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Message in a postcard;Arts

Professional artists and primary pupils have worked closely together on a special exhibition. Denyse Presley reports

Stills Gallery in Edinburgh has teamed up with three of the city's primary schools, Corstorphine, Dumbryden and South Morningside, to create a public exhibition to celebrate the new millennium.

Entitled Messages from the Future, it is, says artistic director Kate Tregaskis, intended "to stage a show of work by the artists of the future which combines old and new technologies". In this case both digital technology and traditional photography are used to create a multimedia postcard from the future.

The children began the project work in the classroom by filling out questionnaires which were designed to make them imagine what life might be like in 2043, when they will be in their fifties. They spoke to their grandparents and parents about the changes that had happened in their lifetimes, so that they could extrapolate about the future.

At the gallery, the children worked with professional artists Lindsay Perth and Kenny Bean to make photograms. They used their hands and pieces of industrial hardware, such as coils and springs, as templates, and then scanned their images into a computer. They added photographs of themselves and written messages and manipulated the images to make their postcards. They also made videos in which they discussed their visions of the future. Finally, the images were printed as A2 posters to be exhibited.

Environmental concerns featured strongly. In one Corstorphine pupil's vision of the future, our pets have become endangered wild species and society must float above the planet's surface. In another postcard, Edinburgh Castle is surrounded by a protective bubble to preserve it.

Fran Nelson, Corstorphine's P6 class teacher, soon began to notice the benefits of the project. "It brought out a lot of imaginative writing and discussion in class, which is very important when they are developing their language skills. Then there is all the information technology and the imaginative work they've demonstrated at Stills. They're having so much intensive one-to-one tutoring, which is something we can't get in school. They've had a great introduction to the technology."

The project gave the children the opportunity to develop core skills in English, maths, science, arts and computer science. "There might have been reluctance on the part of teachers to let us have the kids for the two and a half days at the gallery if it was just a painting or a sculpture project," says Ms Tregaskis. "This way it allowed them to fulfil a lot of their term's work in half a week."

Despite all the new technology, the darkroom proved to be most popular. Colin Andrews, the resources manager, says: "It's that magical thing, whenever you put a piece of paper in the developer and the image suddenly appears. That they get excited about. I think they also like the messy, hands-on approach." One parent has since been asked to get all his darkroom equipment down from the attic.

Ms Tregaskis recalls: "There were children (taking part) who were four years below in their reading age and one child was slightly autistic. Ordinarily they would be reticent or unruly, but the different environment has meant their confidence has shot through the roof.

"One little boy from South Morningside is disruptive in class, but by the end he was rushing around with a tray with wet prints on it trying to help other people dry their prints."

There will be a chance for more schools to become involved when the exhibition takes to the road: education packs will accompany the Scottish tour to inspire work in other classrooms. The gallery is also launching a website which will suggest other project ideas.

Messages from the Future, Stills Gallery, Cockburn Street, Edinburgh, Dec 10-Jan 29, tel 0131 622 6200

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