a build-your-own-burger station. Additional drinks and snacks can also be purchased before settling in to watch the joy-filled 80s classic.

A-happenin' on Saturday, May 25, you'll get 90 minutes of bottomless eating and drinking ahead of the big screen feature. Check out this clip and tell me you're not interested. And remember, watch for those spaghetti arms. Book

A GIFT FOR THE PIGEONS


In:Site takes place outside Birmingham Cathedral from May 21 to 24 and it looks exactly the sort of loveliness to welcome the warmer months.

Over four days, 14 recently graduated artists will work with people passing by to create new artworks responding to the theme of care.

In:Site is curated and produced by Craftspace, a Birmingham based charity creating opportunities to see, make and be curious about contemporary craft. This year is the 11th time that the project has taken place.

The event showcases the work of art, craft and design graduates from across the UK, bringing the work of emerging artists to new audiences. Everyone is welcome and it is free to watch and take part.

The 2024 cohort of In:Site artists includes Joanne Lamb whose work reconnects with nature through textiles — like the piece she has made, above. The artworks created with the public will be on display inside the Cathedral and around Pigeon Park until May 27. More
The biggest football exhibition of its kind runs at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, May 25 to Sept 1. Football: Designing the Beautiful Game, will showcase items from players including Pelé and Lionel Messi, alongside memorabilia from local footballing heroes. It features more than 200 objects on loan from The National Football Museum in Manchester and the FIFA Museum in Zurich, as well as from private collectors. Free

An update from the crew at Flatpack Festival on the future of The Electric Cinema can be found here. Anyone wishing to learn more about the proposed plans for the Station Street site can attend an open session being held by developers Glenbrook at Birmingham Open Media today (May 16), between midday and 7pm.  

100 Days of Creativity, an extensive programme of artistic events and activities, is being staged in Brum this summer, taking place across the city from Sunday (May 19) to August 26. Full details 

The RBSA Portrait Prize Exhibition is now open and runs until June 8. This is the first Portrait Prize since 2019 and there's a huge variety of media on display with both traditional and contemporary portraiture represented. More

Childish Gambino will play Utilita Arena, December 3 and tickets go on sale here tomorrow (May 17) at 10am.

If you're looking for something to do with the kids this weekend I have major fond memories of going to Colourscape in Cannon Hill Park as a youngster. £11.25  

Went to see Hamilton at Bristol Hippodrome yesterday, prior to its arrival at Brum Hippodrome, June 25. Suffice to say it's a six out of five show. Tickets

I don't want to make your crests fall but there will be no issue of ICB next Thursday. Normal service resumes May 30.
WORDS: Tom Cullen
PICS: Jon Blundell (Henry Wong)


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“Me? I’m scared of everything. I’m scared of what I saw, I’m scared of what I did, of who I am, and most of all I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.”




Dirty Dancing
 



 
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