Ullapool High School reflect on the NEO Terra art exhibition

We recently ran a story on the Littoral art project, which explores the issue of marine plastics in a thought provoking way. Lesley Strachan, creative subjects teacher for Ullapool High School, reflects on hers, and her pupil's experience, of the exhibition below.

How long does it take a lump of burned mixed plastic – a plastiglomerate - to decompose?  How much CO2 energy is released when a sculptural cube of mussel pegs or plastic strapping is burned?  What are the benefits of plastic bottle deposit schemes? These were some of the many questions posed and issues presented by artist Julia Barton in her science / art workshops with S2 and S3 high school pupils recently.  

For the past 4 years, Julia has been working to highlight the dangers posed by plastics in our marine environment, through the medium of art.  Her exhibition Neo Terra presents the threat to our environment and ecosystems in a creative and thought-provoking way through a large installation, animation and science lab of samples, data and on-going research.  Julia believes that art is a powerful medium through which we can highlight issues today, and this was the message given to pupils in the workshops.

Both classes of S2 pupils carried out crime-scene investigations on Ullapool’s east beach, removing items of plastic waste which were then researched and traced back to manufacturers.  Pupils used art skills to create intriguing ‘evidence bags’ which were sent back to companies and manufacturer with letters asking them how they intend to improve their negative environmental impact.  Some pupils wrote to MSPs and Councillors asking for support in reducing plastics on our shorelines.  Many of the pupil’s letters were hard-hitting, challenging and used supporting scientific facts to present compelling arguments. We await replies with interest…

A group of S3 ‘Citizen Scientists’ surveyed the shoreline between the two piers in Ullapool. They collected sand samples which they then examined for plastic particles using digital microscopes back at the art gallery lab. Their findings were photographed and superimposed over the top of pupil drawings of sand hoppers to create stunning projections in the gallery space.  Their scientific data will be taken by Julia to the Scottish Parliament in the autumn when Neo Terra is shown there.  Artwork and projections will hopefully be shown at a school assembly next session.

The workshops were a fabulous opportunity for pupils to engage with an extremely relevant and pressing issue, building knowledge and finding their voice as active and concerned citizens through engagement with art.  Ullapool High School were extremely fortunate to be able to run these workshops through a generous funding contribution from Ullapool Harbour Trust.  Our thanks go to the Harbour Trust Board who supported this opportunity for our young people.  And if you want to know how long a plastiglomerate takes to decompose, ask an S2 pupil!

To read more about the exhibition, read our introduction to Julia's work here.


28 June 2017

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