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Artefact’s Christmas Purgatory

An Artefact introduction

I am a member of Artefact, a workers Co-op based in Stirchley. Until recently Artefact had an art gallery/ performance space on Stirchley High Street. This closed in August, whilst we wait for a new gallery/ performance space to built on the high street as part of Stirchley Co-operative Development. The three storey development will have Artefact, the Bike Foundry and bakery Loaf on the ground floor with the top two floors being affordable housing.


The waiting period for the new Artefact to be built has left Artefact in limbo. To mark this current state, Artefact, on Saturday December 9th, hosted a day of workshops with a performance and a quiz across Stirchley with the main performance being held at Birmingham Brewing Company. Personally I was involved in two of the events. The first event was an instrument making edition of issimo! issimo! is an experimental performance group that met at the old Artefact. Each month issimo! would involve improvised music with scores being interpreted.

A purgatory edition of issimo!

For the Christmas Purgatory version of issimo! we brought along different materials, including plastic battles and metal tins to make our own instruments. They were mostly percussion instruments. Once we had made our instruments by attaching our sticks to the metal tins we then participated in a musical exercise that I had written. We took it in turns to pick a piece of paper from a hat. Each piece of paper had either an emotion or an event leading to an interpretation of an emotion in it. Simple examples of emotions included “happy” and “sad” with complicated events including “the fossil fuel industry has been replaced by a single Dutch wind turbine” and ” getting 10% off a nice hat. Everyone taking part had to quickly process the statement and then play what emotion they felt for thirty seconds with one of the instruments that had just been created. With the instruments mostly being percussion, we had to be creative with how we expressed emotion with our instrument. We had to emphasize different aspects to pitch than we normally would such as dynamics and rhythm to get our musical thoughts across.

issimo! emotions

The Subnivium performance

Following on from issimo! I then took part in the Artefact House Band’s performance of the Subnivium, written by Hipkiss and Graney. I played bass guitar, because bass is an important part of a band, but often neglected! Fellow performer Kate, had the great idea to tune all the strings to D as the piece (I think) was in D minor. I used to play bass guitar, but now I play keyboard. I have played bass three times in the past year so having all the strings being tuned to D allowed me to know that as long as I played open strings, I would be within the same key as everybody else. It also allowed me freedom to concentrate of the rhythm and dynamics of the piece and that helped me because the piece was in a time signature of 9! Counting to 9 and playing a complicated melody was a challenge for me. I also had the honour of wearing a mask made by regular Artefact attendee Andy. During an earlier workshop I painted my mask in three different colours to be ready for the later performance.

The Subnivium is a secret ecosystem under snow, where insects, rodents and microbes live in cold temperatures. The Climate Emergency is threatening the Subnivium as global temperature rises melt parts of the world where deep snow has been a common feature. The musical side was led by Anna Palmer aka Judy Brush, who composed and led the musical performance. The Artefact House Band’s performance explored the concept of the Subnivium with a chant style performance where Jonathan Graney explained the Subnivium to us and we got to play to his speech. The instruments that we had made during the issimo! workshop were handed out to the audience members, meaning they got to play instruments to be part of the performance. Anna Palmer/ Judy Brush was able to engage with the crowd at Birmingham Brewing Company. Much to my surprise she was able to get those watching to stand up and participate in the “Subnivium” hypnotic chant. Most amazingly, Anna Palmer/ Judy Brush was able to get those participating to attempt death metal chanting of the phrase “Subnivium.”

Looking forward

Once the performance had ended there was a rendition of the Artefact Quiz, hosted by local Stirchley celebrity Seb. The Artefact Purgatory event was a good reminder of why people enjoy being involved in Artefact. It is a space to perform and try experimental art/ music. We were all left excited for the upcoming building construction to be finished at Stirchley Co-operative Development to allow us to get back to being a creative hub in Stirchley.



An issimo! instrument that I had created

Featured image photo is from Matthew Cumiskey

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