Winterfest Review by Will Davies

Read below for a review of Winterfest/Winterreise by Fine Art student, Will Davies:

Warwick Bar Winterfest.

Minerva Works is set to be a hot spot in Birmingham’s growing art scene. It already houses Grand Union and the newly formed Stryx, and on the 14th and 15th became the staple mark for a variety of galleries and independent artists to take over and create a beautiful and engaging symposium of works. Winterfest was an incredible transformation of the warehouses and derelict buildings towards the canal. Where the Ikon Slow Boat was moored operating as a symbol of hope on which the art scene in Birmingham could be able to move throughout the nation to become a great hub for contemporary practising artists.

The repertoire of the institutions involved is quite remarkable as it covered the broadest section of Birmingham’s scene, from the well-established Ikon gallery to the unveiling of Stryxwith the first public launch. Ikon gallery displayed its slow boat as well as its Ikon Youth Programme, documenting their progression through the year in series of videos and sound pieces. ESP (Extra Special Persons), part of Eastside Projects, displayed Five Song. This used emerging artists who are immersed in a variety of mediums to create a space so hauntingly perplexing that one would struggle to not me moved by it.  Black Dogs, a collective from Leeds, have built a somewhat graveyard of unwanted festive presents with placards acting as tombstones describing why they were unwanted – with the nature of the space, a disused warehouse, it would seem that there could be a no more fitting environment for this exhibition.  However there are three pinnacle participants that really became the highlight of Winterfest.

Paul Newman and Cathy Wade, both independent artists in the city, held an immense performance over the two day festival. The space they inhabited was a particularly dire one, with lots of rubble and bare raw materials setting the scene. Along the floors and walls was glitter being sprinkled by a masked character as she ominously drones around the space. At the end of the room is a hut laced in colourful glittery ribbons with a man in a suit and Frankenstein mask rocking back and forth. In the space are the perpetual first two bars of a Christmas song that, as the viewer investigates more and more makes the decrepit domesticity become somewhat appealing and rather homely. For the space, at first, is dully surreal and unexplainable and for some could be a wright off, but for those who did encroach on this disintegrated home life, it is something far more spectacular. The space becomes a parallel of a family home but seemingly far more disastrous, as it is the resolution of years of deprivation and deterioration to an absurdly dystopian reality.

Stryx are a brand new group of artists who have recently graduated from the school of art and are going to make their mark on the art scene. They occupy a space below Grand Union, and tonight despite not having an exhibition have wonderfully introduced people to the gallery lending towards allowing people to see what could be and will be done with area over the next twelve months. Projected on a wall at the far end of the gallery is an integrated video displaying images of each of the six members work with a Spanish television show also named Stryx. This tongue in cheek humour is just what was needed to allow people into the space and keep it on their minds in the build-up for their opening show.

Grand Union unleashed a series of fantastical performances housed within the confines of their latest exhibition (On) Accordance in a Hashfail curated by Open File. One example was an impressively choreographed situational command of the artist. Standing in front of a projector a person comes out in a white morph suit and a cape that acts like a Bridget Riley painting. The projector then plays a series of composed visual sequences with accompanying soundtracks that entail a list of actions that he or she must do. These varied from dance moves to jumping up and down. The visuals and the audio were all being controlled from the side by a video game controller which could be used to change the progression of the performance at will. In hindsight, this abject control of the performer and the detachment from control involved in Cathy Wade and Paul Newman’s work was a wonderful metaphor for the night and for the Birmingham art scene as a whole. Working together and embracing the new to create a hub for the generations coming through the city that need that opportunity to be available to them.