In 2011, four artists – Michael Collins, Brian Griffin, Andrew Lacon and Stuart Whipps – were commissioned to create work in response to the old Central Library building and the new Library of Birmingham. The resulting photographs and sculptural forms were shown in Reference Works, the inaugural exhibition in the new Gallery at the Library of Birmingham when it opened in September 2013. Each artist had a distinctly different approach to the project that they outline in the video clips shown below.
Collins’s topographical approach included the use of high vantage points and a large format camera to document faithfully the construction of a 21st century library. His work was large in size and specific in detail in order to enable the audience to scrutinise the developing structure of the new building and the way in which it fitted into a wider pattern of building and reconstruction across Birmingham city centre.
Griffin’s composed yet often irreverent series of photographs portrayed some of the key people who had contributed to the creation of the new library, but with a Surrealist twist. For example, some were shown wearing Elizabethan ruffs in a reference to the Shakespeare Memorial Room at the top of the building: others are shown in unconventional poses, holding up rare books.
Lacon’s contribution to Reference Works was a series of sculptures that drew upon images from the archives and photographs that he had taken himself of the old Central Library building and the new one going up on site. He identified forms and structures and then created sculptures in response to them, using the same materials – concrete, steel and timber – that were found on the building site and in the archival images. The sculptures were exhibited alongside large scale prints of them that, along with the other new works, were subsequently taken into the Library’s photographic archive as objects in their own right. By encouraging us to ask whether a photograph is a document, an artwork or simply a method of documenting, his work questions its purpose within the context of an archive.
Stuart Whipps’s artistic practice looks at the way in which we choose to remember places that have been destroyed. He focused on photographing the Archives and the spaces normally hidden from public view in the old Central Library ahead of its demolition, thereby exploring the links between memory and documentation.
For details of some of Stuart's other projects, please click here.