Artistic portrayals of anatomy, sound-based works of art and the experience of living and dying in back-to-back housing are to be examined in a multi-media programme at the University of Birmingham.

Its second Arts & Science Festival, from March 16-23, will include free exhibitions, performances, talks, concerts, workshops and screenings.

More than 40 events will look at the interplay between arts and science in cultural life – including media portrayals of auto-erotic death.

Festival highlights include a lecture by music impresario and artist Bill Drummond on the Life and Death of an Artist.

Drummond will also give a performance in Chancellor’s Court which may involve “giving away bunches of daffodils”.

Clinical anatomist Professor Alice Roberts, Professor of public engagement in science, will select works from the University’s Special Collections for The Art of Anatomy.

As well as giving an accompanying lecture, Prof Roberts’ exhibition will look at the depiction of the dissected human body in anatomical literature from the 16th century.

At the heart of the programme is Conversation Pieces, an inter-disciplinary series of talks that brings together leading academics, artists and scientists.

Scottish Turner Prize winner Susan Phillipsz will talk about her sound-based works, which cross the boundaries between art and science.

And Professor Lisa Downing, the University’s Professor of French discourses of sexuality, will give an illustrated talk called Dying for Sex, exploring how auto-erotic death has been represented in narratives including literary fiction and internet humour. Prof Downing’s talk features a section on celebrity auto-erotic deaths, including rock star Michael Hutchence, and the way such deaths have been reported.

Birmingham-based community historian Carl Chinn says the events are really important in terms of bringing ordinary people into university life – one of its integral themes.

Prof Chinn says: “The festival is all about the interplay between arts and science in cultural life and will enable the university to reach out to the community of the West Midlands.

“When people come here to take part in the various events they will be made most welcome and able to feel that the university belongs to them.”

In a 45-minute lecture followed by a Q&A, Prof Chinn will talk about a subject close to his heart – life and death in back-street Birmingham between 1880 and 1960.

“Both of my parents came from the back-streets and I’m proud of that heritage,” says Prof Chinn.

Surprisingly, perhaps, he doesn’t believe the emphasis on life and death changed more towards the former during the period he will be talking about – despite improvements in public health at that time.

“Yes, statistics show that we are all living longer,” says Prof Chinn, 57.

“But the gap between rich and poor is just as wide as it ever was.

“Poverty killed. It killed the young – for every 1,000 babies born in inner city areas like Deritend and the Gun Quarter in the early 20th century, 200 would die before the age of one – and it also killed the old.

“Death rates were four times higher than they were in middle class areas.

“People had bigger families because there was no contraception.

That has made a massive difference to family sizes since the 1960s.

“Contraception gave women the ability to limit the size of their families for the first time.

“In 1876 a law was passed preventing the building of any more back-to-backs.

“But, in 1960, there were still 24,000 back to back houses which illustrated the scale of the housing problem inherited from the Victorians.”

Prof Chinn says poverty is a “terrible indictment” of modern society.

“The way round it is to have better education with equal access, better housing, public health, better food and all of these things were vital in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Prof Chinn will illustrate his talk with slides.

“Younger people don’t know what the back-to-back houses were like so it’s important to show them,” he says.

Prof Chinn’s collection of more than 40,000 letters and between 50-60,000 photographs about working class life is thought to be one of the biggest of its kind in the world. It is being kept at the new Library of Birmingham.

Prof Ian Grosvenor, deputy Pro Vice Chancellor for Cultural Engagement, says: “The ambition of the festival is to keep the conversation between the arts and science alive.

“It is our belief that the debate is most lively not in the separation of arts and science, but in the spaces in between.”

The Arts & Science Festival also features a partnership with leading arts organisations, launching with Mozart’s Requiem at Birmingham Town Hall and closing with a UK premiere of Phono-Cinema-Théâtre presented by Flatpack Festival at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. There will also be collaborations with Eastside Projects, Ikon Gallery, Newman Brothers Coffin Works and Writing West Midlands.

Carl Chinn’s talk, Back to Back and Up the Yard: Life and Death in Back-Street Birmingham 1880-1960 is free to attend on Friday, March 21, from 1-2pm in the Arts Building – Lecture Room 7, at the University of Birmingham (Edgbaston campus).

Booking is essential – email to reserve a place.

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34 short films the highlight of city event

The Phono-Cinema-Théâtre event at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts will showcase what it was like to enjoy the first taste of sound cinema.

After a century in obscurity, 34 startling short films are set to form one of the highlights of this year’s Birmingham-based Flatpack Film Festival.

Back in 1900 they were part of the Paris Universelle Exposition which lured 50 million visitors to see the Eiffel Tower – and attractions like these films.

Every day the Phono-Cinema-Théâtre had 41 screenings.

Little Tich (1867-1928) a stage performer who developed a unique routine involving big boots.
Little Tich (1867-1928) a stage performer who developed a unique routine involving big boots.

One of them featured a 4ft 6inS Englishman called Harry Relph, better known as a clown called Little Tich whose monicker led to the slang term “titchy”.

Another star to look out for is Carlotta Zambelli, whose clips include the pizzicato variation from Sylvia.

There are nine ballet films (though more than half are novelty acts from the music hall days) and footage of renowned teacher and ballet star Jeanne Chasles (whose solo from the 1899 ballet Le Cygne is included).

Many of the films are in tainted colour and have been restored thanks to a collaboration between Gaumont Pathé archives, La Cinémathèque Française, and sound-recording expert Henri Chamoux.

The material with no sound will be accompanied by a live trio led by pianist and arranger John Sweeney.

The special pavilion featured the then current stars of theatre and variety, including Sarah Bernhardt’s Hamlet and a can-can by Gabrielle Réjane captured on film with original sound thanks to an ingenious gramophone system.

The UK premiere is being presented in partnership between the Barber Institute and the University of Birmingham’s Cultural Engagement team.

It will be held at 3pm on Sunday, March 23 from 3pm. Tickets £12 / £9.