Dorothy Towers

Sean Burns

23 September – 25 September 2022, 20:00 (doors open 19:30)

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.

In September, a new 40-minute, 16mm film work will premiere at Vivid Projects, Birmingham. 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 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.


Friday 23 September and Saturday 24 September 20:00 (doors open 19:30) have now SOLD OUT with all proceeds to Birmingham AIDS & HIV Memorial.

Extra date: Sunday 25 September, 20:00 (doors open 19:30). If you are unwaged or experiencing financial hardship, please select to remove the donation. Click Here To Book.

Associated Events:

Afterparty: Centrala, Birmingham, Saturday 24 September  21:30 (free).

In Conversation: Vivid Projects, Sunday 25 September 16:00 (free, click here to book). Burns will be in conversation with artist, curator and writer Cathy Wade

Sean Burns (b. 1991, Birmingham, UK) is an artist, editor and writer based in London, UK. He is an assistant editor of frieze and sits on an advisory board at Tate. He co-runs Queer Street Press, a publishing house celebrating LGBTQ+ artists and writers. His work and research interests focus on regional/social/nightlife histories.

Dorothy Towers is supported by Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund and Paul Hamlyn Foundation. It is presented with Birmingham 2022 Festival and Vivid Projects, Birmingham, UK.

Images: Sean Burns, Dorothy Towers, 2022, 16mm film still. Courtesy: © Sean Burns

Clydesdale and Cleveland Towers Billy and Kiki José Seemaa A38 mural