Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
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By: Nicola Dale
The aim of this blog is to share my experiences of collaboration.
Although the majority of my time is spent making my own work, I keep getting drawn back into collaborations... why do I enjoy them? Why are they difficult? Why are they satisfying? I hope to try and work towards answering these questions in this blog.
# 66 [27 December 2011]
During 2011 I was particularly inspired by:
Christian Marclay, The Clock
Opening Night, John Cassavetes
Lands End, Ruth Claxton
Luc Ferrari, Electronic Works
Andrei Tarkovsky, Stalker
Breaking the Frame, Surgeon
Origami, Akira Yoshizawa
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Pulse Room
Ai Wei Wei, Sunflower Seeds
Thee Oh Sees, Block of Ice
On the Improvement of the Understanding, Spinoza
Radwan Moumneh: Colin Stetson, The Stars in His Head (Dark Lights Remix)
Thanks to everyone who collaborated with me and to anyone who exhibited, commissioned, published and/or in any way worked with me this year – I am very grateful to you all.
See you in 2012!
# 65 [4 December 2011]
… then, I blew out the candle
With a beautifully circular piece of lucky timing, I got to celebrate the opening of Kindle (my solo exhibition at John Rylands Library) with a trip down electronic memory lane… I went to see Plastikman live and - what with the opening sample being so appropriate and all - I pretended he did the tune quoted above just for me.
Anyway, I’ve been working with Untitled Gallery and JRUL for over a year to create Kindle and I still can’t quite believe it’s all installed and the show has started. I’m now preparing for the artist’s tours – the first of which happens next Saturday – and whilst going over various scribbles in my notebook, I found this quote from Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” (a book which has provided much inspiration for the show):
[The library] was then the place of a long, centuries old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.
Yet again, the usefulness of collaboration suggests itself – as a visual artist you spend years turning looking into seeing, but what about the importance of turning hearing into listening? No listening, no dialogue. No dialogue, no ideas. No ideas, no artwork… and no artist.
# 64 [21 November 2011]
Well, it’s been over a month since I wrote anything here and I feel so bad for ignoring you, blog! I’ve just been too busy. Sorry. Although I’ve known since the start of summer that it was going to get bad, I didn’t realize quite how busy autumn would be...
I can now relax (a little) as one project has reached its conclusion. Last week, I was lucky enough to attend The 2011 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting ceremony, which took place at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. There were ten shortlisted plays and four awards up for grabs. I was there because thanks to a recommendation from a curator, I had designed the awards.
The design process was an unusual one for me, as I had to work to a tight brief and be sensitive to the needs and expectations of both the Royal Exchange and Bruntwood. Luckily however, the representatives from both parties were lovely to work with, I had the aforementioned curator looking out for me and we built up a good working relationship. I had to take a deep breath when I was told the awards had to be made of metal (last time I did any welding was on art foundation!), but this did at least give me the opportunity to go out and meet with metalworkers and learn about that process again.
Because of the very tight schedule, I didn’t get to see the finished pieces until the day of the ceremony. I had been to the welders to supervise the trophies being put together the week before, but they then went off for powder-coating and I was busy working towards other looming deadlines, so although I’m sure I was nowhere near as nervous as the playwrights, I did feel anxious all the same on the day.
The ceremony itself was lovely – the audience was treated to scenes from each of the ten shortlisted plays and I could see why the judges had had such a difficult time choosing four winners. By the time they came to the announcements, the tension was all encompassing - I could see the ten finalists shifting nervously in their seats; even I had a bit of a sweat on and it was nothing to do with me! Eventually, congratulations and praise were heaped on the four deserving and talented winners – Janice Okoh, Alistair McDowell, Gareth Farr and Louise Monaghan. The awards were handed out, not one of them got dropped and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
# 63 [15 October 2011]
We're living in a time when people of all persuasions have become bolder than ever about the ways they choose to express themselves: with a colourful palette of possibilities, You are the Artist, You are your own Subject, and no matter how fearfully you begin, you become fearless in the process
MAC Press Release - Cindy Sherman campaign
I’m still unsure about Cindy Sherman’s collaboration with MAC cosmetics. On the one hand it’s a relief not to be presented with stereotypically unattainable images of “beauty” in a make-up campaign BUT it still makes my stomach a bit churny and I wonder why…
For starters, despite being an “Artist”, “my own Subject” and a long-time fan of Cindy Sherman, I am still the wrong target audience for the advert. Whenever I have tried to wear make-up, I’ve found that rather than feeling confident behind my mask, I feel hugely self-conscious and uncomfortable. I feel like a fraud and I feel claustrophobic.
What I have always admired about Cindy Sherman’s photographs is her ability to present a cast of characters we recognize and possibly even relate to. We are able to do this, because she shows us what we are (even if it is sometimes grotesque). Her work reflects, rather than preaches. Her photographs show us what we can be, but never what we should be. However, in the shift from Art to Advertising, this is no longer true. In this collaboration, her images work to tell us what we should be - they preach, and I hate being told what to do or how to be. Even though Sherman’s stylings are unusual-ish within the narrow confines of the cosmetics industry, the underlying message is painfully bog-standard: it is only by buying the product that the consumer can be “better”… all her usual subtleties around identity and image disappear in a (powder) puff of smoke.
I have always equated “fearlessness” to overcoming pressure, not succumbing to it. In the end, that remains true even if the pressure is coming via an Artist whose work I usually admire.
# 62 [2 October 2011]
We allow no geniuses around our Studio.
I’m busy nicing up my new, bigger workspace for Rogue’s Open Studios this coming weekend. As well as the 100 or so artist rooms in the building, there are also two exhibitions opening: Lucienne Cole on Floor 1 and Tom Antell on Floor 4. If you happen to be in the North West, please come along and say hello!
Preview: Friday 8th October, 6-9pm
Open: Saturday 8th October, 11-6pm
Sunday 9th October, 12-5pm
Rogue Artists' Studios
66-72 Chapeltown Street
# 61 [29 September 2011]
This is my friend Mel’s photo of “seeing” the Mona Lisa a few weeks ago. It makes me chuckle each time I look at it. That’s a lot of eyes to follow round the room. Of all the holiday photos Mel sent, this one particularly struck a chord, as it reminded me of what I saw last week in Phyllida Barlow’s show at Hauser & Wirth.
Every floor of the gallery’s historic building on Piccadilly was filled to bursting with her sculptures. It was as crammed as the tourist filled streets outside... and yet, strangely, not claustrophobic. I don’t know if it was the warmth of the colours and the materials, but it felt comfortable. For want of a better way of saying it, the sculptures were friendly – a difficult feat to pull off, given their size and setting.
On the whole, I tend to see the over-crowdedness of city living as a negative thing, but walking round this exhibition made me think about it in a different way: there is a weird comfort in the closeness of things, in the clamour and profusion of urban texture. Our selves and our surroundings rub off on each other - we have to share, whether we like it or not; we have to collaborate, whether we like it or not.
I read once that the real surprise inherent in viewing the Mona Lisa is not the optical illusion of her eyes, nor the mystery of her smile, nor the layers of mountains or jewellery or whatever it was that got painted over, but the fact that she was painted over many years with a single hair brush – there are no brushstrokes to be seen, just tiny, individually insignificant parts making up the smooth whole… No wonder we still queue up to see her, she’s like us.
# 60 [19 September 2011]
Our names in the sand.
# 59 [12 September 2011]
Many thanks to Charlotte Norwood for choosing The Collaborator as this month’s Choice Blog – I’m flattered and pleased!
Flushed red cheeks are clearly the order of the day today: I have just come back from a meeting at the top of a very tall tower, in a very plush set of offices, with a fantastic view across the city centre and my frightened heart going BOOM BOOM BOOM so loud I thought they would hear it rattling the windows all the way down to the ground floor.
It was all because I am creating the four awards that will be presented to the winners of The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting 2011. I am so chuffed to have this opportunity and so desperate to get it perfect. My heart was beating hard because I was nervous about presenting design ideas and a maquette to representatives of the corporate sponsors, the Royal Exchange Theatre and Manchester City Gallery. Being in such official surroundings also caught me off guard. Although my studio was only a few minutes walk round the corner, it was literally also a world away… However, if there’s one thing I have learned about working with other people, it’s to look them in the eye and pretend not be nervous. The Collaborator must be brave.
# 58 [7 September 2011]
“Ever since Marcel Duchamp exhibited his “found object” Urinal almost a century ago, art’s relationship with utility has been brought into question. What would happen to its artistic identity if Urinal was taken from its gallery mounting, replaced in the gents and peed into?...
Here, four contemporary artists… present art that looks useful but is utterly useless. Here are prosthetic tools missing vital parts, a shelf rendered impractical by being made of cardboard, a water cabinet designated as sculptural and a roll of woodchip wallpaper with every single chip obsessively hand-coloured. All of which suggests that, while designers might go directly to the solution, perhaps artists are well ahead: already round the bend.”
Robert Clark, The Guardian
3 September 2011
Extra special thanks to Lesley Guy for all her hard work – the show looks amazing – so thoughtfully and carefully arranged in what must be a difficult exhibition space with which to work. If only all exhibitions had so much thought and care going into their curation.
# 57 [30 August 2011]
LOOK INTO THE LIGHT FOR A CLEAR VIEW said the S. Mark Gubb public artwork just outside Portsmouth Harbour station. I obeyed the order. During my week-long stint at Aspex I was rewarded with a sky of blue, hot sunshine, a rollercoaster, the Spinnaker Tower and fresh sea air.
The public had been very generous in donating their unwanted items to Working Title. I spent the first couple of days reveling in the Aladdin’s cave of junk. I decided not to make concrete plans immediately, just to react to what I found. In order to warm up, I made a few small works quickly: a little landscape made from jar lids, deflated balloons and images of bonsai; a toast rack of 2D trees; a fire extinguisher which sprayed out a rainbow of colours; a laptop with the keys replaced by upturned rusty screws; a book turned into a laptop with the leftover keys; a dying tree made out of brown paper, copper piping and tyres. It was difficult not to get giddy with all the possibly-maybe useful stuff. I admired my fellow artists (it was a pleasure to work alongside Beata Kozlowska and Andy Parker) for their far more considered approach, which rubbed off on me eventually and I calmed down…
By accident I found that some white tent poles I had hoarded fitted exactly onto small white plastic bottles. I had also been attracted to a large roll of white material (possibly carpet backing). Using a tent pole base as a stencil, I cut circles out of the material. Once threaded onto the poles, I found I had made strange looking structures inspired by my surroundings – they were spindly like the aforementioned Tower, but oddly organic like something growing on the seabed. The structures’ individual elements were no longer useful – but at least I had rescued the material, the bottles and the poles from oblivion (even if only for a short while). The structures were hazy, shadowy things, hovering in the crevices between use, misuse and disuse - I think they might have been ghosts of sorts.
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I am a visual artist based at Rogue Studios, Manchester. As well as working in a solo capacity, I have an ongoing fascination with collaboration. Since 2005, I have been one half of Tenneson and Dale.
I have previously worked with composer Ailis ni Riain, electronic musician Bass Clef, poet Matthew Welton and Stockport Poets and Writers Group. I am currently engaged in several inter-disciplinary projects: with Sarah Simpkin, an architectural writer at Foster & Partners; with award-winning painter Iain Andrews and with Professor Ian Bruce at The University of Manchester.