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Out of their heads in the gallery

Jane Norrie sees a Lost Generation confounding the stereotypes. The latest exhibition at Birmingham's Angle Gallery, The Lost Generation?, in which all the work is by artists between the ages of 16 and 20, is intended to act as a catalyst for debate about young people, how they see themselves and how they are portrayed in the media.

Exhibition co-ordinator Paul Bryan says, "Young people are at the forefront of the news in a way they have never been before. Whether they are seen as slackers, vulnerable and at risk, impenetrably alienated or downright anti-social, everyone seems worried about youth."

Works on show at the gallery, a community- and artist-led space in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, were chosen from those made by pupils of West Midlands schools and colleges who were asked to respond to the questions, how do you see yourself, what are the issues you care about, what makes you happy, sad or angry?

They produced paintings, sculptures, photographs and films, nearly 150 pieces in all, which amounted to a strong overall statement. Themes include abuse and divorce, drugs and violence, racism and environmental pollution, and the pressure to conform both from peers and adults. As for artistic influences, they range from pop art and advertising to Hieronymous Bosch and Edvard Munch.

Although a few pieces celebrate peace and friendship, most of the work is pessimistic, a critique of what is wrong with the adult world. The sculpture of David by Ian Swales, who is completing his HND at Stafford College, sums it up. Slouching at a street corner, facing Goliaths such as unemployment and drugs, his contemporary David is executed in mostly dark tones but with the suggestion that the adolescent is emerging into a resolute young man.

A lack of direction concerning the future means some look inward rather than out to society. This strategy is effectively highlighted in James Duncan's photographic installation which takes his own body as its subject.

The idea for the exhibition came out of a discussion with Rowena Jackson, head of art at Cadbury College, whose students pro-vide the bulk of the work in the exhibition She has 80 art students in the lower sixth and 50 in the upper sixth, and one of her policies is that the students should exhibit as much as possible outside the college, so that they get the chance to meet artists and experience different venues.

Consequently, the project was given to the lower sixth for coursework and also suited some of the upper sixth's ongoing themes. "I was enthusiastic to give the students the opportunity to do work about their life and the future, " she says. "Showing the importance of the content of art, where the idea comes first, and then you work out how to execute it."

To extend the debate, extra events have also been arranged. These include drama workshops, a forum led by Helen Wilkinson of Demos, and a series of films on youth culture from the Fifties to the Nineties, including a preview of the controversial teen film Kids.

In addition, Paul Bryan is taking school groups around the exhibition in order to identify and explore the issues - including his own belief that the panic about youth culture reflects the insecurities of society at large.

Schools and colleges involved are Dudley College of Further Education, Stafford College of Further Education, Cadbury College, Joseph Chamberlain School and Heartlands High. To book for a tour of the exhibition, which runs until April 30, telephone 0121 233 9260. price Pounds 1 per student.

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