Dealing with the concept of otherness and outward manifestations of interior states, Amanda Coogan’s work focuses on the live event, followed directly, and integrally, by photographic images or video.

Involving a group of people rather than the solo artist, Coogans work for International 04 entitled Beethoven, the Headbangers (2004) represented a move away from earlier performative work in which Coogan generated highly iconic poses, gestures or actions using her own body.

In 50 Ways to Lose your Love Handles she sweated her way to the body beautiful in the jungle of Thailand; in Molly Bloom, standing against the backdrop of Dublin, she aped the city’s statue of Justice and broke wind; naked but for a kitsch tourist apron in Self Portrait as David she assumed the stance and gender of Michelangelo’s famous figure; and cupping her breast in another series of performances, she created a modern-day Madonna.

This playful appropriation of the most hallowed high art – Renaissance painting and sculpture, classical music – into a contemporary framework of immediacy is more than a clever synthesis of past and present, an ironic re-contextualising of historical cultural values. By invoking the power of these visual or musical masterpieces, Coogan also throws light on our present-day cultural obsessions.

For Beethoven, the Headbangers (2004), Coogan orchestrated a group of local people to headbang, not to the ear-bleeding sound of heavy metal, but to the stirring strains of the final ten minutes of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Coogan prompted questions that go beyond the absurd combination of two seemingly diametrically opposed musical forms.

Filmed at Liverpool’s Philharmonic concert hall (with a live re-staging of the piece during the Biennial at Bluecoat, this time involving up to 100 headbangers), Coogan set out to ’explore a collective hysteria and group energy‘. What would have happen if the Ode to Joy chorus became the soundtrack to the mosh-pit? For the artist it was a way of garnering the collective passion she recognised in Liverpool culture, from the massed energy of the football crowd to the group ritual of a karaoke night.

Coogan saw the transference of energy between performer and audience as the most crucial part of the creative process, the headbanging audience members in her International 04 work became the performers, themselves watched by an audience on the video screen.

Beethoven, the Headbangers,
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2004
Exhibited at the BBC Big Screen



The Irish Cultural Relations