Working Together

29 Dec

Over the last 12 years or so, I’ve taken part in several artistic collaborations, which have tended to flow alongside what I viewed as my main solo art practice.  This year, and, as I look ahead into next year, most of my time seems to be working on new projects with a range of artists and other people.  So my practice is transforming.

Working in teams, large and small, is integral to my experience as engineer/environmental consultant, but it has been a fairly slow realisation that collaboration is something I thrive on in an artistic sense.

Most artists collaborate at some point in their career, and there are famous examples like Warhol/Basquiat, Rauschenberg/Johns, Rauschenberg/Cunningham, Krasner/Pollock, Bunuel/Dali, Richter/Palermo, Abramovic/Ulay, Kahlo/Rivera and so on.  The work of some artists like Gilbert and George or Jake and Dinos Chapman is almost entirely one of collaboration such that the individual practices are indistinguishable.  One of my favourite collaborative partnerships is that between Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, which has produced some fascinating, mysterious installations and audio-visual works.

The artists can define their own “rules” or guidelines.  Sometimes, each artist produces their own work in response to a common theme, and the results are shown together.  Other artists work progressively or iteratively, each producing their own pieces but in direct response to the other artist.  This might depend on whether the two artists work in similar media or whether they take entirely different approaches.  Collaborations in which both artists work together to produce works that combine both their inputs can be very interesting because this often means that both artists have to move out of their comfort zone, take risks and negotiate.

That negotiation can be challenging.  Each artist’s work is usually a very personal expression, and so the collaborator gets to know the other artist and gains a little understanding of how they operate. One or both might feel that they must compromise in aligning input towards common goals.

For me, this is a stimulating environment because sharing work is when your art comes alive, open to response, re-evaluation, new interpretation.  Sharing with a public audience is important too, but sharing in a supportive space with a “critical friend” enables me to investigate work within a constructive dialogue.  It gives the work a sense of purpose that is difficult to achieve working alone.

Two of the collaborations I have been involved with in the past included the Cloud Gallery collective and my joint commission with Mairi Turner to document the development of new allotments at Coton Hill.  I enjoyed both collaborations.

At the time with the Cloud Gallery, in 2007, I was probably the least experienced artist in a group of 6 artists/Cloud Gazers yet all “team members” played a key role in delivering projects which included an eco-architecture camping weekend, a sculpture/installation and artist walk as part of the Greenhouse Shropshire exhibition in 2008.  Individual inputs were often fairly indistinguishable within the final output.  And it felt to me, that the synergy of all the artists enabled us to produce work that we may never have made as individuals.

My work with Mairi Turner also had a valuable sharing of insight, experience and skills.  In this case, though, each of us documented the project using photography in our own individual way without meeting on the site itself.  Our work was then combined together  in a book and in an exhibition.

A paper I read earlier this year describes a collaboration between two artists beautifully, poignantly.  The paper was entitled: “Heavens Above” by Andrea Toth & Judy Thomas, First published in 2013 by Art Editions North.  You can find it in Essays from the “On–Walking Conference” The University of Sunderland (June 28 & 29, 2013)  Conference was organised by Heather H. Yeung of W.A.L.K. (Walking, Art, Landskip and Knowledge)—a Research Centre at the University of Sunderland

Here’s a sample quotation which is very close to my way of thinking about collaborations, especially involving walking:

“…a collaborative art practice of walking together, merging experiencing, making, presenting, and social engagement. Our walks have become a platform to share ideas and make new work, providing not only motivation but also a safe space to explore themes of memory, space and spirituality, while being inspired by weather, light and the landscape.

The value of this relationship is huge. To be an artist is a predominantly solitary activity; to be able to have support and be supported gives great strength. Our combined experiences, thoughts and connections enhance greatly what might have been done individually. The collaboration is pushing us both to be more courageous and move out of our comfort zones.

Through a process of painting, photography and film, we are in a research phase, responding directly to the physical world, bridging to an inner spiritual world, through visual representation. The act of walking and getting into the landscape also gives us a chance to pause and reflect on our individual and collaborative work, which is an important and integral step in the creative process. Our ongoing questioning dialogue along with walking with others opens up thoughts and possibilities at a greater and deeper level than if done individually.”

Over the last 5-6 months or so, I have been working with artist/poet Emily Wilkinson on a couple of different ventures.  The first of these, involving walking with a groups of people to gather inspiration for creative writing and making collages, led to some pilot workshops during the November (Read more here on walking/writing and  collage).

During this time we also partnered with artists Ted Eames and Jamila Walker to form a new collective, called we are Here Here! aiming at collaborative, socially-engaged and participatory projects about place and community.

A second project with Emily involved exploring creative responses to a privately owned “secret woodland” in Shrewsbury, or as we termed it: a dappled glade.  We made work individually and in response to each other’s work. The woodland itself was quite neglected with a fair amount of fly-tipped material, overgrown scrub and ivy.  We decided to start a clean up of the woodland to make a small but tangible positive impact on a place that we felt a connection with.  Neighbouring landowners are generally in support of what we started and we might, perhaps, achieve something with a sustainable future in that community.

It remains to be seen whether Emily and I can capture some of our creative responses and work in the woodland in some finished pieces of art.

So what else might I be collaborating on.  Quite a lot it seems:

  • Ted Eames and I are partnering with the Lawley and Overdale Local History Group and numerous enthusiastic supporters to initiate a series of art projects/walks to raise awareness of a significant historical event that happened in Old Park near Dawley in the early 19th Century;
  • I am participating in the Encounters event, organised by Ted Eames and hosted by the Shropshire Visual Art Network, which puts artists together with poets in order to create collaborative work for an exhibition in Spring 2018.  I am working as visual artist paired with author/poet Kate Innes, and as a writer paired with painter Paul Baines;

At the launch of Encounters at the VAN Gallery

  • I have formed a collaboration with Ursula Troche, a UK based German artist/psychogeographer.  Our work (Ursula’s poetry and my painting) will feature in the Encounters exhibition and we are also developing an outline scope for a collaborative project involving walking;
  • I have recently started developing ideas and a scope for a very exciting project with Gareth Jones, an artist/academic based in Osaka, Japan.  The project will research experiences of walking in virtual spaces and real walks in our respective locations.
  • I have been accepted onto an international arts collaboration exchange which could lead to some very interesting work about place, and opening out to new audiences.  I’m just awaiting to hear further details about that.

Its early days to predict what, if anything, might emerge from these collaborations.  But then that is the exciting part of it – we have to work together to make it happen.

 

 

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One Response to “Working Together”

  1. maintenantman January 17, 2018 at 9:15 am #

    Very interesting to read this account of your growth as an artist, and your increasing engagement in collaborative working.
    I like the word ‘collaborate’…its root meaning of ‘work together’ takes things further than most of the other ‘co-‘ prefixed words.
    It’s interesting to note how the word has also been used in sinister contexts by politicians and the media, perhaps originating in the individualist / capitalist fear of people getting together and creating communal experience.
    Wilbert Harrison got it right in his excellent “Let’s Work Together”…with a later very good version by Canned Heat. Ignore the dreadful Bryan Ferry (individualiist / capitalist / neo-liberalist) version…!

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