When I was first told about the art instillation Thrift Radiates Happiness I will confess that I didn’t pay much attention. As usual my mind would have been on other things such as cake or such other nonsense. But upon meeting my friend Pam for coffee and hearing her rave reviews not only of the wonderful and creative ideas but also of the space that the instillation was in I set my mind for a day trip to Birmingham to see for myself.
I arrived in the city on St Patricks Day and managed to avoid the throngs of rather merry people and found myself on Broad Street, looking at a rather small building that was once the Municipal Bank of Birmingham. Obviously a once grand entrance to Broad Street now it stood rather over shadowed by the giant towers of the Hyatt and the Atkins building.
Upon entry to the bank the first thing that struck you was the decayed grandeur of a building that once was obviously a hive of business and commerce. I was greeted by a very friendly and helpful lady who pointed out the instillations and explained about what was available to see. So I pushed the wonderful wooden revolving door and entered a rather breath taking space.
The floor was parquet and the high ceiling was tiled and across the two major beams the phases: “Thrift Radiates Happiness” and “Saving is the Mother of Riches” looked down on the now empty space, the first installation but the last one I investigated was housed in this empty hallway.
I explored the room, taking as many photo’s as I could and inquisitively looked at the works that were housed in the former bank offices and then started the descent into the basement of the bank, heading along the corridors slightly spooked by the convex mirrors at each corner to allow you to see people coming towards you but not your own reflection towards the bank vaults.
It had been about 30 years since I had last entered a bank vault and that had been with my Grandma, I remember her dressed in a tweed, twin set and me having to stand very still whilst she opened this magical box with her key, to this day I don’t know what was so important that it was deposited within the bank and why it was not kept at home but I do know that being in the vault of the bank in Birmingham bought back many memories.
Once down at the vault you were offered the chance to invest and £2 gave you a safety deposit number and upon entry to the vault you were to find the corresponding box, open it and you were rewarded by a piece of artwork to commemorate the event, I invested £4 and was given 2 boxes to find.
The art instillations were amazing from video pieces to popcorn makers set to produce popcorn as a symbolisation of the major financial crisis of the last century – I was informed that at the end of the day the machines were producing a lot of popcorn as the later in the day it got the more recent the financial crises.
But my favourite piece was by Elly Clake called Half Crowns in their Petticoats, which was an audio piece; it was a series of interviews that had been given by former employees of the bank many of which had been recorded on site at the bank. It was a wonderful opportunity to listen to stories of people who had once busied themselves within the now empty building. I sat and listened for 50 minutes ensuring I had taken in each story and every tale that was offered.
It really was an amazing opportunity to visit an amazing venue let alone see & hear some amazing pieces of art pieces and left you longing for days when banks promoted thrift and not credit!