Explosive works

Carolyn O'Grady

TTis month, students at Sutton high sports college in St Helen's exploded a cello. Or at least a pyrotechnician organised the detonation under their direction. The destruction of the old instrument was filmed and the result accompanied by a soundtrack of one of the more boisterous parts of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, is one of many artworks from the school which will be shown during the Liverpool Biennial, an art festival which takes place in the city from September to November.

Sutton is one of three schools working with the Biennial in an unusual cross-curricular collaboration organised by Creative Partnerships Merseyside. The aim is to raise awareness of contemporary art and of the process of making and exhibiting art. At the school, eight students have collaborated with two artists, Amanda Coogan, whom they shadowed as she presented work to the Biennial, had it accepted and then developed her ideas, and Patricia MacKinnon-Day, who acted as their mentor in producing their own work.

Amanda's work, involving a choir head-banging to Beethoven's "Ninth", particularly appealed to the students who followed up their choice of artist with a visit to a performance of the symphony by the Liverpool Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

From a deprived area of Liverpool, many of the students had never been to a concert of any type before. "They were absolutely gobsmacked by the noise, volume and explosiveness of it," says Derek Boak, the school's head of expressive arts. "It was decided to make some site specific work - a response to the building (The Liverpool Royal Philharmonic Hall) and to the performance."

An abundance of work has resulted, much of which has involved learning and painstakingly applying difficult techniques, including making prints of the Art Deco features of the building and on the theme of musical instruments, and casting instruments in clay and paper.

John Harley, 17, found the experience of the extended encore (four-and-a-half minutes) "weird" and is now set on "filming and looping it" for 12 hours. "It's not just about making art, but that you also have to go cap in hand to make things happen", says Mr Boak, referring to how students had to confront some of the realities of the art world, including having to find money to make the video and for much else (including the pyrotechnician).

"They saw how Amanda needed to communicate, indeed, sell her ideas to others and had to hone their own communication skills to convey their ideas."

"We learned a lot about the process and about how artists develop their work", says Nicola Ellis, 17, who had the idea for the exploding cello.

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Carolyn O'Grady

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