Deeside Primary Schools, Williamson Art Gallery, until 8th September, free
It’s obvious that I’m only going to say nice things in this week’s review: dragging an exhibition by primary school children would be the kind of low that really isn’t my style. Although there’s loads of art opened up in town in the last couple of weeks, it was this show that grabbed me this week. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s also been the one-year anniversary this week of taking my final leave from teaching for the arts. Not that I’ve missed it at all (even I’ve been surprised by how little, in fact), I’ve inevitably been indulging in a bit of reflecting this week, and this kind of fit the mood.
There’s three schools exhibitions at the Williamson over summer, which makes sense – with parents looking for things to do with the kids, this gives an attraction to potentially new audiences. I’m focusing on the Deeside schools group show though, because it’s my favourite. Yes, if you look in through the glass door it absolutely looks like classroom artwork. It’s very craft-ish and there’s loads of primary colours: this is what primary school artwork looks like. It’s just an aesthetic – the objects they’ve made are quite delightful.
The purpose behind the work is to get the children thinking about how to be “A PART of the world”. Their caps, not mine – yes, it’s a lesson objective! I think it’s really valuable though, from the point of view of teaching art, that there’s actually two audiences who have been thought of. One is obviously the kids who were learning about sustainability and environmental care – as if any lesson is more needed right now. But the teachers and project organisers have also clearly thought about making something for the audience, too. Maybe they’ve thought that they need to step it up because it’s going in a gallery? I hope that it’s rather that this is the standard they set for all of their work.
What do I mean by this? Well, my favourite pieces by far are the birds. They’ve obviously been scaffolded by adults, including artists from Shore Cottage Studios, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re just nice bits of sculpture. They’re no less good than pieces by professional artists who have made things like this for park trails and similar. They have loads of personality! Some of this is because they’re super tactile (you will definitely want to scrunch the plastic of the spoonbills), but I also think it comes from being made by artists (the kids) who have thought of the whole process as being fun. The point about shoreline plastics is made without a sense of over-earnestness – thoughts of the final effect has gone hand-in-hand with having a good time with the creating process.
Also, there’s bees. I was at Bluedot last weekend and I went to a talk about how all the bees are dying and it’s left me terrified about the issue all over again. You might wonder what the purpose of making a very nice 3D bee scene (I’ve seen less carefully detailed scenes in degree shows) is and how it makes a difference, but at their age it’s that you want them to even start thinking about it. There’s also the double audience in mind here too. We get the same message as the kids, and it’s really clear what that is. Which quite frankly is more than I’ve found in some exhibitions this year. Also, who’s even making good art about climate change? Olafur Eliasson gets a lot of headlines, but is shipping ice from Greenland to London really a sustainable way of making a point? At least this is both sustainable and encouraged thought (as long as the artworks don’t go straight in the bin once they’re done, of course – I’ll have faith they’ve thought about that one).
Even if this review is inspired by a phase of uncustomary sentimentality from an ex-teacher, I’m really buoyed by the ambition of this group show. There’s clearly been thought put in with every age group of what can be a really special project, what processes they can apply and then point at and say “look! That’s mine!”, and which can be admired by all kinds of audiences. In a system where art’s often low on the priority list it shows what can be achieved when a commitment is made to work at it and make it the best you can.