A BUILDING dogged by controversy and financial catastrophes before it even opened is well worth a visit – especially if it’s hosting a temporary exhibition which attracts you.
You can even get to go for quite a pleasant walk during your visit, without having to go out into the cold.
The Public in West Bromwich is about a 45 minute drive from Coventry. It looms startlingly out of a rather bleak West Midlands landscape of a shopping centre and cleared wastelands, and you catch glimpses in gaps between buildings as you try to find your way to the nearest car park.
The building is a huge rectangular box designed by Will Alsop, with irregular shaped windows rimmed in magenta. The building cost more than double its original budget, and went into administration before it opened in 2009, but was helped out by a further Arts Council grant. It is now run by Sandwell Arts Trust, a registered charity.
You enter though bright pink doors, and inside there is the Pink Tank cafÃ© bar. Fluorescent pink lights illuminate most of the ground floor and I found them disorientating – but they won a national lighting award in 2009, so obviously not everyone feels that way. I was drawn towards silver pod shapes on one side of the building – but they turned out to just house the toilets!
Taking the lift to the top floor, I worked my way around exhibits of photographs, and interactive screens telling the life stories of West Bromwich people. It was here that the pleasantly long walk began – a gently sloping wooden walkway meanders throughout the building until you eventually reach the ground floor again. Along the way there’s plenty of fun interactive things to do that kids – and those of us who are still kids at heart – will love.
As someone moves items and signs on a flat white board, other people can go and pose against a wall and have their photos taken with the items from the board as part of the photo – and it’s immediately projected on to the wall for you to see.
There are lot of other exhibits of interactive digital art works – you can wave your hands about in a frame and it directs coloured images. You can watch yourself on a TV screen, and listen to soundscapes and images moving. My favourite was the opportunity to stand on a pad and become a small avatar shown on the screen in front of me – I could watch it floating in real time in The Public, as people walked around and by moving about on the pad I could direct its flight. Silly but good fun.
When I went there was a large temporary exhibition on by photographer Martin Parr of Black Country people. There are still some of his large format prints on show, plus, until March 27, Collide-o-scope, an interactive work which visitors can star in, and Touch Interactive 2011 an open exhibition of new art including “a reflection on human interaction” by Coventry University student Victor Fischi. It also shows films, plays, live music, comedians, and hosts lots of other events.
The Public has taken a lot of criticism but if you look out for something that’s on there that you fancy it’s worth the trip. You can read more here.