Liquid Assets, a set of photos taken in Oozells Square, are part of a larger collection of Blossom Photos taken at various locations – housing estates, parks, roadsides – around Birmingham. Though drawn to the surreal layering of air born petals and the transformative powers of nature, it’s often the more sinister hinter layers of the human world that undertow.
This set of photos, taken March 2011, named after both the liquidity crisis that caused the banks to crash 2007/8 and the software tool used for manipulation, emphasise a ‘black mirror’ dystopia. Finance and culture goad each other from opposite sides of the square, while intervening restaurant clientele who ‘talk the talk’ are served by an ‘alienated workforce’. Incapable of making equitable change, this is a world where man trips over his own ascension, infrastructure distorts and the very fabric of nature disintegrates.
Earlier this year George Saunders used Einstein’s, “No worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.” to illustrate the creative process. Images and writing take on their own synaesthesia, in the same way that a ‘decisive moment’ is captured and enhanced by subsequent processing.
Some work remains idiomatic; i.e. the disturbing overlap between higher levels of the government and big banks, due to privatisation of the state through mechanisms such as the PFI/PPP continue. The house-price bubble may have burst but the deflating mathematics of global derivatives (contracts that take their value from the performance of an underlying asset) are proving hard to adjust.
John and Fiona first took over the four-acre plot in Thurrock long before The Green Noose (Tom Papworth’s report for the free market Adam Smith Institute) encircled its prey. The plot’s only home was a small ramshackle bungalow, one of many Dunton ‘Plotland’ homes built between 1900 and 1940 by Londoners, utilising farmland that became redundant after the agricultural depression. These homes were mainly occupied at weekends and holidays until the outbreak of the Second World War, when many ‘plotlanders’ moved out to their plots to escape the blitz. By the time Fiona and John moved in, in 1990, the basic amenities had changed little. Apart from the abundant mice, a very vulnerable electricity and limited water supply had just about survived. Having sparse evidence of former agricultural use, the land resembled a scene from Mad Max: Dunton Scrub, marked by abandoned trucks, complete with V8 engines.
In the intervening years, the supercharged occupants have worked a glorious transformation. Scrub has been replaced with wildflower meadows, copse and ponds, providing habitats for a wide diversity of plants, insects and animals. A modest eco-friendly, turf roof bungalow perches on stilts to accommodate the hill-drop and give vantage to a scene where large ships glide between hazy clouds of foliage. They have sustained the Grass Roof Co. and contribute to other businesses that continue to flourish. Created a rolling stock of features including a vegetable garden, experimental turf roof structures and sheds, a spectacular adventure playground of a tree house erected around a grand willow and more recently an outdoor room built from two used containers http://www.grassroofcompany.co.uk/green-roof-containers.htm. Not to mention having two children, entertaining family and friends, and hosting many training and music events.
These photos, taken in March 2016 reveal the bare bones, flowers and butterflies lain dormant as the mists chill. They mark a quarter of a century of graft and guile, a stage of development where each area of land has been worked, sculpted and allocated its purpose. Documented recent constructions cover an impressive willow hedge boundary, twig hedging and upturned roots. For many of us living in urban areas where a lack of regulation has consumed vast areas of garden, Fiona and John’s has become an annual camping, haven. A place for feral chickens, children and adults to make mischief, to badly master a coracle, climb a tree, risk a spin in the Méhari or hideout in a half buried 2CV – a surreal continuity, take a deep breath, and celebrate with kindred spirits and open eyes. Thankfully, we have another photo-shoot planned.
Occasionally subjects collide and reverberate on an inward trajectory like the clash of cymbals and more rarely still, light scatters to spotlight a hidden area which would otherwise remain silent. There are other image collections where lens flare plays for attention and its effects are welcome in embedding the physical materials of nature within the frame and extending breathability. There is however, one image in this collection, where like a divine providence its hexagonal haze carries just enough light to detect a crouched figure. Accompanied by shopping trolley and discarded cup his plight remains hidden from the crescent moon that adorns the Premier Inn towering behind the mirrored facade above him.
The Grand Central makes a reckless playground for photographers. The active eye skies the undulating curves and as a proper swimmer the cloud-scape flips to sea, but it’s in reflecting the epoch of the Anthropocene where this recumbent beast excels. There are no other welcome species here only rivers of steel and token foliage clinging on. Like big brother the indefatigable advertising eye stuns its prey into submission, ensnaring the sufficiently solvent into the light-filled atrium to quaff toxic particulates with the fizz.
This aggrandised refurbishment is not without merit though clearly it has been compromised by project management when compared with architect AZPML’s (Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Maider Llaguno) original plan. The concept of a light-filled atrium and stainless steel skin reflecting movement of trains, commuters, shoppers and sky-scape remain integral albeit dumbed down. Nonetheless, its assets radiate liability. Leaving aside the endemic shortfalls of property developers and project management the playful element of this inside out hall of mirrors is heavily tempered by the all too real phantasmagoria contained and revealed. The bigger selfie exposes, a permanently dependent pseudo-apprenticeship, minimum waged, frequently zero hours contract, service economy and perhaps worse yet a complete lack of any other identifiable, sustainable form of life. The ‘We’re transforming Birmingham New Street’ billboards on Navigation Street promise metamorphosis. If only this lumbering mass of concrete and steel had the power to transmute the all too evident narcissistic personality disorder and fill it with light.