The Urban Gallery: Smethwick and the City Centre.

Travelling back from Oldbury on the bus this morning, after a successful business meeting with Malthouse Engineering, I was sitting upstairs on the 87, experiencing the world of urban psychedelia in action. The alternatly vibrant and faded colours of Smethwick crammed together like a vivid kinetoscope, flickering before my very eyes. The soundtrack to this film was supplied by the young man who had awarded himself the status of top dog at the back of the bus,  the tinny sounds of hip hop straining through his smartphones jolted and stuttered with the buses maneuvers. I sunk into a reverie and let the unfolding scenes wash over me, my daydreams punctuated by the incessant screams of a young baby on the bottom deck. Screaming for its mother all the way down the Dudley Road to the City Road until Spring Hill, where Tescos is conjoined with the church.

I was on my way back to the centre of Birmingham for the Flatpack festival, and today was going to be devoted to exploring the Film Bug strand, located in the Colmore Business District. I was going to devote the best part of the day to this, starting with Dust in the Attic at the Urban Coffee Company, a programme devoted to showcasingarchive footage of Birmingham compiled and produced by the Media Archive for Central England;  then on to with Best of the Fests at Cafe Costes after that. The two programmes would alternate on Friday, but I wanted to catch them whilst I was in the area. After that would be This is the Point at the Birmingham School of Art, and then the main feature, the main part of the day – Birmingham Noir, the opening event at the Still Walking festival, which would take the walkers on a guided tour, showcasing the gothic architecture within the Birmingham district. Finally I would end up at the Electric Cinema, for a screening of Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss, a documentary about inmates on death row.

From past to present to future (well, morning, afternoon and the evening) I had already mapped out my day, and was thinking what the theme of this festival was, if in fact, there was a theme. When i’d seen the programme a few weeks ago, I thought re-incarnation, and circles of life, zombies and ghosts was a definite possibility. Spirits both in the day and the night. And with the Film-Bug strand, putting cinema in public spaces, this would be particulary apparant. Yesterday, I had been in Urban Coffee Company, sitting with the businesspeople draining cappucinos and sealing deals. Today, they would be faced with their past in the form of a television screen showing archive footage. The city as it was in the past, being shown in the present or, if in Costas, faced with the alternate worlds and possibilites present within animation and short film. True, they could choose to ignore it, but everytime they looked up, a different image would be carved on their minds. A memory triggered, or a thought sparked. As I thought about this, I passed a poster advertising the Da Vinci exhibition, and noticed that someone had drawn a pair of glasses on Leda, the tiny pen marks intermingling perfectly with her intricate wisps of hair. This was a piece of perfect post-modernism, no matter if the graffiti artist hadn’t intended it or not. It made me laugh anyway.

It was time for me to get off the bus, and after descending the steps, stood patiently next to a man whose hair smelt so much like an old ashtray, I felt like I needed to applaud him on his diligance. I didn’t though, and when the bus stopped at the infamous Snobs nightspot, I noticed another possible artistic juxtaposition that made me think; next to the kebab shop which was next door to the nightclub called Top Nosh, there was a poster showing a man with a coat of arms around him saying ‘Steak and BJ night.’ I made a mental note to google this later, and see exactly what this was all about. However for the time being, I needed to go back home to change my shoes. A day of walking and discovering was ahead. Going through The Mailbox, I noticed a previously empty shop in the Mailbox had now been taken over something called 48 Street, which on closer inspection had a pledge that it would transform the city into an urban gallery, through a series of challenging poster campaigns. As I went up the escalator, I was happy in the knowledge that this morning had proved to be that this was being done already.

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