Ooh-er! This is a bit naughty. More than a bit, in fact. Positively salacious.
Here I am in a darkened room, watching a red hot girl behave in a red light manner.
At the moment she’s coiling herself round a shiny pole. And, boy, is she limber. For some reason, she isn’t wearing many clothes. A spotlight picks out every pulse of pale flesh.
Adding up the clues, constant reader, you will no doubt have concluded that it’s a pole dancer I happen to be eyeballing. You would be right.
And now look who’s arrived. It’s Joe Punter.Lip-licking, lounge-leering. Whispering in my ear. Making me his confession box. Telling me why he can’t get enough of these strippers.
“Love sex,” he gloats, before adding with a more contemplative nod: “Got a good drive.”
We can be assured that he is talking about sex drive, not the strip of tarmac leading to the garage of a suburban home.
Yup, it’s just your typical night in a strip joint. Greasy flesh. Greaseball clients. Passions prodded and poked in exchange for pound notes.
Only it’s not. I’m actually in one of the most prestigious buildings in Birmingham. One that is famous for its firm grasp of the deeply esoteric, not the dingily erotic.
It’s the School Of Art Building in Margaret Street, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.
The pole dancer and her less than prudish client are merely video projections on a wall in one of the building’s galleries. The art installation was created by Jeanette Deen, a Margaret Street student, who filmed a local strip joint as part of a project she’s working on towards her MA in fine art.
The work speaks to me, though that could be because I have a yen for girls and the things they do with their poles.
Which ever way you cut it, the screening is proof that after 125 years in one location, the School of Art remains on top of its game, providing a base for high calibre students with ambition, nerve and a certain streetwise savvy.
These days the school is part of Birmingham City University, and is usually known by the regrettably more prosaic title of the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design.
However, since many of the courses are based in the Margaret Street site, it has retained its sense of self. After more than a century in existence, it proudly remains a square peg in the round hole of the West Midlands.
Courses offered are varied, from an MA in Fine Art to Digital Art in Performance.
For its 125th anniversary, the diversity of work the school has nurtured is being celebrated with a special exhibition, When We Build Let Us Think That We Build Forever.
It will be hosted next to the work of students, including Jeanette Deen’s oeuvre. The exhibition, which opens on Saturday, showcases new and old works from staff and past students, alongside artefacts from the college’s extensive archive and collection.
Major artists connected with the school, including Kaye Donachie and William Gear, have been commissioned to provide new work.
Perhaps the greatest work of art remains the school itself, designed and built by architect JH Chamberlain, who was heavily influenced by the writings of John Ruskin, particularly his treatise, The Stones Of Venice.
The majesty of Margaret Street is apparent from the minute I step inside the school, and I remain in a state of awe while being shown round by Professor John Butler, the head of the School of Art. Prof Butler is in a position of great authority in this revered institution.
But being an artist, his grey hair is long, and there is a mischievous spray of goatee beard sprouting below his bottom lip.
I’d describe him as piratical. Though perhaps a retired pirate, running a Public House in Penzance, who only unsheathes his cutlass on the rare occasion that a rumhead rogue of a guest becomes too rowdy.
Butler received his own MA while studying at Margaret Street, and he clearly adores the school.
“My father was in the services,” he says. “So I travelled around a lot when I was young. Then I studied in Newcastle and Liverpool, before coming to Birmingham to study for my MA.
“Back in those days there were very few art schools to offer an MA. It was very competitive. I made the choice to come to Birmingham because it seemed to be a really interesting city. And that certainly proved to be the case. When I first came here it was fantastic.”
Prof Butler was a student from 1971 until 1972.
“It was a great atmosphere at the time, though it was a totally different city to the Birmingham of 2010.
“I was based in Moseley and Kings Heath, but the city centre was dead. And yet at the same time there was this totally incredible art school in the centre of Birmingham.
“It is such a statement to put an art school in the city centre. It really was a forward-thinking move when it was built back in 1885.
“Being in the centre means that it is woven into the fibre of Birmingham. It’s at the edge of the financial quarter and the centre of the cultural quarter. Museum, town hall, library. Everything is here.
“Back in the ’70s, the city was pretty desolate. But art students will always survive, and get on and do their thing. And I loved it all. I mean, this building. It’s not just an art school. It was the first municipal art college in the country. There’s a real sense of history.”
But surely a sense of history is not always the best thing for an art school? Most great art looks to the future and attempts to break free of the tried and tested, the stale and stuck in the past.
To hell with memory, it’s all about moving on.
“That’s a fair point,” admits the Prof. He also has a more than fair answer. Prof Butler shows me round the galleries, giving me a peek at past and present work.
And clearly there’s nothing dry or dusty about Jeanette Dean’s strippers, or other wacky works I come across during my Margaret Street meander.
Such as the 500 pandas stapled to a wall. You may think stapling pandas to a wall is a particularly cruel thing to do, but sometimes the urge of art is more important than the well-being of any cuddly critters. Besides, these are soft toy pandas, specially devised by artist Jonnet Middleton.
The work is called unitypanda and it is both silly and delightful. On the opposite wall is a photograph of the artist, grinning happily between two giant pandas, who are actually rough looking blokes dressed as giant pandas.
Clearly I was wrong to think that the majesty of Margaret Street could in any way stunt the creativity of the students who shelter between its walls.
But is there a long-term future for something as frivolous as art? Will these students, who are now graduating, find a way of supporting themselves in the recession-ridden world they will soon find themselves facing?
“Education is suffering because of the recession,” says the Prof. “But studies have show a high percentage of arts people are engaged in their study field. And people still want to study here. Our recruitment increases every year. Being an artist is about finding ways of surviving. Figuring out how to go about doing what you want to do.”
And of course the greatest survivor of them all is the old lady of Margaret Street. The stately pile of bricks that has housed so much innovation and imagination, helping to ensure that Birmingham remains a colourful and creative city.
There is much to celebrate, and much to look forward to. Surely there can’t be that many grand dames who still manage to surprise and titillate after 125 years flashing their finery?
Now Professor Butler is passing what appears – on the surface at least – to be the door of a gents’ toilet.
“Aha!” I muse. “A crafty homage to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, perhaps? A Neo-Dada delight?”
“Er, no. That’s a toilet,” says the Prof, coughing politely. ‘‘A real toilet.”
There you have it. Enough artistic splendour to go around. And the Margaret Street plumbing ain’t bad, either.
* The School Of Art’s 125th birthday celebrations include the exhibition, When We Build Let Us Think That We Build Forever, until Sunday, September 12, 10am – 4pm.
The exhibition will be closing at 3pm on Saturday, September 11. There is also a symposium, and an alumni reception. Visit www.bcu.ac.uk/margaretstreet125