Faye Ellis, Digital Learning Programmes Manager, British Museum
I’ve liked Grayson Perry’s work for a long time, and was hugely excited when I heard that the British Museum would be staging an exhibition of his work. He’s a bit of a legend in my family – there are lots of Grayson Perry books lying around my parents’ house, and my Mum even dressed up as him once – complete with rosy cheeks and teddy bear. Knowing a bit about his work, I was also very aware that the content of the exhibition might be quite adult, and wasn’t too hopeful that we’d be able to do many Grayson-inspired family activities. However, much to my delight, it turned out that we’d be able to run an activity in the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre. If you’ve not been yet, the Samsung Centre is a digital education space for young people in the British Museum. We run free activities for families and 13-18s every weekend, and the Grayson Perry session would make up part of that programme.
A lot of the Museum’s activities for young people based on the exhibition have centred around Alan Measles, Perry’s childhood teddy bear, who is, on the surface, the ‘child-friendly face’ of the exhibition (but look closer and you’ll discover he’s a witty, cynical old bear with a strong tendency to swear). We wanted to stick with the theme of teddy bears, but do something a little different. We decided to run a session called Teddy time traveller, inspired by the idea of taking a childhood toy with you on a journey (as Grayson Perry did when he travelled around Bavaria in 2010) and blogging – something which Alan Measles does himself from time to time.
The session has three stages – firstly, families have their photograph taken in front of a green screen with their teddy bear (or one of our six standby bears, if they don’t have one of their own). I even donated my own childhood bear, the unimaginatively named Brown Ted, to take part:
Next, they use Photoshop (the children are amazingly quick to pick it up!) to insert themselves into an illustrated scene. Finally, they upload the picture to a WordPress blog, and write a short entry about their travels. It was important to me that the children found a ‘voice’ for their bear, and so I put some of the less adult Alan Measles quotes on the walls to inspire them! Although most children wrote the blogs from their own perspective, we did have a few writing as their toys.
Here’s part of a blog entry I particularly liked – especially because of the enormous handful of toys Dan took to Egypt with him:
I went to Egypt and I had lots of fun and a nosebleed. That’s the thing with time travel: nosebleeds. I liked it at Egypt. It was hot. I did some digging and found lots of beads and necklaces and jewellery and a model of a Pharoah. Monkey enjoyed it lots and Margot and Foofah enjoyed it. It was too hot for Monkey…
I wanted the scenes to be visually exciting, and so I asked the illustrator Rob Flowers to create backgrounds of ancient China, Greece, Rome, Egypt and Mexico. His work is bright, bold and funny, just like Grayson’s. Rob used pictures of objects from the Museum when creating the illustrations, and was very interested in where they came from and what they were used for. He was recently interviewed by Topman.co.uk in which he mentions the project and the Museum. Here’s my favourite of the four backgrounds – ancient Mexico:
Grayson often mentions technology when giving talks or writing blogs, whether it’s to discuss his dislike of the way we use mobile phones or to write about his appreciation of the potential of technology in craft and design. He’s used technology in his work, including to create some wonderful digital tapestries. It was therefore interesting to create a workshop that entirely used technology, but to create an illusion – children travelling back in time, teddy bears writing blogs…it’s all part of delving deep inside your imagination (something Grayson does in spades) whether it’s through the use of technology or not.
The thing that pleased me most of all about the activity was the fact that children did actually bring their own teddies along – it meant that a lot of our standby teddies sat unused most of the time, but it was hugely encouraging to us that the children felt their bears were so important. One even brought her ‘second-favourite’ teddy because of the fear of losing her favourite one!
We’ll be running six Teddy time traveller sessions altogether – the last one will be on Saturday 4 February. Bring your children, nieces, nephews and all their friends – and don’t forget your teddies!