Balsall Heath Academy of Contemporary Art

Taking its name from the many ad hoc English tuition academies popping up overnight around the local area, the Balsall Heath Academy of Contemporary Art (BHACA) offered an 11-week course in contemporary art with a syllabus designed in response to the idiosyncrasies of Balsall Heath. This included: Fischli/Weiss and parking space savers; sculpting a pair of trainers from plastic bags, tape and cardboard; alternative currencies and Balsall Heath ‘credit’; the Neighbourhood Plan and public sculpture; dumped mattresses and the readymade; ‘unadopted’ spaces’ & Wastelands Twinning. Additional sessions were run by artists Rafal Zar, Robert Grose and Beth Bramich.  Sessions were held weekly at The Old Printworks and we also organised a series of 1 to 1 sessions with individual students. In the ‘Interview with Two Cats’  we talk about some of the results of the art school.

PART A. WEEKS 1 - 4: DIFFERENT ART-WORLDS

Week 1. Where are we now?

Idea: Introduction to the course. Alongside a talk about the Balsall Heath Biennale project and The Balsall Heath Academy of Contemporary Art, participants will introduce themselves and their interest in art.
Question
: What is the role or job of an artist? How can contemporary art exist in the ‘real’ world?
Afterwards
: Daydream about where you want to be in 5 years time (and how you will get there).
Reference
: Balsall Heath Biennale Colouring In Book.
(Thursday evening - 2hrs)

Week 2. Screen-printing merchandise

Idea: A screen-printing workshop in which we will print merchandise for the biennale (posters, bags, T-shirts) as a way of getting people to think more closely about their relationship with their neighbourhood and what cultural production might mean.
Question
: Which comes first - thinking or making?
Afterwards
: Developing slogans and logos to promote Balsall Heath.
Reference
: The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, Marshall Mcluhan
(Thursday evening - 2hrs)

Week 3. ‘Community Art’

Idea: Looking at the similarities and differences between contemporary art, craft and design through a case study of the arts organisation Grizedale Arts.
Question: What is ‘community art’?
Afterwards: Develop an idea that takes a craft activity (i.e. such as henna tattoo) and uses it to express a wider idea.
Reference: Grizedale Arts website
(Thursday evening - 2hrs)

PART B. WEEKS 5 - 8: THE WAYS THINGS GO (IN BALSALL HEATH)

Week 4. Radical Felt Making

Idea: Led by artist Rafal Zar, this workshop on felt-making will explore how a traditional craft activity can be subverted in new and interesting ways. Participants will be encouraged to experiment with this process in a practical hands-on making session.
Question: Why felt?
Afterwards: Felting in your free time.
Reference: Felt: don’t read it just feel it
(Saturday - 5 hrs)

Week 5. Context is everything

Idea: Explore how everyday objects can be art-works. We will look at the work of Jessica Stockholder, Hew Locke and Donald Judd in relation to objects - mattresses, furniture etc - that are normally dumped around Balsall Heath. Question: Can anything be art?
Afterwards: Identify and record, using photography / video features on your mobile phone, ‘art’ that you see on the streets of Balsall Heath.
Reference: The Unfindable Readymade, Hector Obalk
(Thursday evening - 2hrs)

Week 6. Fischli/Weiss and parking space savers in Balsall Heath

Idea: Continuing to focus on the theme of context from the previous week, we will watch The Way Things Go by Fischli/Weiss. We will then develop a series of sculptural ‘parking space savers’ or other interventions at street level.
Question: Can art prevent you from being bored ever again?
Afterwards: Make another intervention at street level in your own time and document the results.
Reference: Teachers' Notes: Andreas Slominski, The Serpentine Gallery 2005
(Thursday evening - 2hrs)

Week 7. Alternative Currencies: things you leave outside your house and Balsall Heath ‘credit’

Idea: Looking at how non-monetary systems of exchange (i.e. Bartering), we will discuss the work of artist Caroline Caycedo within the context of the ‘Balsall Heath Credit’ (items or objects that people leave outside their homes that may be of use to other people).
Question: What’s wrong with money? Why are artists concerned with systems of value?
Afterwards: Develop an idea for an alternative currency in Balsall Heath.
Reference: Gifts of Resistance, Gregory Sholette
(Thursday evening - 2hrs)

Week 8. Mimicry & the ‘Mockstitution’: How to sculpt a pair of trainers from local Balsall Heath resources

Idea: Led by artist Robert Grose this workshop will explore ideas around mimicry and copying originals. Using the biennale project ‘The Balsall Heath Tourist information Centre’ as a starting point, in this workshop you will use recycled materials to make sculptural, homemade trainers.
Question: Why would artists imitate corporate identities?
Afterwards: Come up with an idea for a fashion item made from a local waste product (i.e. Pizza box).
Reference: The Materiality of Domestic Waste: The Recycled Cosmology of the Dogon of Mali (Lawrence Douny) / www.theyesmen.org
(Saturday - 5 hrs)

PART C - WEEKS 9 - 11: ART & THE REAL WORLD

Week 9. Public art & the Balsall Heath neighbourhood plan

Idea: Taking the Balsall Heath neighbourhood plan as a starting point we will explore ideas around public sculpture by looking at two biennale projects: Public Art Shares & Public Sculpture Colouring In Posters.
Question: Why do we need art in the public realm?
Afterwards: Design a public art project for Balsall Heath that reflects local idiosyncrasies (i.e. Ice cream vans, scrap metal men, stray cats) attending the public art commissioning event Reference: Situations website
(Thursday evening - 2hrs)

Week 10. ‘Unadopted’ spaces in Balsall Heath & Wastelands Twinning

Idea: Led by curator & writer Beth Bramich this session will introduce a world-wide initiative called Wasteland Twinning, that seeks to re-use, map or transform abandoned urban environments. Within Balsall Heath vernacular, there is something called an ‘unadopted space’, small patches of land that have become neglected. You will develop designs and potential solutions to how to use some of these sites.
Question: What is the relationship of art to other disciplines, such as architecture or urban gardening, that also deal with neglected urban environments?
Afterwards: Developing the design / model for the re-use of an unadopted space within Balsall Heath.
Reference: Wastelands Twinning
(Saturday - 5 hrs)

Week 11. The Future for you & the Balsall Heath Academy of Contemporary Art

Idea: A detailed exploration of the art world beyond Balsall Heath. We will spend the day visiting Eastside Projects, Grand Union, Friction Arts, Ikon and BMAG. This will involve taking in exhibitions, introducing professional development programmes in the region and discussing the benefits of volunteering to gain further experience (where possible we will arrange for members of staff to give introductions).
Question: How does the art world operate? Who are all these people? How do they earn a living?
Afterwards: Writing an evaluation of your experiences on this course.
Reference: Art Monthly or Art Review
(Saturday - 5 hrs)


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