Learning Materials

Gas-Air machine: Ella Medley-Whitfield and Samuel Rhodes Primary Department

In 2016 artist Ella Medley-Whitfield  worked with teacher Kelly Waite and Zebra and Lion class at Samuel Rhodes Primary Department on the exhibition ‘Imagine Islington.

Why we chose the Gas-Air Machine:

‘I chose this object because I was working with an SEN school and thought a theme of health had potential to be sensory based and introspective.  I think that this is an important part of the children’s learning and development thinking about their own bodies and development and creatively responding to this idea. It gave us a lot of potential to creatively think about our bodies and senses.’


Our artwork:

Body Boxes 

Pupils created this installation piece, composed of a series of individual, interactive sculptural artworks. Each body box combines collage, sculpture, sound and sensory art.

‘The class have each created a backpack gallery, which is a representation of the inside of their body. The class described the inside of my body as a house for my child; we took this idea and asked the group to create houses for the inside of their bodies. Each box is filled with sculptures, paintings, illustrations, and are multi sensory for an audience to interact with. They have a combination of mediums used like sculptural collages intended for an audience to explore. They are presented as a large grid on the wall on hooks. Grids are a way of representing the idea that each of these students are unique and individual just as each of the children born from the air and gas box were.’


final work 3



‘I fell pregnant halfway through the project and this fed into my approach to the object, as its main purpose was to help women in labour. This became a large part of the project and something the children and myself could relate to.

The artwork I made in response to the object was an embroidered, enlarged line drawing of the children’s portraits of my un born child. I was fascinated by the idea that the Gas-Air Machine had helped deliver personalities into the world, but at the stage of birth these babies futures and prospects have not yet been decided. Nobody knows what the child will be like, or even what sex it is.

The pupils at Samuel Rhodes, when they found out I was pregnant, were immediately drawn to the game of guessing what my child would be like. It dawned on me that the children’s guesses were as good as anyone’s. I turned the game into an activity where the children acted as detectives, asking me questions about myself and my partner. With the information they gathered they drew portraits of my unborn child. It is these drawings I have enlarged and sewn onto a large piece of material. The action of sewing is homage to all the women that would have used the Gas-Air Machine in the past, I contemplated their lives as I engaged in this common activity associated with females at this point in history.

I have a cast of my pregnant stomach to work alongside the embroidered drawings. Both are portraits of my unborn child in 2016.’


final work 2

final work 1

What we thought of the project:

‘In my opinion, artists simple see so much that others do not. Our artist opened my mind to greater possibilities in Art. Pupils understood that Art is multifaceted, in the sense that it can involve smells, Hoovers, blow dryers, sewing, speaking, mixing, writing, touching and more. There was simple something for every pupil and I was impressed by their anticipation of each next step as the days progressed. I am am sure I will have less pupils shying away from the ‘Art’ word.

I expected to be ‘doing’ art, but I did not expect the project to cover so much curriculum ground We take a theme based, cross curricular approach across our school, so I was more encouraged to learn that writing, spoken word, history and design and technology were being met, fitting well into our way of learning. I had not thought about how much could come from scrutiny of a single object.’




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