Failure to launch? Collaboration as practice

In 2010 we were getting ready to set up Studio 75 and we were asked by TINAG (This I Not A Gateway) an annual festival/conference on critical urbanism, to run a workshop. That year’s theme was “Finance”. We decided to run a workshop looking at the question: “Can to collaborative artistic modes of the 1960s and 70s offer anything useful to practitioner working today in the mist of financial crisis.

This discussion was interesting but I have to admit I felt depressed by the end of it. We discussed many models, options and possibilities, but the upshot seemed to be that:

1/ today’s artists are dependent on the promise and hope of funding and organise their lives and work around that

2/ the art academy (BA, MA , PhD) is of unprecedented importance in terms of validating the artists worth and – crucially – self worth (despite the short time spent at the academy in relation to the – presumably – long time spent actually being an artist)

3/ there is no anti-academic movement and no avant garde in the traditional sense

4/ in the face of funding cuts most artists feel the best option is to be as commercial as possible. Models suggested included running a bar or cafe as part of the gallery (though when this does happen, it is never used to support the artists in the form of fees etc.).

5/ collaboration in the traditional sense is not valued, rather any collaboration mooted was on a quid-pro-quo basis.

This was pretty interesting given that the audiences for TING tends be on the critical left, so to find the above views held by the critical left made me wonder what the critical right might believe.

But then maybe we were the ones in the wrong. Why did we laud the models of the 60s and 70s (and early 80s if you take the New York scene into account)? After all, we weren’t there, we just know what those who were there told us. We all grew up in a different era, an era of individualism and emphasis on self-realisation. We grew up being told that the main thing was Self, and so we are Self-ish. We were told this was the right way to be the right thing to do. Make goals and strive toward them.

I write a short text on collaboration in 2003 [ ] when I was part of a very active collaboration. Now I look back and to realise that we were very lucky to have found each other and been able to work together for ten years and make many big, satisfying projects. But even then collaboration was not easy: there were many people we worked with once and never again, because they were over-selfish.

Now, after a year of running the studio which we hoped would be a seed-bed of collaboration, I have to say we failed. We were unable to resurrect the models of the 60s and 70s because those times are past. We failed to create a close knit collaborative network of artists, though we have made some terrific projects and in other ways are very pleased with that we’re doing. We failed to create a kind of self sufficient avant garde with aims and collective goals and standards. We sometimes failed even to communicate with each other (we have to admit it!) when we needed to.

This does not mean the project is a failure, but it does mean we are at a crossroads. If the collaborative model fails and the individualistic model is not delivering, and the commercial model is shallow and the institutional model standardised and boring – where does that leave us?

Or doe we just need to rip up the history book and write new “rules” for collaboration?

But we are going to have to do something.

ps. these are my views and don’t necessarily reflect the views of my friends in the studio. The discussion is still ongoing. I’m interested in your views.


Taking over a housing estate – mural invasion

After one year of operating Studio 75 we have begun something new. In late January, we received permission from the London and Quadrant Housing Association to take over the whole Kingsland Estate, where the studio is sited, and use the buildings (there are over 12 buildings) as a space for a mural exhibition. The estate is part of a big regeneration project and right now it is only semi occupied, and therefore semi derelict, with many flats bricked up. The mural project is meant to bring some cheer and humour to the site, by creating a mythical kingdom, The King’s Land – populated by strange and funny creatures running rampant on the walls.
The project has now started and is supposed to conclude during the Olympic games this summer.

The KING’S LAND blog is at:

The murals are created by Studio 75’s Nazir Tanbouli. Nazir has a long history of mural painting, indoor and outdoor, in Egypt and Europe. See for some examples. But this time he’s taking a new, experimental approach, working with graphic drawing

“I’m working with ink on paper collaged on the wall, this way I can start now, and will avoid working outdoors in the cold winter. I’m doing it all so far on my own expense. Ink on paper on wall is a technique that as a mural painter I always wanted to do yet it was always dismissed by clients and commissioning bodies so I decided to put my theory to the test and see how it survives a few months of English weather; if it can survive that it can survive anything. “

Naz has completed 3 murals, seen in the photos, and the 3rd was a collaboration with German artist Valentin Manz.

We will be hosting a number of events and drop in cafes during this mural project, alongside our regular program of monthly exhibitions. Next up we have got our dear friend Adrian Shephard, Berlin based video artist, coming to the studio – more on that soon.



The 16mm projector has been shut down, its whirring has ceased. The lights have gone up and the chairs stacked away. The Studio is an empty room again, a blank canvas. But for two hours on Saturday night it was a den of thrills and horrors, a superlative experience in true film making in the tradition of Bunuel, Deren, Jodorowsky, Madden and all of those who make film from the heart and the instincts. Where the Ego is banished to the abyss and the Id and Superego fight it out on screen until we al fall down with exhaustion and sated pleasure. Studio 75 would like to thank Duncan Reekie for presenting the film in all its 16mm glory. The film was shot on Super 8, and the screening print is 16mm.

How wonderful to screen a film on 16mm, in a small intimate space where the projector is seen and heard. The material reality of film is present, the audience is cheek by jowl. We can hear each other breathe. The intensity of the film itself reacts with the intensity of the space’s intimacy. It was the best film event we have ever had at Studio 75.

Maldoror is the film that we screened, and you can read all about it here:

It was an amazing experience, a relentless and intense baptism and re-baptism in a font alternatively icy and fiery; a comedy filled with horror and recoil; a drama both touching and disturbing; a dream and a fantasy. One of the audience pointed out that Maldoror, the narrator/subject is “very male and very angry” – Duncan agreed and said “He is fighting with a male God” the film is about man vs God or to be more precise, Man against his own instincts. A fascinating story, it was written in 1869 by a young poet, Isidore Ducasse who took the pseudonym Comte de Lautreaumont. Born in Uruguay, be went to France as a teenager (the long ocean voyage described as a hallucinatory dream in Maldoror). Influenced obviously by Baudelaire and others, he embarked on Maldoror, a mediation on evil. His intention was to create a companion, a meditation on good, but he died before he was able to complete it. He died during the dreadful days of the Franco-Prussian War, when Paris was under siege and food and medicine was unobtainable. Ironically this was the second siege he had experienced: as a child he lived through the siege of Montevideo in the Argentine-Uruguayan war.

Thinking about Ducasse’s short life and early death makes me feel humble and grateful for my own safe and happily artistic life. Yet how many artists and poets have had – and continue to have – lives tragically cut down due to human folly, to the very evil that Maldoror grapples with?

Yet his truncated life was not at all in vain he accomplished more than most of us in many lifetimes: the book lives on; it’s never been out of print; and the film Maldoror is a fitting tribute to his genius. Even in translation, the language is hypnotic and the imagery shocking. The film’s interpretation of this much-loved and very influential book does it justice.

An inspiring event! A wonderful film. Exactly the kind of thing we dreamed of when we set up the Studio.


Looking back on a year of Studio 75

It’s nearly a year since we started up Studio75. It was last Christmas time that were in there stripping, painting and repairing the place to make it fit for purpose. In January Naz stood in the cold and painted the exterior wall. By Feb were put on our first show, a drawing show.

Now we’re taking stock. It’s been a learning experience.

What have we learned?

It’s possible to make a project without funding if you are committed. There are ways to glean, barter, share and negotiate. And you are investing in yourself.

Don’t expect anything. Don’t expect to get accolades or money. Don’t expect that limo to pull up with a rich collector bursting to buy you up and make you big. Ok, so we weren’t expecting that, but we can’t reiterate it enough LIFE AIN’T NO FAIRYTALE. You get born, you make art, you die.

Freedom is worth more than you can imagine. Being free to make and show, has been a challenge. It is also exhilarating, which is its own reward – and it develops you as an artist.

Something to remember about your anticipated audience: People want the security and imprimature of a known name or brand [e.g. “Tate” “Hirst” “Warhol” “Bloomberg” “Becks” “White Cube” “Jerwood” etc. – some of the current brands in the art world.. We live in a brand – obsessed society. It’s hard to persuade people to try anything new and label-free. That includes you.

Many people prefer the comfort zone of simply paying for something, rather than having it for free but having to rise to expectations.

Generosity of spirit appears in the most unexpected and unforeseen ways.

London is the empire of the overprivileged and half-talented. This can be very hard to negotiate when you are trying to put together a show or an event.

You will be online more than you would like to be. No matter what we write on our website about the nature of the studio, people still email us asking us to curate them or hire them. So we have to email back and say politely that …no, etc.etc.

The audience that is not in the art biz is really important. Some of the best art conversations we’ve ever had is with our neighbours.

Document everything, and try to do a good job of it.

Reflect regularly on what you are doing and why.

Art is really hard work and demands total commitment. It’s not fun or trendy or cool or nice.

You have to be prepared to fail each and every day, and get up and do it again.

We’ve been fortunate. We’ve welcomed a book art show from Moscow (joined by UK based book artists); a gallery exchange with Valencia; solo shows by Elshaday Berhane from Amsterdam and Glenn Ibbitson from Wales. Nazir Tanbouli painted the start of the Egyptian on the studio walls, as the news radio spewed out minute by minute updates. Gareth Evans, together with Andrea Luka Zimmermann, hosted a series of remarkable film screenings. Nazir and Valentin Manz created a library of handmade books. Gillian hosted film students for experimental film discussion, and launched her book Tarkovsky’s River. Many paintings have been made, and some collages. A lot more are now in process.

What’s coming for 2012? Less focus on showcasing, and more focus on the process of making and showing as one act. More experimentation, more daring, less comfort, more challenge.

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the exhibition EYE CANDY by Egyptian born, London based Nazir Tanbouli presents very violent and disturbing themes, such as street battles, interrogations, personal violence and nightmarish monsters, within a palette which is very luscious, candy coloured and bright.

Tanbouli is very influenced by Mexican and Aztec imagery, from the copal wood carvings sometimes known as alebrijes to the Aztec pictographs and masks. He is particularly interested in the ritualistic and shamanistic aspects of this kind of work, and how it belongs to the societies in which it’s made. It is not Mexican or Aztec culture itself which has inspired the artist, but a sense of bringing together non-Western approaches to art that can be employed in making sense of the contemporary world which in Tanbouli’s case is present-day London, where he lives, and the wider world, which he accesses through the media.

New reports of the Arab Spring and the street fighting, the London riots, the daily wash of news horror stories, all make their way into Tanbouli’s work. Watching his home town of Alexandria erupt in revolution, reading his friends’ posting on Facebook, was almost too much for the exile to bear and he dealt with it in his own way – through drawing and painting.

The personal is political for Tanbouli. In a previous piece, Take 7, (2010) he imagined his life story as a film, and created the storyboard for it as a series of stark black-and-white screen prints, published in 2011 as SELF, an expressionistic, wordless graphic autobiography that channels Albert Camus, Frank Miller and Robert Weine.

The principal works in EYE CANDY, the collections Coloured Label and Candy Coloured Tragedies, together with the large painting CIVILIANS fool the eye with their colourful surfaces, cooly disguising the horrible things they portray. And yet the works are homeopathic, shamanic. Candy for the eye, food for the brain and rejuvenation for the soul.