GPS drawing from two laps around Eastside, Nikki Pugh
Today we would like to present another Digbeth related art project by Nikki Pugh, Birmingham based artist. She was repeatedly walking around the perimeter that defines Eastside for a month and a half, trying to pay attention to how these spaces are being used at different times and by different groups of people. ‘In 2006 this was mostly all unknown territory to me – she writes. - By 2009 it was still mostly unknown territory, but now with small incursions around Digbeth and Curzon Street. When I decided I wanted to return to some of the questions raised by the area’s regeneration, it was apparent that my first step should not to be to research it in an academic manner, and subject myself to all the spin, but to get out there and experience it directly’.
Artist was documenting the process of walking using a GPS technology, which logged her position once every second. She was interested to see how the cityscape affected her position as seen by the machines. As Nikki writes on her blog, GPS is not as accurate device as we would expect. ‘Looking at the results from any one walk I can see a whole host of different glitches and errors. To be honest, they’re what make GPS an interesting thing for me to work with’ – she writes. She finally invited other people to join her for an investigative walk. They were walking, exploring and documenting this fascinating area. Photographs and video from this escapade you can find here and here.
You can also buy a 'Document one: 2009', publication documenting the project . The book comprises details of an artwork by Pugh, photographs contributed by participants of a Walk and Talk event and also texts by Ben Waddington, Joe Holyoak and Tracey Fletcher.
Through our recent research we were excited to discover Digbeth had an Italian Quarter, further fuelling our interest in Digbeths diverse social heritage. From the early 19th century Italians began to immigrate to Britain due to major changes within Italy such as the Napoleonic occupation, famine and increased population growth. Many Italians began to undertaking seasonal migration to surrounding nations, a number arrived in Britain and stayed.
By the mid 19th century an Italian quarter began to develop around Fazeley Street in Digbeth and this area was nicknamed ‘Little Italy’. During the 19th and early 20th Century the Italians in this district were best know in the city for making and selling ice-cream, being successful in this trade until WW2, often selling from hand-carts and attracting customers by ringing handbells.
Following WW2 however many Italian men who had lived in Britain for less than 20 years were treated with suspicion, many were sent to camps in different parts of Britain. This, and the redevelopment of the central bomb-damaged district led to the rapid dispersal of the community.
An interview with Joseph Mattiello MBE, an ex-resident of the Italian Quarter, reveals interesting points about the integration between Digbeth's communities. He explained that St Michael's Church on Albert Street, a traditional place of worship for Italians in the area, was also known as the Polish and the Irish Church.
In almost every bigger city in the UK you can find Polish Centre. Polish people have travelled here throughout the centuries. However, many Poles arrived to Great Britain as political émigrés during and after the Second World War, and during communism time. After Poland's entry into the European Union in May 2004 new generation of Poles have arrived here and it is estimated that presently Polish diaspora has around 30,000 people in Birmingham.
In Birmingham Polish Club ( aka Polish Millenium House) is based in Digbeth, and was established in 1963 by Poles connected with local Polish Catholic church, for their own money.
Nowadays, Polish Club is much less popular throughout Polish community than it used to be.
Why? According to Guardian “This place is a real oddity. Very old fashioned and mainly inhabited by ageing Poles. Pictures of the (last) Pope abound ”, and there is much truth in it. Nevertheless, I enjoy the food in the restaurant and this specific 'travel in time' climate whenever I go there.
You can find a restaurant, an English-style pub and a shop there. From time to time they also organise some cultural events, activities for mothers and children, as well as choir classes. Polish Club have rooms for hire, so don't be surprised if you find a bridal shop there, Polish Secondary School and even a University! On Saturdays they organise Saturday's Polish School, where children of emigrants can learn Polish. Troubling for me is only that this place represent the entire Polish community in Birmingham, when in fact is shaped mainly by the older generation focused around the Catholic Church.
This German-English couple have been coming to the Polish Shop in Millennium House since 1969. 40 years ago this was the only one Polish shop in Birmingham – says Rita - nowadays there are dozens. I met them while they were waiting for fresh bread for already 2 hours! They know when bread is delivered, so usually they come just on time, but this day the driver was late, so they had to wait.
Yesterday was the deadline for Polish artists applying to take part in the residency scheme in Birmingham. Thank you to all those who submitted their applications, we've had an overwhelming response. We now have the exciting task of reviewing applications and will let you know the results very soon!
Unfortunately we didn't win, but we had tremendous fun taking part and left with bellies full of sugary goodness. The overall winner was TROVE with an amazingly decadent rainbow snow ball cake. Joint second prize went to More Canals Than Venice with a tasty chocolate and beetroot cake and Kino 10 who produced some yummy blueberry and cinnamon muffins.