Since we initiated our collaboration Davin and I have had numerous Skype conversations about the project and the ideas we’d like it to address, but not what we would produce and how we would do it. We have overlapping interests but use different materials and have very different visual styles. Anticipating that finding a visual form for the collaboration might be difficult we hoped that time spent working side by side in Davin’s studio would ease the process. With the support of a grant from a-n I travelled to Kansas City in July to develop the collaboration further.
Davin and I had already identified a mutual interest in working in the public domain, so we started the process by finding two competitions for billboard designs that we could work toward. Each competition had a theme, providing us with a conceptual parameter to help us develop ideas quickly.
Both designs aim to evoke ideas of citizenship and social responsibility. We talked about the refugee crisis, the racist rhetoric of Brexit, and Trump’s openly xenophobic travel ban. Nationalist self-interest has become a rhetorical norm. We wanted to question these ideas without being didactic or polemical. We agreed that debate was important.
Our first design alludes to tourist adverts and the concept of freedomination. We describe the concept as ‘Freedom and domination appear to be mutually exclusive concepts. We aim to draw attention to this binary and expose / explore a grey area in between. The freedom to act without restraint can oppress others. As John Stuart Mill (may have) said “The right to swing my arms in any direction ends where your nose begins.” The freedom of companies, markets, and governments to act as they please can impinge on individual’s rights. The idea of freedom is evoked paradoxically by those in power to go against the best interest of others. Loss of freedom could be the price of inclusion and citizenship. Exclusion can also be a freedom.’
For our second design we used the visual language of airline safety instruction cards to explore the idea of citizenship further. We wanted to blur the distinction between self-interest and social responsibility, making it unclear who is helping whom.
The process of collaborating resulted in unique designs that neither of us would have produced as individuals. It also generated more ideas for interventions, residencies, and exhibitions we can work towards in the future. I look forward to developing this fruitful partnership, an enjoyable way of working that also invigorates my own practice by pushing me out of my comfort-zone and toward different styles, materials, and a refreshingly new visual language.