Eastside Green (New Canal Street - by abandoned Curzon Street Station), Birmingham

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EXYZT, ‘Burningham’ Review by Harry Blackett

Under indelible March sunlight, two customised shipping containers have been installed at Eastside Green by the French architecture collective EXYZT. The project’s title, ‘Burningham’ (2011), is emblazoned in a black, heavyweight sans-serif across the side of the structure, and a wooden apex with plastic shelter is appended to the metal containers. The structure is surrounded by wooden tables, chairs and benches, and is set like an island amid the expansive green, in peaceful protest of everything around it. The stillness of the site is uncanny. Eastside Green’s perimeter roads are all permanently breeze-blocked, shut avenues, and it is flanked by radically opposed architectural propositions: to its left a wave of newly developed office towers and high-rise housing, and to its right the neoclassical Curzon Street Station, closed since 1966, which marks a gateway to the warehouses, small industry, and more recently, art spaces, that form Birmingham’s contested ‘Eastside’. The green is an under-used, under-populated territory, and EXYZT’s positioning there opens a cinematic view of Birmingham’s past, present and potential futures, and questions what we do with the space now.

The proposed function of ‘Burningham’ is that it is a new social space where people can meet to discuss the city and host independent events. In its launch week at Fierce there are workshops, impromptu happenings and on Saturday, a feast. It is intended to remain well beyond the festival week, and its purposeful mobile design means it could easily be relocated. Liam Gillick’s ‘Discussion Platform’ (1996’) and Thomas Hirschhorn’s environments dedicated to the work of Foucault are reference points, but crucially EXYZT’s setting is not pedagogic, but experiential and discursive. There is no syllabus or set resource such as a library, but such things might develop as the public is encouraged to form the project’s use and content. That the work extends Fierce’s 2011 legacy is very encouraging, as a potential space in the city where performance, art, theatre and urbanism can naturally collide. The markers of success for ‘Burningham’ are hard to define at this moment, and it is the type of work’and Birmingham is the type of city, with reference to its civic architecture and nostalgia for concrete’that could find success in its own failures.

So, much is still to come. At its launch, EXYZT have given the project the framework of an ‘urban psychoanalysis’ of Birmingham which will culminate in a public feast this Saturday, asking its public whether the city is schizophrenic or has ‘low self-esteem’. The work’s title also has multiple readings: ‘Burning Ham’ suggests cooking, and classical notions of the feast or symposium as an event for the exchange of food, discussion and ideas; alternatively the emphasis of the suffix ‘-ham’‘etymologically pulled from hamlets, or homes’talks about the situation of the city, and the opportunity to claim possession of urban space. EXYZT have set an intentionally open container; the question is, Birmingham, how to fill it’

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