A Story from Phoenix City 2021

An incident from the early adult life of CovSoc founder member, Paul Maddocks, led to a scene in a City of Culture arts video currently on display in the Herbert. Paul writes….

A couple of years ago, just before Christmas 2019, I met up with artist Duncan Whitley who was going to do a film for ‘City of Culture’ to be shown at the Bi Annual exhibition which is currently being shown at the Herbert Art Gallery.

We talked for a few hours about Coventry and different things. One thing he liked was the models that the City Architects used to make about the future of Coventry, to show the people in the special exhibition in the old Herbert Art Gallery which is where the Metropolis bar is now. I said that when I worked at the Council House in 1974 the architects were moving from the Earl Street building where they used to display the models in the glass show case to the new Tower block known as Civic Centre 4. All the unwanted models were being dumped into a skip. I got my father to meet me and we took as many models we could out of the skip for my little brother to play with. One of them was the round cafe. He asked if we had still got them?

I said after my brother got fed up with playing with them, they were put in my parent’s loft. I got married and one day not long after my dad was made redundant from the Ryton factory. He went into a depression and decided to chuck everything out of the loft and set fire to them without telling me. So, I did know what had happened to the round cafe model and the myth of it rotating. Duncan liked this image and had the model remade so he could set it alight again for his film.

A lot of the city models were displayed in the glass show cases in the Precinct and Smithford way so that people could see what the swimming baths would look like etc.

The short film is very high art. I went to the first showing; the full film is not to everyone’s taste but it is a good record of the age we are now in.

You can watch an excerpt from the film here. The full version at the Bi Annual exhibition at the Herbert is a lot longer.

Duncan Whitley (born UK, 1974) is an artist working predominantly with sound and the moving-image. His practice synthesizes the languages of cinema, documentary and spatial sound art.

He has presented site-specific projects, audiovisual works, installations and live multi-channel sound works in the UK, Europe and South America.

Phoenix City 2021 examines Coventry’s relationship to the image of the phoenix – stemming from Donald Gibson’s and Basil Spence’s use of the mythical bird as symbol to represent their respective town-planning and cathedral proposals for Coventry realised in the 1950’s – and the hypothesis that UK City of Culture is conceived in Coventry’s collective unconscious as the city’s next phoenix moment. It is a special collaboration with electronic musician Abul Mogard.

Phoenix City 2021 is currently exhibiting at the Herbert Art Gallery as part of Coventry Biennial 2021 HYPER-POSSIBLE from 8th October 2021 – 6th February 2022.

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