Scratch beneath the surface of our city and you'll find some real hidden gems. So we have set out to explore the best-kept secrets and unsung heroes of Birmingham. This week, Oseyi ventures to The Ikon Gallery...
Being a general lover of the arts (fine, applied and the in-betweens), I would jump at any opportunity to interact with one art form or the other but sadly, as a result of ‘life’ and it’s realities, these days I hardly find the time to enjoy these finer things so, good or bad, the Ikon Gallery experience was a welcome event.
Before my visit to the gallery located at number 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace in Birmingham, I had no prior knowledge of its existence so, I was quite eager to explore. Being the Curious George (or in my case Curious Georgina) that I am, before committing to the event, I had to know more! I asked people about the location; if they had visited before and what they thought and also went online to look at reviews. Although the feedback I received was mixed, most people who knew about the gallery agreed that the building structure and very unique lifts were reason enough to visit the gallery.
After visiting the easy to navigate and very informative website of the Ikon Gallery – www.ikon-gallery.org - I decided to attend the free fifteen minute spotlight tour and spend another fifteen minutes viewing the exhibits. Although I wanted to cycle to the gallery, I was afraid I would not find a secure location to park my bike.
I was expecting to walk into a very old building complete with creaking floorboards and archaic lights, spend thirty minutes looking at boring exhibits while stifling the urge to yawn and then ride in a unique old-fashioned lift that was probably wooden with gold finishing. What I got however was a totally different experience. I was so engrossed in the place that when I checked the time, I had been at the gallery for almost two hours! Within that period, I had experienced a wide range of emotions, interacted with visitors of varied age ranges and felt a connection with the historic past of the building. While I would appreciate more slots for spotlight tours in the future, the gallery gave the impression of being a place for education, entertainment and learning.
After traversing between the two floors of the building that housed the gallery, a shop and a café, at the end of my visit, I left the gallery feeling good, well fed with a satisfied grin on my face.
Based my experience, here are 5 reasons I think anyone should visit the Ikon Gallery:
Ease of Access
The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday and although admission is Free, donations are welcome and appreciated (there is a really big transparent donation box in the middle of the reception).
Getting there: While it is slightly tricky to find initially, I have learned that there are available resources at the Ikon website and the gallery which provide easy to follow directions on how to get there for pedestrians, motorists and cyclists.
The building is hidden off Broad Street and sits regally amidst modern structures and multi-storey buildings daring you to question its existence. I might have walked past it if I did not refer to the directions from the Google Map App on my phone. I generated this earlier in the day by putting in the gallery’s postcode and requesting for directions.There are hubs for bicycle parking in a corner opposite the building and wheelchair access into the gallery.
As a bonus, there’s something about a partnership with a hotel that makes it possible for visitors of the gallery to get local accommodation at a discounted rate!
With materials made from wood, metal and glass, the building has a mixed old and modern structure. There are high chairs at the café for the plus-ones that are not far from one plus, separate male and female toilets and a changing station for babies.
Connections to all floors can be made using the stairs or the lifts – yes the lift was unique. It was definitely not a paternoster and the uniqueness was far from what I expected. This pleasantly surprised me.
The exhibits on display caused me to laugh, feel anxious, feel safe and often times got me to stop and reflect. I had an opportunity to interact with one of the exhibits by pushing myself out of my comfort zone and allowing myself to feel.
While my impression of Jesse Bruton’s pieces was that the artist was depicting body movements and changing emotions and Kan Xuan got me thinking about the passage of time and the value of security especial after viewing the single channel video “Looking, looking, looking for…” that featured a spider crawling over naked bodies in rhythm with the tunes of a humorous soundtrack. Patrick Killoran’s piece was the one that got my adrenaline pumping with the “Observation Deck” which involved lying on a horizontal platform pushing myself out of my comfort zone while battling with my instincts which screamed “don’t go!” after the adrenaline rush, viewing “Central Turkey” a landscape print by Pamela Scott Wilkie had a calming effect by influencing a sense of peace and serenity.
Aside from having a Resource Room where visitors can pick up free materials to learn about upcoming or present events, the Ikon gallery has creative workshops and youth programs that aim to engage members of the public of different age groups.
There was a room with interesting and often beautiful displays. I learned that the materials there were created by children based on their impressions from previous exhibitions at the gallery.
Visiting the tiny gift shop on the ground floor is a must for anyone seeking to buy a rare and different type of souvenir or gift.
Navigating the building at first was initially confusing but thanks to the brightly coloured signs and subtle notices, I could find my way around in no time.
From the moment I entered the gallery, all through my tour and even when I sat for brunch, I was greeted with a warm smile and promptly attended to. The staffs at Ikon are friendly, knowledgeable and possibly intuitive; although I noticed someone dressed in black at almost every corner I turned, they had a way of blending into the background. This allowed me to enjoy my space without feeling the intrusion. However, when I had a question to ask or needed more information on a piece, they seemed to know I needed them and were always right there!
Considering my initial plan to spend 30 minutes at the gallery, I would say the slow paced atmosphere had an influence on my extended stay.
It was casual and pleasant with appropriately lit rooms and spaces. The café was clean and iconic with a menu that serves children and vegetarian meals at competitive prices.
The soft music playing in the background while I ate was welcome and unobtrusive.
Will I be visiting the gallery again? Yes!
The Ikon Gallery has something for everyone. It’s a place you could go to alone, with a group of friends, with screaming toddlers (okay, it might be a good idea to calm them down a bit first though) or even on a date. The atmosphere is relaxed and no one will stare you down for being a little naughty for holding up the lift by going up and down several times.
I enjoyed my visit to the gallery and do believe the Ikon Gallery it is a truly precious gem; hidden in plain sight for not just art lovers but Birmingham locals, students and tourists.
Review written by SWOOPE content partner Oseyi Okoh. Download the SWOOPE app now to order, pay and access exclusive deals all over Birmingham: http://www.swoope.co.uk/