Major new artwork celebrating collaboration installed in Birmingham

First commission by Birmingham City University for £400 million city centre campus.

Lip-sync, a major new public artwork for Birmingham produced by Holly Hendry and commissioned by Birmingham City University has been installed at its city centre campus.

Commissioned as part of the £70 million STEAMhouse project, and curated by Digbeth-based Eastside Projects, the large-scale sculpture draws on the history of the building as the headquarters of The Eccles Rubber and Cycle Company.

The work – which sits outside the striking new building at the junction of Cardigan Street and Jennens Road in Birmingham – also embraces STEAMhouse’s new function as a centre for collaborative innovation where immersive technologies and digital fabrication meet hands-on making, research, business support and community building.

Made from rolled, formed and laser cut steel, with smaller hand-cast Jesmonite elements, the 4m-high Lip Sync’s surface features cartoonish, body-like shapes co-developed with students from Birmingham City University and pupils from Chandos Primary School in Highgate in a series of ‘exquisite corpse’ workshops where individual drawings lead from one to another to create a collective collage.

Details, marks, and forms from the workshops were fed into computer software where they were simplified, and amalgamated into a colourful and apparently continuous ribbon, a fluid band which weaves through a series of industrial rollers, appearing from and disappearing into the ground – perhaps even flowing underneath the building, or the city.

Professor Philip Plowden, Vice Chancellor of Birmingham City University, said: “Since opening in 2022, STEAMhouse has quickly become a centre of ground-breaking innovation, and home to a genuinely exciting community of creators, engineers, artists, scientists, and technology specialists – all collaborating on impactful projects, products, and services.

“It is only right that we mark the success of this new building with the installment of the first public artwork to be commissioned by Birmingham City University for our city centre campus – this is a sculpture and location to be enjoyed by everyone in the city and communicates how significant art and the arts is to our institution.”

Lip Sync’s surface is made up of a puzzle of individual elements that are rolled and fixed together, with different parts engineered, coloured, stretched, and flattened by multiple industrial processes.

Lip-sync’s structure echoes the Jacquard Loom, a textile weaving machine in which thousands of punch cards were used to produce fabrics with patterns of almost unlimited size and complexity. The loom, and the Jacquard cards which it reads, is considered the earliest example of computer software. Its punch card system led to the binary system of ones and zeroes that underpins modern computing.

Holly Hendry said: “I am incredibly excited to install my first permanent public art commission, and it is an honour to have it be part of the new STEAMhouse site.

“One way to think about the sculpture is as a response to the past and future of the site itself; the rubbery, cyclical processes contained in the history of the former Eccles Rubber and Cycle Factory and the present (and future) of STEAMhouse as a place of innovation and exploration.

“In this sense, I hope that the sculpture is a playful figurative monument that speaks of animation and bodily entanglement with our technological surroundings. It has been a huge privilege to develop and learn from this experience, and work with STEAMhouse and BCU amongst so many others who have helped contribute to an artwork that will now be part of the city.”

Hendry’s work uses the language of slapstick and cartoons to create joyful and materially rich sculptures which explore the role of the human body in industrialisation and encourage us to think about our current, and future, experiences of being human in relation to new and expanding digital technologies. Lip-sync is her first permanent public artwork.