Just returned from a week of collaborative exploration in Köln.
Kölner Graphikwerkstatt is the most conducive workshop I have ever worked in. On the edge of the city centre, the building is old with three windows across the front and four storeys. As a result of the second world war this is unusual enough to be listed.
On the ground floor there is a gallery with a glassed shop front, behind which the space opens out into a squarish print studio with an enormous roof light, well-loved etching presses and a wall of kitchen.
On my arrival, a meal is cooked communally and shared with regular studio users. They feel like a large relaxed family.
Jutta Vollmer and I have the space to ourselves for the next week. Up until this point we haven’t worked collaboratively other than remotely (by post).
I’ve chosen Jutta because of the PenPal project. In responding to the print I sent her she would focus on an element, tweak and expand upon it. Neither of us produced work typical of our own practice and called it ‘a response’. Like a good conversation, she was listening to what I had to say. I never felt she ‘talked across me’ or came out with the thing she had planned to say regardless of its relevance.
Before we start Jutta shows me a box of work, prints spanning a period of twelve months or more. Her work has moved on from when we last worked together. Our drawing styles are poles apart though we share an interest in the macro and abstraction.
Jutta brings up the subject of possible outcomes: a book, exhibition, Instagram feed. I say I’m happy to have no outcome, just play and she laughs. Perhaps there will be outcomes years hence.
The first project starts with two ‘layout pads’. We will take turns to do a three-minute biro drawing in each pad before swapping. The first four pages of each pad is interleaved with carbon paper, which we will gradually move down the pad. After the first four pages during which the image is building, every sheet will comprise of four elements: two by myself and two by Jutta. The oldest part of the drawing drops out each time to be replaced by the newest.
We draw until we have two books with thirty-three composite drawings in each, then we stop, lay out all the drawings and review the process.
There is less cross-over between the drawings in the two books than you might expect. Neither of us feel ownership of either book. Mostly the individual drawings fail to gel and it’s interesting to discuss why. We recognise and acknowledge the point at which a drawing has fallen apart and had to be ‘rescued’.
If there is one thing continually lacking it is structure. Perhaps it is the books are more important than the individual pages? We are building trust, using association and intuition. I feel we are working towards the point where we will be able to cancel one another’s marks although currently the limited carbon paper is doing it for us.
My previous collaborative drawing experiences – organised by Jon Barraclough and Mike Carney of the Drawing Paper – have been extremely time-limited which makes the week we will spend doing this all the more valuable.
This book-based work takes a day. It’s only a warm up.
Postscript At home I photograph these books page by page using my phone and animate them using iMovie just to see what they look like. They are on my Facebook page.