Presented in association with Sean Burns, Intervention Architecture and Vivid Projects.
Dorothy Towers is the story of the legendary Clydesdale and Cleveland Towers, two residential blocks in the centre of Birmingham. Completed in 1971 as a social housing development, and located adjacent to Birmingham’s Gay Village, the towers’ proximity to the community means they have long been a haven for LGBTQ+ people. Responding to a collective impetus to celebrate the city’s social history, the project is a collaboration between artist Sean Burns, local organisations, practitioners and residents.
Born in the city and having spent his formative teenage years within the queer community, Burns has been developing this project in dialogue with local people for two years. The film opens a space to reflect on the complex relationship between architecture, community and memory. It features testimonials from current and past residents and explores ideas of queer kinship and inheritance alongside experiences of HIV in the 1980s and ’90s.
The 16mm film includes footage of interior architecture; archival materials, including newsprint and photographs; community members in celebratory mood; and sweeping shots of architectural reliefs and designs surrounding the towers. Dorothy Towers frames the buildings in a continuum of history that extends back to the city’s postwar redevelopment via its modernist underpasses and countless bars and nightclubs.
A live score, composed and performed by Burns and Leo Francisco, will accompany the film alongside a new installation – based on the design of the Clydesdale and Cleveland Towers – produced by local practice Intervention Architecture. Owain Harrison’s text, A Cornucopia of Experience, merges the factual history of Dorothy Towers – the colloquial name bestowed on the buildings by local LGBTQ+ communities, owing to the number of queer people living there – with a fictional narrative based on first-hand testimonials.
The afterparty will take place at Centrala, Birmingham, on Saturday 24 September at 21:30. Burns will be in conversation with artist, curator and writer Cathy Wade on Sunday 25 September at 16:00.