A Festival That Revels in the Existential; Lorne Jackson Looks at an Event That Promises to Get Birmingham on the Psychiatrist's Couch
sychoanalysis has become a boom industry since the time of Sigmund Freud.
PIt's got to the point where there are probably more psychiatrists than psychos - one million mind-menders for every Norman Bates.
Unbaffling the human brain has proved to be especially popular in America, with New York the unofficial capital of the sport. In the Big Apple, you won't find loose change in the crevices of a psychiatrist's couch. It's Woody Allen wedged beneath the cushions.
Even tough guys don't shrink away from a shrink. Tony Soprano - the mobbed-up mook from gangster drama The Sopranos - always ends up bleating to his psychiatrist after ordering the death of yet another rival thug.
Back in the UK, we've dodged the worst effects of the psychobabble rabble. When the going gets grouchy, we still prefer to rely on our stiff upper lips.
Though in Birmingham, that may be about to change...
The entire city is to be dumped on the psychiatrist's couch, courtesy of the Fierce Festival. There are plenty of exciting events at this month's arts celebration, which returns to the city for the first time in two years.
But the most intriguing work involves the attempt to rummage around in the collective Brummie brain.
Laura McDermott, one of two new artistic directors now guiding Fierce, explains: "There's this amazing architectural collective, based in France, called EXYZT, which is pronounced 'exist'.
"They make temporary use of abandoned land, and there's loads of spaces in Birmingham awaiting redevelopment.
"So as soon as we became involved with Fierce, we thought Birmingham is a city EXYZT would love to get their hands on, so let's get them up here to check out a few sights.
"Over time they got to know the psychology of the city, and they had this playful conceit that they had diagnosed a lack of self-esteem in Birmingham, and had also perceived a multiple personality disorder.
"EXYZT have got this guy who they've worked with in the past, and he's called the Urban Psychoanalyst.
"He basically psychoanalyses cities as if they were people.
"So EXYZT are going to rename Birmingham, to address the lack of self esteem, and the city's splitpersonality issues."
It all sounds rather drastic. Is there a danger the entire city might end up being sectioned? "I guess we're going to have to see what happens," McDermott laughs.
"It's up to everyone in Birmingham to come out and make sure it's a fair diagnosis. Basically there will be a series of meetings and conversations with as big a group as possible of people who live and work in Birmingham, to figure out the inner psyche of the city."
It promises to be intriguing, and as wacky as a Robin Williams monologue.
There is method in such madcap madness. EXYZT will set up camp at the abandoned Eastside Green space, near Curzon Street Station. A camp that promises to be spectacular, since EXYZT all have a background in architecture.
The on site intervention will include constructing giant Hollywood-style letters, and offering the public a slap-up feast.
"EXYZT work with an amazing chef who will be providing the food," says McDermott.
So, food and far out constructions will attract the masses. Then, once they arrive, they'll be questioned, as part of the psychoanalysis of the city. The project is punningly called Burning Ham. "The title has several meanings," says McDermott. "Ham is the root of 'home' and 'hamlet'. And this art work is very much about what kind of home Birmingham is.
"But ham will also be there, in the meaty sense of the word - this is not a vegetarian project. That means a big BBQ feast on site. EXYZT are very interested in how food is a real marker of different cultures. So they will be providing a meaty multicultural BBQ!" It's not only meat that will be tucked into at this year's Fierce. …