The river runs through

A photo of the river from my Flickr

Running quite literally, albeit on film, like the nearby river until 27 April is David Rowan's new work exploring the course of Birmingham's River Rea,  The exhibition at the MAC,, explores the course of the river through a series of moving pictures taking inspiration from Roy Fisher's poem Birmingham River, and building on Rowan's interest in the city's waterways and his recent photographic series Pacha Kuti Ten.    

Where's Birmingham river? Sunk.
Which river was it? Two. More or less.
a slow, petty river with no memory of an ancient 
name; a river called Rea, meaning river,
and misspelt at that.
Extract from Birmingham River by Roy Fisher.

The river, a tributary of the River Tame, stretches 14 miles from it's source in the Waseley Hills through South-West Birmingham changing from a green corridor to culverted 'drain' past Cannon Hill Park as it sinks to unobserved and ignored 'storm drain',  The river was harnessed from the 16th century in Digbeth and Deritend for leather tanning and textile processing with the town of Birmingham growing up on the higher ground nearby rather than along the flood-prone river.  Due to the heavy culverting and heavily urbanised nature of the river downstream the base flows are depleted in dry weather conditions but can rapidly increase in storms with sewered run-off.

The exhibition at the MAC compliments the MAC's 50th anniversary event 'Sounding the River',, in which lead artist Jony Easterby brought together a group of internationally acclaimed artists to celebrate the hidden beauty of the river through performances utilising sound, light and performance,  

As I noted in October the river is an asset that ignored for generations, as Fisher says 'sunk', that should play an important role in the city's regeneration as much as it's squares and public spaces. 

With such a popular event and a river that has oft been ignored it would be great to see this as an initial event of an annual event celebrating the River Rea.  The river has now been recognised as a useful water feature in a city, being noted in the Big City Plan's consideration of Birmingham as a water city (, that has used canals in lieu of a larger river for industry and now leisure and which could add another blue route across the city. 

The following pictures I have taken show the different aspects of the river, tranquil yet controlled, a blue and green path yet culverted drain.

The Dark River offers a chance to celebrate the river and hopefully bring it to the surface as a forgotten but key part of Birmingham.  Many residents would perhaps not know where the river can be found, metres from the Bullring shopping centre, and many more, myself included, would struggle with pronouncing it's name. From my research for this article it seems it's pronounced like the name Ray.

The Dark River is free and features as part of the Flatpack Festival, an annual festival which takes place across Birmingham every March, which explores film and it's mix with other artforms 'showing people things they might not otherwise have seen',  

Flatpack is a festival which takes over venues across Birmingham every March. It draws people from far and wide with a mixture of films, performances, contraptions and surprises, and has been described as “magnificently eclectic” (Time Out), “joyously inventive” (the Guardian) and “the UK’s most creatively curated film festival” (the Independent).

The Festival Programme can be found below:

Reproduced from


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