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Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Birmingham’s hedgehog crisis. Why it’s so important.The full story

(Bringing 18th century public meetings into the 21st century
at Birmingham’s Bullring market).

Discretely tucked away ten feet high on the side of a wall in the oldest part of Birmingham is a blue heritage plaque. Out of obvious gaze, it importantly states that public meetings happened here in the 18th Century. You will find this sign at Birmingham’s Bullring market which includes St Martins church, located in the heart of the city. Here the city began many years ago, where the outdoor veg market sits side by side with the indoor rag market opposite the meat and fish market. Self evidently, this is a place which still continues to sustain a diverse underbelly of shoppers and stall holders – the public. One cannot underestimate the significance of this location and yet nobody seems to know about the existence of this sign and what it crucially attributes to. Upon pointing it out to local friends and passers-by, it clearly goes unnoticed.


Harry Palmer invites a public meeting about Birmingham's hedgehog crisis.


On a dark cold winters day the public
meeting sign hides in the background.


Despite religious impromptu weekly announcements, certainly little or no alternative public speaking/meetings occur in the immediate area. My ongoing project - Sites of Social Special Interest concerns the examination of places and spaces that are least remembered or thought about (currently focusing on Birmingham). In particular, SSSI is a creative artwork, an exploration of places that affect us all despite seeming irrelevant, abject, forgotten or peculiar. I select locations and associated activities to heighten a collective experience, shared in-situ, amongst others. These have included children’s murals and myths at night in the underpass beneath Bristol Street. Others include a pictorial survey of Harbourne high street and its historic Victorian toilet. Over many years, the majority of my art work has similarly prevailed in collective, eccentric and people focused activities (http://www.harrypalmer.co.uk/).


In the 18th Century meetings outdoors in central locations were deeply political - a means of empowerment through expressing points of view.

The hedgehog crisis in Birmingham offered another suitable subject for my next SSSI (the fifth in the series). These days the obscurity of outdoor public meetings and speaking - a public gathering that combined an historic place with genuine concerns, has little merit. The hedgehog crisis aimed to captivate public interest, using nature and a crisis as a matter of attraction, re-instating outdoor public address, a political landmark and activity in the process. Why not talk about something other than religion that is important and allowed for an alternative non-religious concern? The spirit of public speaking is all about voicing an opinion, usually as a matter of campaign and urgency, hence a public meeting. In the 18th Century meetings outdoors in central locations were deeply political, a means of empowerment through expressing points of view - a collective sense of citizenship through participation and engagement, motivated from deep felt concerns of a seditious or religious related politic. The potential is still here today, located in central Birmingham. Indeed, my talk also invited Dominik Kai Brotherton to attend and speak about alternative relationships; something that he felt was beneficial and important to also share (please see later).


A public meeting takes place as Harry explains the Hedgehog plight.


Birmingham has been shaped via the opportunity to express heartfelt concerns and opinions in public – for others to hear outdoors. I assert that this is still an important attribute and it has distinct place concurrent with the city’s development and history. Dominant historification is happily promoted and financed, typically presenting a squeaky clean tourist-city-as-attraction via commercial investment (rather than more radical or alternative perspectives that made Birmingham remarkable and established an international city (let us not forget)). Under the current system of capitalism, the professional climate of investment encourages trivialisation of heritage and politics. Abandoning the past by way of editing-out the blood and sweat of the underclass and the turmoil of a population bellies ignorance and a new wave of fascism. This is not healthy of course. I therefore decided to reanimate the right to public address and in particular to initiate a topic outside religious proclamation, unfinanced and without a logo. Who would show?



Harry offers helpful tips to help hedgehogs.



One can be serious and smile at the same time!


Complimenting public announcements of course is the reliance on the internet and media communication to give us a sense of freedom of opinion and thought (really?). Digital forums are not public meetings! My argument, as with most of my art creativity, is to side step the negative cultural trance; alternatively exemplifying interaction as personal and physical engagement, and in doing so to directly speak about myths, issues and stories amongst others and break the spell of conditioning and manufactured consent. We should not rely on dominant and assertive attitudes as a matter of sacrosanct control, and hence we should not underestimate or undervalue the physical and the personal combined – especially as our legal right to public activities is increasingly restricting our freedom of expression and the way we think and approach life. Politics appears more extreme in our current climate, even when it’s only a matter of voicing an opinion. This is very worrying. We should not be put off! Things are much more urgent than ever. Heritage as well as art is far more than the glamorisation of culture that many adopt today. We need to intervene in ways that encourages positive social discourse and not alienate each other in the process. Such is a lack of genuine joy and a need for community! One can be serious and smile at the same time!

After my talk on the Birmingham hedgehog crisis, Dominik Kai Brotherton took the opportunity to speak about alternative relationships. Here is his unedited text. Please note that I publish this material irrespective and independent of my own personal opinions and thoughts.


Dominik talks about the nature of alternative relationships.



Public Speaking RE: Radicalising the way we express love.

Open Relationships, Alternative Relationships, Polygamy, Polyamory, Whatever you want to call it, I hope this translates more as a speech of personal motivation, than as a preach of condemnation.

Boys and Girls, a not-too surprising statistic:

89% of UK inhabitants admit to cheating on a partner at some point in their life. Yet in strange contrast, less than 1% of the UK’s population currently consider themselves to have an “open relationship”. So why is that?

Clearly, there is a desire beyond one partner; beyond monogamy. Yet it comes out in the forms of “cheating”, and “2 timing”: in secret.
We are so scared of jeopardising our relationships that we either sacrifice, suppress, or hide our true impulses. Most of us probably did a double take of some guy or girl on the bus today, but wouldn’t tell our partner about it.

Concepts like, “cheating”, and “betrayal” continue to confuse and alienate me. They both hinge on some kind of deception, which, if you are truly open with your partner, need not exist. We all enjoy different people for different reasons: being open about that shouldn’t be taboo.

People express love in many ways: linking arms, kissing, love letters, hugging, intercourse, shaking hands, a phone call, a warm embrace, S&M, music: anything you put your heart into. To some degree or other, you are expressing love to everyone you communicate with, and so I see it as presumptuous to declare that there is a line restricting what is appropriate to use as an expression, or not, or to who I am expressing myself. What is so different between kissing someone’s cheek, and kissing someone’s mouth? They are only an inch away from each other. Why does it matter whether it is my mother I’m kissing, or my ex, if it’s the same gesture.

Dominik explains his ideas in public outside St. Martins church


By redefining my own relationship, I have learnt so much more about myself and about my partner. I have learnt that in reality, I can’t depend on one person to be the sole provider of everything I have desired in life. That’s why we have friends and family, with whom we have relationships and with whom we share love.

You shouldn’t be scared or held back by prejudice in your expression, and I encourage you to make love, however you want to imagine its creation, with your friends, male and female, your family, yourself. Kiss your sister, write your dad a love letter, feel your friend’s skin.

Even in legislation, expression of love has been restricted and filtered. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1967! And I think people will look back at our contemporary viewpoint and think the same of incest. People are quick to condemn it as disgusting or unnatural, much as homosexuality has been, but when there is clearly so much love for your family, if you are comfortable with it, then why not express that love physically?

Regarding this viewpoint, people often ask, “if you have no moral boundaries regarding incest, then do you also condone bestiality, necrophilia or paedophilia?” The fundamental difference for me between incest and the other aforementioned taboos is that assuming both parties are acting of their own free will, consent is still given, whereas the illegality of bestiality and paedophilia appears rooted in the inability of those involved to give consent. Necrophilia is a grey area, with some states of America not prosecuting necrophiliacs on the grounds that a person loses all of their human rights at the point of death.

Now, there’s a frequent misconception with open relationships that it’s just a licence to go on one night stands all the time, but this is about radicalising a whole culture and tradition and trying to develop out of our repressed condition, not just an excuse for no strings sex!

One man writes,
“there are real virtues and benefits of non-monogamy (not just the logistics of how to do it), such as the personal growth one experiences by letting go of jealousy, knowing that your lover is freer person because of your understanding, and the fact that all involved have an opportunity to know, love and experience different people”.

I must stress, that not everyone suits an alternative relationship. Some people are just easily contented and claim to be completely satisfied by their lover in every possible way. Others are simply too insecure to stop being possessive, for whom even monogamy is difficult. Never the less, I think it is important to question and challenge your emotional bonds, even if don’t think you are suited to an alternative relationship.

Be true to yourself, firstly.
You should feel empowered to follow your desires and express affection towards people you feel for; your friends, your family, fond strangers; not scared that the Mrs might find out.

Secondly, be true to the Mrs.
Tell him or her when you “ cheat ”. Tell them that you fancy other people if you do. Tell them you fantasise about other people. Never lie. It’s very much part of the essence of being “open”, and separately, I don’t think I can recall a single situation when lying has helped for the greater good.

And thirdly, if being true to yourself and following something you feel jeopardises your relationship, then maybe you’re in the wrong relationship! Too often I’ve seen couples sacrifice each other’s happiness for a partnership that’s well past its best-by-date.
Don’t do it.

Having said that, I have supreme faith in the rejuvenation of monogamous relationships, through a manifesto of change, but it is clear that many are reluctant to disturb their comfort zone. I honestly believe relationships can be achieved without possessiveness, and a need to control your partner’s love. Through confronting your jealousy and dissipating your insecurities by having faith in yourself, I think it is possible.

And that is the encouragement I am trying to impart to you. Challenge your current relationship and radicalise the way you express your love.


-Dominik Kai Brotherton, 22nd November 2008



Article by Harry Palmer November 2008.

Picture credit: R.Hewitt.

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