Personal effects

11th February 2005 at 00:00
Professional artists have teamed up with pupils in a project that explores the significance of their possessions, writes Sarah Farley

Carefully arranged cut-outs from magazines, postcards, cryptic newspaper headlines and old bus tickets adorn the walls. It's not quite what pupils from St Edmund's RC Primary School in Birmingham expected to see at the first solo exhibition of African artist Georges Adeagbo, at the city's Ikon Gallery.

The show, Writing in Space, is a long way from traditional ideas of drawing and painting. In fact, it could easily remind the pupils of a teenage sibling's bedroom, given that the artist has used a range of curiosities, information and objects he has gathered to communicate his ideas.

The show is the focus for a partnership between the Ikon Gallery and St Edmund's, which is working with two artists, poet Roz Goddard and the visual artist Lorna Rose.

Adeagbo's work consists of hundreds of items, including book jackets, clothes, artefacts and hand-written notes, spread over the walls and floor in three rooms of the gallery.

"It's like an outdoor market stall," says Andrew Tim, the gallery's education officer. "The exhibits suggest a personal archive being sorted into categories. These installations are made to be seen, but also walked through and read."

After a gallery visit came three days of practical sessions at St Edmund's, during which Lorna Rose worked alongside the pupils to create a range of posters based on the identity flags found in African villages.

"The flags use images to depict what is important about a village, so I asked the children to make collages and stick pictures on to a sheet of paper, choosing things that said something about their lives," says Lorna.

"What emerged are some wonderful posters showing their interests - playing the guitar and basketball, families and friends, pets and places they know."

Next, Roz Goddard inspired pupils to add text to the "flags". After a refresher visit to Ikon, Roz showed the group her own poster, a montage of references to important aspects of her own life. After that, the children began to work on the textual element of their posters. They experimented with various writing methods and thought about words that matter to them.

Among the ideas that emerged were a rap, some names for a family of kittens, and why it feels good to dance.

Class teacher Laura Holton is impressed with the children's reaction to the project.

"They have become really interested in Georges Adeagbo," she says. "They love talking about him and saying his name. It helps me to see how specialists work in school. We have all learnt more about each other because pupils have opened up and talked about what matters to them.

"It's a boost to their confidence - they see that you don't have to be good at drawing to express yourself through art. They are also progressing in literacy because, without realising it, they use speech marks and capitals and expand their vocabulary."

The pupils' project is on show at the Ikon until February 18.

Education is a core activity at the gallery, where exhibitions of contemporary art are regularly displayed with the backing of Arts Council England and Birmingham City Council.

Curator for education and interpretation, Saira Holmes, is responsible for choosing suitable artists whose work lends itself to school projects.

"We have had some long-term projects that include workshops, for which we usually receive external funding," she says. "We also work with the gifted and talented programme to provide workshops led by an artist, for which there is a charge per head."

One recent project was Quinton International, in which the acclaimed artist Ian Davenport collaborated with 60 Year 6 pupils from Woodhouse Primary School in Quinton, Birmingham.

"We lined our resources room with plastic sheeting, provided trays of household paint and watched while the group explored ways of making abstract artwork without using a brush," recalls Andrew Tim. "It was amazing to watch the way children tipped, poured and drizzled the paint. We printed postcards of eight of the final pieces and there was a touring exhibition."

Other initiatives at the gallery include work with Creative Partnerships, a government-funded nationwide project that creates links between schools and cultural organisations. Five local schools have been working with Ikon since 2002, looking at the work of the artist George Shaw, whose paintings depict the modest places that people live in.

A booklet to accompany the exhibition that emerged from the collaboration says the young artists have been required to "focus on the places and spaces of their own everyday experience, arriving at means of expression through conversation and practical demonstration".

The Ikon Gallery also takes part in various national events, including Children's Art Day and The Big Draw.

For more information contact the Ikon education team: telephone 0121 248 0708; www.ikon-gallery.co.uk

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