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A week last Sunday I took a trip to Cambridge to see some new work exhibited at Aid and Abet artist run space in the new development right next to the station. My attention was drawn by the title Expanded Studio Project and after some brief research was intrigued to see more. The space was full of partnerships – artists from Wysing in Cambridgeshire and artists from Primary in Nottingham. The pairings were based on a random selection, literally names drawn from a hat and from that a variety of outcomes of the process where exhibited intermingled with performances.

At the outset, on the day the pairings were finalised Pechakucha’s were delivered by all the participating artists as a way of introducing practice and to get the process underway.

Lisa Wilkens and Simon Withers work consisted of a beautifully rendered drawing of an axe with an axe embedded in its surface. Was it representational of the process I wondered. Moving away from the noise of the exhibition space I sat with Lisa outside where I was able to find out more. We talked about the process which included lots of dialogue. Options of buying a piano together, the creation of a text piece or poster were explored but ultimately rejected. I asked Lisa about the studio visits that had been undertaken and if they been a useful activity. She had said yes they had – they were a way of moving beyond what had been presented in the Pechakucha. She said “you can see how a practice may be structured (or not), how much archive work is around”. The Pechakucha or indeed any presentation of work is by its nature selected, edited, and so the studio holds the unselected work, the oddments, pieces that perhaps don’t fit within a defined body of work. It is these very pieces that can provoke unimaginable conversations, unexpected connections and possibilities. It seems in this artist pairing there was frustration from both directions and there was a point where it was decided it was time to stop being polite and get on with the business of making a piece of work. Lisa was determined to make something visual, otherwise she would have seen the project as a failure. When working on projects of this nature, consisting of new partnerships, pairings or collaborations, its interesting to explore what one is willing to give up, give way on and where the boundaries are.

On first looking at the work of Helen Stratford and Craig Fisher there was a strong visual dialogue between the different elements presented; construction diagrams, 3D forms, printed diagrammatic cloth, measuring stick. When I spoke to both artists during my visit Helen spoke about being interested in notions of authorship within collaboration although I notice a wall diagram had been authored with her initials alone. This had already been changed ready for the next incarnation of the project at bloc in sheffield later in the year. From the outset both artists communicated how conformable they felt with the possibility there may not be any physical evidence of the process, no ‘art work’ to show. Common interests and intersections, approaches and things they both liked promoted a sense of connection between this pairing. Craig admitted to being initially anxious about the random pairing process, Helen a long standing collaborator, not so. The visits to each others studios were important as the sites for conversations to take place in – meeting in a cafe half way between both locations wouldn’t have been nearly so significant. There was email dialogue along specific themes and objects were exchanged. The performance which I stayed to see communicated a seeming ease of working together as the 3D objects where moved from the printed cloth onto the floor, mapped out according to the construction diagram.

There were plenty of further pairings in the exhibition and it seems expanded studio will likely continue with other groups, extending networks further. Its ambition to create new dialogues, new work, new collaborations is clear and has likely worked well for some of the participants. I am just left wondering what happens if you don’t happen to work in a studio collective, how do you buy into the expanded studio project then?