The problem I regularly have with conceptual art (apart from untold depths of general ignorance) is that the end product never quite lives up to the means.
I read the captions, and the ones I can understand are brimful with interesting insights and concepts. Then I look at the art – object, installation, intervention – and wish I hadn’t bothered.
If you pop into the Midland Arts Centre at present you’ll see a glass case full of hand prints.
They are the work of Federico Sancho, who was commissioned to work with MAC and the Be Festival of European Drama.
More of the hand prints were on show at the festival last week, based in the old AE Harris factory in the Jewellery Quarter. Federico also hung up a line of T-shirts.
Now it would be very easy to move on at this point, put it down to some very curious ideas about art, and find the nearest bar (which at MAC is very near indeed).
But let’s stay with the concept here. AE Harris, a Birmingham metalworking firm, has two factories in Northwood Street.
One is disused and now an art venue, while the other – immediately across the road – is still turning out its metal goods where seats for cars and coaches are made, amongst other things.
Federico was interested in bridging that divide. He got the workers to press their factory soiled hands onto paper to make lithographs.
And he gave them each a white T-shirt to wear for a day. Those who worked in the office had equally white shirts at the end of the day; those worn on the factory floor came back grubby and blackened.
This could have been the perfect prelude to one of those soap-powder ads.
Instead, it says something interesting about the nature of work. As for the hand prints, the workers who participated were each given a print as a souvenir.
Their hard graft had generated art.
In Birmingham, as our coat of arms reminds us, art and industry have always walked hand-in-hand. Even if one hand is considerably dirtier than the other.
* Dr Chris Upton is washing his hands at Newman University College in Birmingham