General Public is the collaborative platform of artists Elizabeth Rowe and Chris Poolman. Broadly speaking, they devise large scale public art projects that incorporate elements of fiction, myth-making, local history re-invention and heritage rebooting. Often this process involves re-working or inverting an established model or institutional structure. Their approach is interdisciplinary and collaborative: they produce artworks (writing, film, print), devise collaborative frameworks, organise events, curate / commission other artists. Previous projects have included a re-interpretation of the biennale concept in inner-city Birmingham (Balsall Heath Biennale 2011 – 2013), a science fiction themed light festival exploring the politics of regeneration (Longbridge Light Festival, 2014), a community competition resulting in 4000 new coins for an inner city area of Birmingham (Handsworth Currency Competition 2014 -15) and an 18-month strategic touring exhibition that uses the migratory movements of hop-pickers as the conceptual basis for a tour (The Hop Project 2016-17). In 2018, they conceived & produced The Endless Village, an apocalyptic sitcom that investigates life in an imagined post-Brexit Britain of the future. This was presented as exhibitions at Eastside Projects and Aspex Portsmouth in 2018. Their current project is the ‘Heathland Festival, a ‘children’s festival of ideas’ that is occurring at Birmingham Community libraries over the 2018 summer holidays.
Heathland Festival: ‘A children’s festival of ideas’ 2018
Heathland Festival (‘A children’s festival of ideas’) is an innovative programme of art activities, literature, music and artworks for children and their families over the 2018 summer holidays. The ‘Heath’ libraries are geographically located on what was once ancient heathland, and the festival draws parallels between ancient common land and the ethos of public libraries. Based around five key themes (environment, equality, courage, migration and protest), the five-week programme will make complex ideas around sharing and public space accessible to children (and, of course, all children will be interested in sharing…).
The Endless Village 2017-18
Taking its name from a pioneering 1972 Bunny Teagle’s book exploring the natural history of Birmingham, The Endless Village re-imagines the UK in an imagined post-Brexit Britain. Investigating life, localism and future trade relations, its central element is a sitcom pilot (‘Banana Day’) set in Kingdom#3 of ‘Mydlande’. The UK no longer exists as we know it today. Instead it is a succession of endless villages, tribes and small self-sufficient (non) trading communities. Filmed on location in ‘urban-countryside’ in Birmingham, it will be presented as exhibitions at Eastside Projects (Birmingham) & Aspex (Portsmouth) in 2018.
The Hop Project 2016-17
The Hop Project tours Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Birmingham and the Black Country in 2016/17. Funded by Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Programme, the projects starting point is an exploration of the social and political implications of hop production in the West Midlands. The exhibition doesn’t seek to present a factual, social history of hops but uses the verb ‘hopping’ as a working method to explore a number of different ideas connected to the history of hop growing. The project tours to 15 venues including mac Birmingham in September 2017. See The Hop Project and newspaper.
Longbridge Light Festival 2016: ‘Very Civil’ Rights March
Handsworth Currency Competition 2014-15
Over 2014 and 2015 they developed a project at Soho House Museum, Birmingham as part of New Expressions 3, a major nationwide Arts Council initiative encouraging collaboration between contemporary artists and museums. This commission involved producing a set of new Handsworth coins featuring the profiles of local people, thousands of which were disseminated into the local community in May 2015, thereby writing migrants’ stories into the history of the site. The coins’ value – free museum access – was positioned within the context of city-wide cuts to cultural funding and reduced access to museums in Birmingham. See Handsworth and Handsworth publication.
Longbridge Light Festival 2014
In 2014 General Public were commissioned by public art agency WERK to develop and curate the inaugural ‘Longbridge Light Festival 2014’. The festival’s ‘Back to the Future’ theme used the metaphor of science fiction to explore the politics of regeneration.
The Balsall Heath Biennale 2011-13
Between 2011 and 2013, they developed a two-year multi-faceted project in Balsall Heath, the inner city suburb of Birmingham where they lived, called the Balsall Heath Biennale. This consisted of exhibitions, artworks, events, talks, a newspaper delivered to all 5000 homes in the local area, area wide competitions, publications, a community garden and a local contemporary art school. Academics at Birmingham University used the Balsall Heath Biennale as a case study as part of the AHRC-funded project ‘Cultural Intermediation and the Creative Urban Economy’. The biennale is captured in a triplet of publications – an A-Z colouring in book, newspaper and book featuring essays by Derek Horton and Saskia Warren.
News – Spring 2019
The Pomology Project launches July 2019. Featuring new Wassails & ‘waking up the Winter’ ceremonies, urban mummers plays & new imagining of the ancient practice of ‘cherry-minding’. Exhibition at the Rotunda Gallery, University of Birmingham in 2020.
‘Let Us Play’ – An exploration of the ‘state of play’ in the UK today. Project begins with a Heritage Lottery Fund supported project ‘Adventure Playgrounds of Birmingham from the 1960’s onwards’.
Invited to host/curate Incidental Unit’s ‘Incidental Futures’ Meeting at Eastside Projects, April 2019.
University of Birmingham Residency – we’re in residence over 2018/19 as part of their Artist in Residence scheme.
Heathland Festival Storybook – coming in November 2018 & featuring new commissioned writing by Catherine O’Flynn & Elizabeth Charis
Angela Kingston Essay – ‘The Hop Project: mechanisation, worklessness and the ‘internal wound’ is now on our website
Art & Public Sphere Review – The Hop Project is reviewed by Lucy Lopez in Art & Public Sphere, Volume 6, Numbers 1-2, 1 September 2017.