A show of animal delights

14th November 1997 at 00:00
Animal Magic. City Art Centre. Edinburgh until January 10

Deedee Cuddihy reviews an exhibition that will astound the under-fives.

Animal Magic, the major new exhibition for children which has opened at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh, attracted 1,500 visitors on its first Saturday and about 1,000 a day during half-term. The day I visited, in the company of a 10-year-old, the place was full of parents, grandparents, pushchairs and dozens of under-fives, most of whom were having a whale of a time, dashing around the big exhibition spaces, delighting in everything there was to see and do.

Pre-schoolers and their carers are likely to make repeat visits to this show, which has elements of nursery education, zoo and natural history museumart gallery all rolled into one, in a warm, centrally located venue with lots of toilets and all of it free.

Animal Magic's big appeal to the under-fives might leave older kids - and teachers - wondering what the show has to offer them. And that's a good question, because although the organisers have stated that their target group is seven to 12, my young companion and I felt they had under-estimated the sophistication of their intended audience.

The exhibition is divided into three themes, beginning with "large, visually exciting works celebrating the animal kingdom" under the heading "Show Stoppers". This is really the art gallery bit, where the display includes a beautiful rug woven by the Edinburgh Tapestry Company, based on a delightful Elizabeth Blackadder drawing of cats; an intriguing, automated work featuring lots of colourfully painted wooden animals; a clever Jonah and the Whale-type fish made from two old rowing boats; and - cleverest of all - a life-size comical pack of friendly-looking hound dogs, made entirely from old Wellington boots found in an abandoned tin mine.

The artist, David Kemp, has several other works in the exhibition, all of which are made from junk and astound the visitor with their ingenuity, such as the three old spectacle cases, broken frame and pair of glasses arranged to look like an insect.

But "Show Stoppers" also features some stuffed penguins (all died of natural causes or accidentally), a Bengal tiger, plus three bird skeletons, which, interesting as they are, don't look as if they really belong in that section. I couldn't help wondering if they'd been put there to fill a few gaps in the slightly under-populated exhibition space.

Theme number two is "Animal Magicians" where "visitors create their own fantastic animals, individually or in a group". This floor looked like a paradise for the under-eights (and that's stretching it) with its rack of fur fabric animal costumes and a stage to mess around on, boxes of construct-your-own-animal kits, simple computer programs and a lavishly furnished book, puzzle and cartoon corner, plus an attractive little display of old-fashioned animal themed toys. But it was hard to see what the appeal would be for a 12-year-old.

On the third floor, things began to look up for the older child with the "Animal Detection" section, where "animals are looked at more closely by visitors, scientifically and artistically". Among many other things, this features a rather grown-up art area, where you can sketch from a display of magnificent stuffed birds - including a golden eagle, a more sophisticated computer program, fascinating video footage of nest building, real fish in tanks and an impressive life-size sculpted head of Kumba, the gorilla at Edinburgh Zoo.

But those inquisitive under-fives get everywhere: there was one looking down a microscope at a peacock feather - with a dummy in her mouth.

For an Animal Magic teachers' pack and information about schools workshops, tel: 0131 529 3993

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