Fount of knowledge

21st February 2003 at 00:00
Martin Child visits a school where pupils collaborated with a sculptor to design a fountain

The soporific sound of trickling water is just the thing for relaxing at lunchtime, away from studies, sitting on a bench in the shade of a tree.

Suddenly strange chanting - it's as if the words are inverted - emmanates from the ground below. The noise stops, the trickle continues, then a chattering noise starts. This kinetic water sculpture is in the grounds of Lancaster Girls' Grammar School, which is a technology college.

The sculpture is the result of a project to devise an unusual addition to the school. The brief was for a work which would be aesthetically pleasing, cross-curricular, energy efficient and involve an artist.

Keith Strachan, the college's head of science, explains how the project started: "There was funding for a technology project and we were also planning to work with an artist in residence. So we came up with the idea of a joint technology, science and art project."

The sculptor Jony Easterby, who has produced environmental sculptures around the world, was contacted and he gave a presentation of his work to pupils and staff and produced a design which incorporated pupils' ideas. It was for a sculpture with a water fountain with moving parts and sound. Year 12 science students researched the best source of power and decided on solar panels.

Jony made fequent visits to the school, discussing progress and working alongside pupils. The fountain fills a dish and the water pours out into cylinders designed to tip when full, spilling water over pebbles. As the containers tip they activate loudspeakers buried in the ground.

Although parts of the sculpture were made in specialist workshops outside the school, pupils created sound samples and worked on the installation of the fountain and landscaping which included making a flamboyant bench to sit on and enjoy the feature.

The girls thoroughly enjoyed working with Jony as he was "more informal than a teacher and he didn't tell us off - just ordered us around a bit".

The creation of the sculpture is not the end of the project and there are many spin-offs, particularly for the science department. There are plans to use the solar panels to charge batteries which will enable the sculpture to work when it is dark. A wind generator is also a possibility. Science classes measure light levels, current and voltage and feed the figures into a computer linked to the school network.

Everyone was highly impressed by Jony's commitment and hard work. The scheme also got departments meeting and talking and helped refine project management skills. The school says the project was very cost-effective, as it brought so many pupils, teachers and departments together, and had serious educational applications. Headteacher Pam Barber said the school used technology college money to pay for the artist and for the materials.

It took a year to finish the sculpture. At the opening ceremony, attended by governors, staff and pupils, Jony Easterby said how much he had enjoyed working with the school and how delighted he was with the final installation.

The school is very short of space, but adding the water sculpture has created a new and exciting dimension to the grounds. Although modern in appearance, this sculpture relates well to the nearby Georgian art block.

It will also ensure that some pupils, after a lunchtime of being soothed by the sound of water, will be ready for an afternoon of learning.


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