The Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham

It’s not often that you walk through the centre of Birmingham and overhear families and friends greeting each other asking: ‘Are you going to the library?’ In fact I am sure that is not a phrase often heard anywhere in modern Britain. Perhaps the new £189m, nine-story Library of Birmingham will change this.

Sixteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai gave an inspirational talk at the opening of the library on Tuesday 3rd September, urging the public to remember and speak out for the 57 million children around the world that do not have an education. Her speech was followed by a performance by dhol drummers and a big queue to enter the building.

Looking down on the children's area

Looking down on part of the children’s area

Once inside, the emphasis on learning is evident. With a vast children’s section including a soft-play-type area for children to read comfortably, the library provides a fun and relaxed space to engage with books, far from old notions of a library being a silent, somewhat stagnant place.

'A Midsummer Night's Dream', Su Blackwell

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Su Blackwell

What makes the venue stand out for me is that it is more like an arts centre than a library. Interspersed with gardens, cafés, an art gallery, music practice rooms, an amphitheatre, lecture rooms, artworks, a BFI Mediatheque and so much more, the space looks set to cater to a whole range of people and tastes.

The Rotunda

The Rotunda

‘Amazing’ was a word that echoed throughout the building: never before have I seen or felt such excitement for a library. The beautifully designed rotunda gives the interior a prestigious feel and on the opening day, it was lined with volunteer brass players who presented Together We Breathe’, a piece by Super Critical Mass.

A view down to the amphitheatre from one of the terraces

A view down to the amphitheatre from one of the terraces

What I realised as I was walking around the beautiful building is that people are not just excited about a new library. We are excited about what this structure symbolises. It shows investment in Birmingham, despite the financial crisis. It shows that the public are cared and provided for by their city and that Birmingham is in fact a place that is growing and alive. Indeed as Malala stated in her speech, a city without a library is like a graveyard.

Library interior

Library interior

My only hope is that the library continues to excite and amaze and that it truly becomes a place where a diverse community can learn and enjoy the arts together.

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‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’ at the British Library

Inside the British Library

Inside the British Library

Sincere or deceptive, shocking or amusing.

The British Library’s extensive and thorough exhibition, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion focuses on different definitions of propaganda and seeks to distance the viewer from the often negative connotations associated with the word.

'This poster, titled 'Freedom American-Style' subverts the traditional symbolism of the Statue of Liberty, by B. Prorokov.' (Photograph of exhibition postcard)

‘This poster, titled ‘Freedom American-Style’ subverts the traditional symbolism of the Statue of Liberty, by B. Prorokov.’ (Photograph of exhibition postcard)

It starts with early forms of propaganda, explaining the way in which the Romans used pictures on coins to reach the illiterate public. The exhibition explains how authorities have continued to manipulate the arts, using currency, monuments, national anthems, comic books and even board games to reach the masses.

A hugely comprehensive and information-heavy exhibition, I would advise allowing a good few hours at the British Library if you want to see everything in detail!

South African board game. Picture of postcard

South African board game. (Photograph of exhibition postcard)

Films

The exhibition offers thorough contextual information that is vital to understanding propaganda which is often carefully tailored to best suit specific cultures, societies and eras. While there is a lot to read, present-day academics and media people have also been filmed talking about various aspects of propaganda. Clips of these films are shown throughout the exhibition.

I also particularly enjoyed some short black and white films from the World Wars that were almost like black comedy in their satire of enemy nations. One film ridiculing Hitler used video footage of Nazi marches and salutes. The footage was cut up, sped up, slowed down, mashed together and put to comical music in an attempt to undermine the enemy.

Wartime

Another highlight was an audio clip from a 1941 radio show in which two women discuss saving money at Christmas by serving mutton instead of turkey. The comical episode follows their discussion as they discuss ways of eating mutton as turkey and decide to name it ‘murkey’.

Health

Health propaganda poster (Photo of exhibition postcard)

Health propaganda poster (Photo of exhibition postcard)

The exhibition also showed the ways in which propaganda is used by the state for other issues such as health. A series of screens displayed the BFI collection of public health films. Some used shock tactics, while others were funny. I wonder which method is found to be most effective.

Today

The last section of the exhibition asks the visitor to reflect on who the propagandists are today: the state or the media? The last exhibit is an entire wall taken up with the projections of a live twitter debate on #BLPROPAGANDA

Beautifully ironic poster for 'Propaganda: Power and Persuasion'

Beautifully ironic poster for ‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’

This blog post has only vaguely touched on the absolutely huge content of ‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’. It is a fascinating exhibition for anyone, particularly in the way it encourages deeper thoughts about what is pulling and pushing us today.

‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’ is only on for a few more weeks until 17th September. Catch it while you can!

Mini Internet Roundup

A few things of interest this sunny Thursday evening.

BBFC gets Railway Children complaint

Health and safety gone mad! This article made me chuckle.

Art Everywhere: A very very big art show

An exciting initiative that aims to see tens of thousands of billboards across the country transformed into British masterpieces.

Why the humanities? Professor of history discusses the value found in humanities courses

Martin Jay makes a compelling argument for the humanities:

‘the humanities can compel us to reflect on the premises we take too quickly for granted and the values we uncritically accept.’

A recent graduate in English Literature and History of Art, this topic is very close to my heart. Here’s hoping future employers are reading this…

Hiatus Kaiyote

I’m currently on my way to see this band in London. The link takes you to a YouTube clip of Nakamarra.

Internet Roundup

Currently in the very last week of my university finals, I am barely leaving my house. I have therefore comprised a list of ten internet articles and videos on music, dance, visual art and architecture that I have enjoyed this week and hope you do too.

Visual Art

1. ‘Justin Rowe book art opens British Academy Literature Week’

Justin Rowe (image taken from BBC article)

Justin Rowe (image taken from BBC article)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-22597417

This is an article about an artist making beautiful stories out of books from charity shops. Upcycling at its best!

2. ‘Exchange: 1,000 Good Deeds at the Foundling Museum’

http://www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk/events/view/exchange-clare-twomey/

I’ve been meaning to visit the Foundling for a while and I will now make sure that I visit between 14th June and 15th September. Artist Clare Twomey has designed this simple concept: an individual can take away an exhibited teacup as long as they do the good deed hidden underneath it on the saucer. A simple exchange, and one that will hopefully see lots of lives affected in a positive way.

The Foundling Museum is now welcoming suggestions for good deeds to include in the piece – send them any ideas on their website.

3. ‘Baroque The Streets: world artists unleashed in South London’

Pablo Delgado (image from Evening Standard site)

Pablo Delgado (image taken from Evening Standard article)

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/baroque-the-streets-world-artists-unleashed-in-south-london-8623245.html

I love a bit of (good) street art and this project is a collaboration between Dulwich Picture Gallery and Street Art London to bring an array of great work.

4. Will Gompertz ‘Too Famous to See?’

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-22595987

This one is for the art historian in me. Gompertz discusses the implications of an artwork becoming iconic and assesses the way in which a piece may lose its original meaning, becoming instead a tick box on a list of must-see artworks.

Music

5. ‘Newton Faulkner & Sam Brookes cover of Daft Punk – Get Lucky’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36sOvS3M_1M

If you’ve been anywhere other than under a rock recently then you will have heard Daft Punk’s new single ‘Get Lucky’ ft. Pharrell Williams. This is an acoustic cover: two guitars, two voices and gorgeous harmonies.

6. ‘Mala – Introduction’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyADdq04xJQ

I was recently introduced to this song and it has featured heavily in my week. I intend to find more of his music soon.

7. ‘will.i.am – Bang Bang’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tqjl4nRSorM

This week will.i.am released his video for his new single ‘Bang Bang’, the third track on the hotly anticipated Great Gatsby soundtrack. I generally begin with a strong dislike of music by will.i.am but then come round to it as I hear it repeatedly played. However, I have to say, I enjoyed this song from the start. The video is very entertaining too. If nothing else, will.i.am’s work is an excellent lesson in branding – count the number of times you spot his logo in the video!

Dance

8. ‘Watch: Jon Bausor on designing for opera and ballet’

http://www.roh.org.uk/news/watch-jon-bausor-on-designing-for-opera-and-ballet

The Royal Opera House has posted a video interviewing Bausor about designing stage sets. Beautifully put together and highly informative, this is well worth a watch.

Architecture

9. ‘Are these the UK’s worst buildings ever?’

http://m.bdonline.co.uk/buildings/carbuncle-cup/are-these-the-uks-worst-buildings-ever?/5054729.mobile

Nominations for the 2013 Carbuncle Cup, given to the ugliest building, are now open. The previous winners can be seen by following the link above. Any ideas what might win this year?

Just For Fun

10. ‘iPhone 6’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbT0xy_Jai0

Obviously this is not a real product. But the video is so well done that I just had to include it in my roundup. Dramatic and epic are two words that come to mind.