Specular Reflecular was an art exhibition launched on 4 March 2020 in the striking Gala Pool hall, at Moseley Road Baths, in Birmingham. It was a creative celebration of the buildings past, present and future.
Unfortunately, like other public exhibitions and activities, we closed the show sooner than planned in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While we hope the show can be restaged later in the year, now feels like a good time to reflect whether we achieved what we set to when we initiated the project.
Moseley Road Baths is an extraordinary survivor, its opulent exterior and interior are almost entirely intact. It is one of the oldest of only six Grade II* listed swimming baths in the country. Under threat of closure for many years, this Balsall Heath landmark now stands on the cusp of a dramatic regeneration. Following a 16-year campaign by local people to retain swimming at their neighbourhood pool, a coalition of organisations has formed to progress development and safeguard its future. As part of the evolving restoration project, Historic England and Birmingham City Council funded and managed repairs to the gala pool roof; enabling public access to arguably the buildings most dramatic space, for the first time in years.
Completed in February 2020, the work on the gala pool roof was the first significant step in an ambitious restoration vision for the whole building. Specular Reflecular was conceived as an opportunity to engage the local community creatively with that milestone.
Ultimately, through Specular Reflecular, we set out to connect (and re-connect) local people with Moseley Road Baths and its previously hidden spaces – specifically the newly restored Gala Pool hall. To tell people that the baths are open for swimming and let them know that they have a future.
Following an open callout, to which 70 artists submitted expressions of interest, Juneau Projects were selected as lead artists. They impressed us with their novel concept, but more critically for their track record in creating work that placed people at the heart of the creative process.
Juneau Projects proposed an immersive installation, the centrepiece of which was an animation evoking the movement of the body through water. Throughout summer and autumn of 2019, Juneau Projects held a series of workshops, and hundreds of local people helped to create the beautiful hand-painted animation. People of all backgrounds and ages made individual frames by painting over live-action footage of local swimmers. Each frame reflecting the memories, personality and style of its local creator. Combined, they created an ever-changing collage of colours, light and water; which also captured the vibrancy and eclectic nature of Balsall Heath.
Developing an art project in an empty Edwardian swimming pool, with limited modernisation meant delivering the project wasn’t without problems, not least concerns for public access and safety. The Gala Pool was also a live building-site during our planning and development; in fact, the project rescheduled due to additional restoration works to the remarkable space. Specular Reflecular was a partnership between Moseley Road Baths CIO and National Trust, and we were fortunate to have an experienced team of people who successfully navigated the challenges thrown up by the site. It is a testament to the creativity, flexibility and commitment of all involved that the project was successfully installed and opened to the public.
The installation looked fantastic, and we were all proud of what Juneau and the particpants has created and how it brought the space to life for visitors. People were invited to relax on specially created wave furniture and soak up the atmosphere of the unique heritage space, as the light from the projected film and newly uncovered windows refracted through multi-coloured translucent decorations.
We opened to the public on the 5 March to good visitor numbers. Our aim was to showcase the beautiful Gala Pool and invite the audiences to the space, COVID-19 aside, I’d say we achieved that, both through visitors to view in person and people who participated.
Specular Reflecular celebrated Moseley Road Baths and the community that surrounds it; we couldn’t have been happier with how the project turned out.
You can view the full animation here
David Viney was a project coordinator for Specular Reflecular, part of Trust New Art, the National Trust’s programme of contemporary art funded by Arts Council England.