I'm stood in Millennium Point, people watching. The reactions, though almost identical, are each an absolute joy to behold. Head down, going about their day, passers-through, students, employees; they'll all spot a seven metre replica of planet Earth, rotating slowly in the building's enormous atrium. A huge smile will appear on their faces and out will come the phones. I could watch it for ages. So I do.
WHAT IS IT?
Called Gaia, the piece was created by UK artist Luke Jerram, whose other works include sculptures, large-scale installations and live art projects. He's the guy behind In Memoriam, which came to Aston Hall in May of last year. Created from 120dpi-detailed NASA imagery of the Earth’s surface and measuring seven metres in diameter, Gaia invites visitors to appreciate the beauty of our planet. And, for me, the sheer bloody size of the Pacific! The artwork is 1.8 million times smaller than Earth, with each centimetre of the internally lit sculpture depicting 18km of the Earth’s surface. By standing 211m away from the artwork — which is a little tricky in its current home — you'll see the Earth as it appears from the Moon. Suspended from above, the artwork is accompanied by a specially created composition by BAFTA award-winning composer Dan Jones. It's all very dreamlike. In fact, the installation creates a sense of the ‘Overview Effect’, which was first described by author Frank White in 1987. Common features of the experience for astronauts are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment. Gaia also acts as a mirror to major events in society. The artwork provides the viewer with a new perspective of our place on the planet, in light of the pandemic. It's, literally, jaw-dropping.
GLOBAL WARMING AND SUSTAINABILITY
As wonderful as the smiles are, there's a serious note of caution. NASA has reported that the current global warming trend is of particular significance because it is unequivocally the result of human activity since the mid-20th century, and is proceeding at an unprecedented rate. It is undeniable that human activities have increased global temperatures and that widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and biosphere have occurred. The UN found that ‘2019 was the second warmest year on record and the end of the warmest decade (2010-2019) ever recorded. Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rose to new records in 2019.’ In June 2019, the West Midlands Combined Authority declared a climate emergency and set a zero-carbon target for the West Midlands by 2041. Their ambitious plan to reduce carbon emissions requires action from all of us.
...It's the perfect setting for Gaia. Last time the piece was in the West Midlands, in Coventry, it was sat motionless on the ground. Here, it takes its place above us, Millennium Point's levels, lifts and escalators offering perfect viewing platforms and vantage points — the artwork taking on a new aesthetic by night. Millennium Point is something of an unsung hero for the city, in my opinion. All profits from their commercial activities are reinvested into the organisation’s charitable trust, which supports STEM-related projects and initiatives in Brum and the West Mids. As a charity they invest £5m each year into helping local communities access STEM education. This eight-week installation — and accompanying programme — is their latest initiative to help entertain, educate and inspire. You can book to host events underneath the globe, here. There is no better talking point.
The eight-week run is filled with a raft of events and screenings including a Silent Disco on March 19 (£10) and a showing of Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juilet on the city's biggest screen (£20 with bubbles). There's free yoga classes beneath Gaia, too, as well as kid-friendly screenings (Moana and The Little Mermaid) plus plenty more.
Gaia is free to visit (excluding the special events) and no booking is necessary. It's on display until March 28. Millennium Point is in the Eastside of Birmingham City Centre just five minutes' walk from Moor Street and 15 minutes' from New Street
Venue: Purecraft Bar & Kitchen, 130 Waterloo Street, B2 5TJ; website Choice: Chicken & Ham Hock Pie (£30 for two) Chooser: Head Chef
'Birmingham, you deserve a decent pie' posted a mischievous Purecraft Bar & Kitchen on their social media; the Brum branch of 15-venue, nationwide chain restaurant, Pieminister, pictured perfectly in the background. I've never thought Pieminister — Purecraft's neighbour opposite — was that bad, but I believe Purecraft's head chef when he tells me their hero item is "most probably microwaved". Stuart Langdell and his team make their pies fresh, hence you need to allow a 30-minute cook time. It's worth waiting for. Eating it is like the first time you heard the Beatles, when across the way they're pumping out the bootleg brand. Puff pastry top and bottom — so the purists can't complain — it's filled, chockerblock, with Aubrey Allen chicken and ham hock. They've got the balance of sauce to ingredients bang on. Cut your pie open and the liquor won't spill out everywhere like a Downing Street knees-up; instead it will only ooze from inside if coaxed by a little pressure placed on the lid. Worry not; a jug of rich chicken gravy is supplied so your creamy, almost silky mash won't go wanting for sauce, while the nutty kale (which wasn't on the menu, but was on offer) is the perfect green accompaniment. If you can tear yourself away from brewery-owner Purity's terrific Helles lager, then slosh your dinner back with Pure Soul, their citrusy joint venture with Jewellery Quarterites Burning Soul Brewery, or the coffee-rich Fixie Nitro Stout. Stuart — who undersells himself by insisting the food plays second fiddle to the beer — cut his teeth under the tutelage of Marco Pierre White, back when Marco Pierre White actually cut cooks' teeth. The potted shrimp, for example, is the exact potted shrimp Marco passed on to Stu. But the shrimp is for another time, folks. We are firmly in pie hunting season and the pickings are ripe in Purecraft. I know the "best in Birmingham" line gets reeled out a lot by those of us that review this great city's restaurants, so I won't fall into that trap. It might not be the best pie in Birmingham, but it's in the top one. Menu
FROM PRE-RAPH TO KINGS HEATH CAFF
“I’m always the student of art.” says Paul Seven, a local oil painter living in Kings Heath who portrays charming everyday scenes of the area. He’s a modest man who refuses to shout about his own talent and instead promotes local businesses and the developing “artists’ community” he sees within the suburb. Paul’s paintings eschew the usual Instagrammed spots, in favour of the quieter scenes: the milk float in the morning, the bus pulling out from the stop. Pictured above is a more unfamiliar scene from Avenue Road, sought for weeks: a sunny day with no graffiti on the bridge. Birds of a feather flock together, and it seems Kings Heath is becoming the artists’ quarter of Brum. The ‘cafe society’ of Kings Heath is perhaps the catalyst for the burgeoning scene, with many displaying artists’ work and supporting local talent, with special mentions to the artists’ hubs of Kitchen Garden Cafe and Cartlands Tea Rooms. Paul’s own works are the product of his journey from “a poor GCSE grade”, through Pre-Raphaelite inspiration, which he describes as being “like hearing The Beatles for the first time”, into Abstract. After becoming disillusioned with his work and taking a break from painting, Paul settled on Traditionalism self-taught, using the vast resources available online, and focusing on the realistic scenes of suburban Birmingham. His technique is fascinating, having moved from the camera obscura method (freehand drawing from a projected image) to tracing and drawing from photographs, once his projector packed in. After drawing in the framework, Paul works on several layers of painting, spending between 100 and 120 hours on each piece. You can see his process in one quick vid here, to appreciate the effort involved in building up what appears as a simple scene. As a perpetual student of art, Paul’s keen to portray space, with his sights set on Jodrell Bank. Being rooted in realism doesn’t stop him reaching for the stars. Paul’s work is amongst many on sale at the Kitchen Garden Cafe. You can also contact him on Facebook to buy his prints, priced £30-35, or buy his oil originals, from £1,500.
WHAT TO DRINK AND WHEN TO DRINK IT: A TOP 50 SPECIAL
Our resident cocktail pro, Robert Wood, picks out a winning cocktail at each of the three Brum venues that featured in this week's illustrious UK Top 50 Bars list...
"Independent bar owners up and down the country sat on the edge of their bar stools this week, as Tuesday heralded the 2022 Top 50 Bars announcement. Contrary to similar lists that fall foul of excessively London-centric nods, the majority of the list was dotted around the UK in thirteen cities outside of the capital, including, of course, Birmingham. Stirchley’s outstanding neighbourhood cocktail hangout, Couch, came in at No.37 with the ever Instagram-friendly Pineapple Club joining them at No.44. Jewellery Quarter bolthole, Ikigai, meanwhile brought home the Newcomer of the Year award. Huge congratulations to all three, especially given the insanely hard couple of years bars and restaurants have just had. My favourite cocktail in Birmingham right now is served at Couch. Leather & Lace [pictured] is an Old Fashioned style drink with inexplicable complexity from macadamia, toffee and chocolate, with the spice of rye whiskey fighting a hint of smoke too. If you prefer your drinks a little bit sweeter and fruitier, then Great Western Arcade’s Pineapple Club will be right up your... umm... arcade. Um Bongo Juice from their new ‘Considered Drinking’ menu celebrates female-owned cordial company, Fitzpatrick’s, in a fun and fruity explosion of appealing flavours. Don’t forget your neon wings photo while you're there. For something more serious, book a table at Ikigai (situated above Jewellery Quarter’s 1000 Trades) where the cocktail menu is in fact a subway map of Tokyo. My favourite is Shimokitazawa, an awesome, redistilled Manhattan with miso, white chocolate and sesame, made in collaboration with a local distillery. Get booked in at one or, ideally, all of them."
WHAT A PALAVER (PARTY)
If you think there ain't no party like a Downing Street party, well, my friend, you ain't seen nothing yet. Imagine what a Jacobean stately home full of kids can get like when led by some of Brum's best entertainers. As part of LGBT+ History Month, an enormous party for wee ones and their grown-ups will be spearheaded by Brum's own Fatt Butcher on February 23, alongside a spectacular line-up of drag and cabaret performers. Palaver Party is a journey through the historic rooms of Aston Hall, during which everyone is free to be whoever they want to be. The shindig will include music, stories, performances, DIY costume-making, party games, and even a rainbow disco in the Long Gallery. Just as infamous raver, Sir Thomas Holte intended, when he had the thing built in the 1600s. Suitable for ages three to eight, it promises to be a half term hootenanny unlike anything before. It's £9 for adults and £5 for the little lunatics. More
THE DROIDS YOU'RE LOOKING FOR
I pretend I'm not still massively into Star Wars at the age of 41 but, to be honest, I wouldn't pass a lie detector. The saucy tattoo of Salacious B. Crumb I have on the inside left thigh is a tell-tale sign. As such, and in spite of Michael Fabricant, I'm off to Lichfield to coo and ooh over one of the UK's finest collections of vintage Star Wars toys and original cinema posters. From 1977 to 1985 an estimated 300 million action figures were sold, the toys outselling the movies massively. 'May The Toys Be With You' (disappointed look to camera) is a celebration of the now highly collectable vintage line. It comes with some iconic design work and art, the exhibition having broken visitor attendance records at a host of museums around the country. The show is on until March 19 at The Hub and is free to anyone who has a permanent tattoo of a Kowakian monkey-lizard. And anyone who doesn't. Book
'Don Quixote', Carlos Acosta's brand-new production for Birmingham Royal Ballet, opens 10 February. From £23 —
You get a bowl of vindaloo with your Sunday roast at Stirchley's Verbena. And the reason why is lovely. Tell me —
Improbably there are still a number of tickets available for Jack Dee at the Hippodrome on Saturday, Feb 5, 8pm. From £26 — South Birmingham Curry Club will be at Herbert's Yard, Longbridge, on Saturday and the brilliant Beef on the Block are newly resident at Hockley Social. —
British Leyland is the throwback subject of Provide's newest t-shirt... and it's glorious. £30 —
Caribbean cafe, Noir, is slowly but surely soft opening where Bloom used to be, on Kings Heath's Poplar Rd. Elsewhere, godlike chicken traders, Greidy's, will open tentatively in the next few days in Stirchley. Both are only really active on Instagram for now. —
WORDS: Tom Cullen, Robert Wood
PICS: Tony Elvin (Gaia at night)
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"It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living."