Once renowned the world over as the ‘city of a thousand trades’, Birmingham’s reputation as a global centre for manufacturing is largely a thing of the past. Today, once bustling and noisy factories are left to crumble, barely visible eyesores in a post-industrial landscape.
Inspired by interviews with former workers, artist Ben Nichol has set out to document Birmingham’s relatively recent industrial past in a new exhibition, Parched Ground. He’s filmed, recorded and photographed the decaying remains of factories whose products were once exported across the world. Now stripped of all their assets, vandalised and weather beaten, only passing clues of the buildings’ original purpose lingers.
Among the subjects are the former home of Typhoo Tea, on Bordesley Street, Digbeth, closed in 1978 and partly demolished to make way for a car park; what is now Sandhar and Kang Cash and Carry on Birchall Street; and various buildings on Birmingham’s canal network – a once vital link in the transportation of goods to and from the city.
Parched Ground brings together a collection of colour images, video installations, soundscapes, sculptures and found objects that explore the rise and fall of Birmingham’s position as a manufacturing powerhouse.
Says Ben: “Some of the former factory workers I interviewed in preparing this project explained how they’d worked for the same company for the majority of their lives, only for them to close, one after the other. One retired worker told me ‘Birmingham used to be known as the city of a thousand trades – now where is it?’ and that really resonated with me.”
Ben Nichol is a Loughborough-based artist whose work often explores the realms of popular culture. Previous projects have touched on such subjects as mental health, politics and consumerism.
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