In 2016 artist Ella Medley-Whitfield worked with teacher Ed and Year 1 at Montem School on the exhibition Imagine Islington. Ella supported Ed Musgrave to design and deliver a 5 workshop programme for the classroom, inspired by the collection from 53 Cross Street.
Ella also worked alongside the pupils in their classroom to create her own new artwork inspired by 53 Cross Street and the class.
Why we chose 53 Cross Street:
‘I am drawn to objects or remnants left behind that can tell a story or have a narrative. I realised that these objects would be food for children’s imagination, they understood the historical aspects and were able to think imaginatively about how the objects had arrived at the house and the museum and who they had once belonged to. All three objects were things that had once been worn by a person and the fact that the shoes had come from the Victorian times gave the children a real historical idea about how long ago this was. This aspect fitted into the curriculum as the group had previously done some work on Victorian times and had some background knowledge for us to develop.
The objects inspired many art ideas for me and the group as it was easily transferable to look at lost objects in the children’s school situation, it is a Victorian school so lent itself well to thinking about the schools history and things at school we could preserve. We particularly looked at the school’s lost property, which I think was a very successful approach as it made the children think about things they overlook everyday.’
Ella collaborated with the pupils to create the Museum of Lost Objects, an installation piece.
The installation contained sculptures of lost objects created by the pupils, and installed on an old school display board. These were presented alongside a framed installation of object labels, that identified the sculptures. Referencing the unique history of the Cross Street artefacts, pupils’ lost objects are similarly elevated to museum pieces.
‘I view my practice as relational and socially engaged, I work with people to collect stories and accounts. I believe it is my responsibility as an artist to retell these stories or accounts creatively for an audience. For this project I was concerned with collecting stories and information from the children. I devised a museum of lost objects, the students recreated in clay objects that they had either lost or misplaced that they really miss. By remaking these objects, they were preserving the memory, so it almost became an object graveyard. I used these clay pieces to incorporate old lost objects taken from the school, taking ownership over the way they were presented and narrated for an audience.’
Alongside the Museum of Lost Objects is a sculptural installation. Pupils created plaster of paris bricks. Peaking out from inside the bricks are found objects, which pupils salvaged from their playground. Lost property has been cast in to the fabric of the bricks, hidden from view but preserved for prosperity, again referencing the history of the Cross Street collection. The bricks are presented within a perspex box.
What we thought about the project:
‘Each week, Ella used different artistic media for the children to use and respond to the artefacts, they created some fantastic artwork which encompassed skills of sculpture, drawing and painting. Resources including plaster, sculpting wire and photography were used effectively and were well above the calibre of normal art materials the children use at school.
Having a full-time artist in class exposed children to the idea of pursuing a career in Art in the future.‘
‘I have worked with objects for many years and really enjoyed this experience to develop my practice with objects. I had never worked with objects taken from a museums collection. It made me think about the historical context of the object more and made me feel more responsible to responding to this object correctly as I didn’t want to get my facts wrong. I also really enjoyed the process of devising creative interactive and educational activities around a single object, this was a challenge but a very positive challenge with many avenues to explore.’