With the final portable structure built and all action research and live tests completed, the next stage of Make/Shift/Space could begin. Four artist residencies were programmed throughout May and June 2016 that would enable the commissioned artists to practice-in-public and offer a range of engagement opportunities to passers-by and selected workshop groups.
As the first resident artist, I used the structure to walk and work within the streets of Digbeth, an industrial inner city neighbourhood of Birmingham. Responding to the site, I was aware of the structural and sculptural qualities of its built environment: paving, brickwork, and discarded material. I was also interested in its history as an important manufacturing hub; the terms “Workshop of the World” and “City of a Thousand Trades” come from this area’s role in establishing small, highly skilled firms that made a multitude of products. I began to link this with my own current research on women as makers and home-makers and the different meanings behind terminology such as labour.
Working with a women’s group in neighbouring Sparkbrook, we shaped clay in our hands and talked about the role of women, what work means to them and what they make. This conversational making led to the creation of clay slabs which were embedded with their hand-forms.
The references to construction in this area of re-development, also prompted the making of clay bricks using salvaged wood as the mould. Bricks had already started to interest me as a sculptural object and finding remnants of hand-made ones imprinted with the names of their maker further developed this fascination. This was underpinned by research into the inclusion of bricks into key aspects of scholarly discourse: in the Book Of The City of Ladies, Christine de Pizan builds an allegorical city that houses and defends women as valued participants in society with each building block representing a famous woman from history; this is juxtaposed with the first known example of written law found on the Urukagina Liberty Cones “if a woman to a male has spoken…words which exceeded [her rank]…onto the mouth of that woman a baked brick shall be cast, and that brick will be hung at the main gate”. As I discovered names of women that had manually worked in Birmingham’s trades during its heyday, it made me think of all the women that work and possibly also raise a family and look after a household at the same time and how these issues are still relevant and yet undervalued today. By including the name of an individual woman maker on a handmade brick, and through the repetition of this act, I hoped to show that Birmingham was also a City of Ladies.