How has 20th Century collaborative practices influenced Contemporary Art in the 21st Century?

(20 minute seminar to learners at Somerset College)

What is collaboration? How do we frame collaboration? What ways do we collaborate?

Do we press a button? Do we manipulate and interact with objects? Do we become involved through forms of participation? What is the future for Contemporary Art in an age of austerity?

How do we become less a passive observer and more actively engaged as a participant in our visual art culture? Jacques Ranciere, a leading French critical theorist writes about the visual arts and delves into ideas exploring aesthetics, participation and emancipation. In his critique ‘The Emancipated Spectator’, he explores the idea that for an ‘Art’ to exist and be known as ART, it must ignite an activism in us – to become critically engaged and involved in the work being seen and experienced. Over the last 16 years it has been noted a rise in community projects involving the visual arts, engaging audiences and opening up ideas about art learning and education; these processes of engaging with an audience teaches new skills to produce something from its processes, both physically and mentally and is something that has become more evident through the funding structures and frameworks set by the Arts Councils and Government initiatives, leading to the expansion of an active engagement with communities, leading to a shift away from private gallery and avant-gardism of the 20th Century. This has brought an expansion of art initiatives and community practices, leading to new understandings of the importance of the visual and participatory arts to the community.

Claire Bishop’s essay ‘The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents’ explores this shift in thinking with regard to the expansion of the ‘Arts’ to the wider audience. She observed:

‘…these practices have had, for the most part, a relatively weak profile in the commercial art world…they’re also less likely to be [considered] “works” [and seen as] … social events, publications, workshops, or performances – they nevertheless occupy an increasingly conspicuous presence in the public sector.’ (1)

These come under the headings: ‘socially engaged art, community-based art, experimental communities … participatory, interventionist, research-based, or collaborative art. These practices are less interested in a relational aesthetic, than in the creative rewards of [a] collaborative activity…’ (2)

But, what does ‘becoming actively involved’ mean? How has the role of collaboration from the 20th Century influenced collaborative art practices in the 21st Century, contributing to its evolution?

Beginning in the 1990s and into the 21st Century the increase in digital realities has transformed previous ideas about the role of the artist. Artists and galleries reach an audience directly through websites, video sites and social networks, expanding the role art plays in the community and society.

What can be considered a form of collaboration?

Collaboration was thought as something that did not much happen in the past. Yet, this is an incorrect assumption. Through the Masters’ workshops, training apprentices who would form the main body of a painting: its composition; forms; and style follow the plan drawn by the Master. The Master would add their signature style, finishing the work and in-so-doing completing a form of collaborative practice.

Artists have set up collaborative partnerships in the past, which continues to this day. An example of this can be seen in the work of Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder (3) who executed around two-dozen paintings together between 1598 and Brueghel’s death. Most notably The Five Senses series (Taste, Smell, Touch, Sight and Sound) reveal the level of their collaboration – Brueghel’s landscapes and Rubens’ figures.

In Modernism the Surrealists produced hundreds of ‘Exquisite Corpses’ as a group, playing the game of forming strange and surreal figures – each taking their turn in their production. Picasso and Braque worked on the development of Cubism. The Dadists worked on their publications. De Stijl worked on purifying art to its essence. Collaborative groups of artists coming together to form and in-form their work to an audience.

Performance and Conceptual art from the 1960s through to the 1990s were recorded and developed through Lucy Lippard and groups like Fluxus and Yoko Ono exploring social issues including: Ecology; Feminism; Civil Rights; Gay & Lesbian Rights; Transgender; Conflict and War – exploring the artist as observer and the public as participant to complete the work.

Artists in later part of the 20th Century explored collaboration through their work, engaging the public through social notions of Modernity. Cindy Sherman and Kara Walker explore social conventions through their work – ‘emancipating the viewer’ from the stereotypes to become active in how we read images from our position of prejudices, becoming more aware of a viewers role and participation in their social role in the 20th and 21st Century history. Alternative perspectives explore the role of the feminine through class and race – the collaborative roles we play in society and social conventions, galvanising social change, leading to emancipation from set frameworks from a particular class of society.

Jeremy Deller explores performance in art through a process where the public becomes integrated into the art. We witness the artist and their questions. The re-enactment of the Battle of Orgreave bringing generations together to relook at a historical event – working with the original miners to explore a point in time. He initiates a dialogue between miners, police, and community; exploring a new angle of enquiry [although whether this heals or re-opens wounds is open to further study].

Ai Weiwei explores memory and history through objects associated with past time. Hand painted porcelain seeds link to China’s Imperial past and their cultural ceramic past – symbols used to highlight ‘the People during China’s Cultural Revolution…the seeds nourish, the ubiquitous discarded husks provide evidence of existence … Sunflower Seeds comments on social, political and economical issues relevant to contemporary China such as the role of the individual in relationship to the collective.’

Grayson Perry explores ideas on identity and role-play. He explores the other through ceramics and tapestries (The Vanity of Small Differences) – he questions social conformity and the identities we become. His work on the system of class and identity is worked through collaboratively working with a community – living with them and exploring their way of life.

Marina Abramovic’s collaborative work The Artist is Present explores interactive participation. A moment of connection: looking, seeing and feeling. The artist stares and the participant stares back – bringing unknown emotions to the surface through a one to one engagement. A direct form of communication witnessing a transformation between artist and viewer, both becomes the work.

Collaboration has also witnessed co-authored works by many visual artists who have worked as a team or partnership. These relationships have seen prominent stars of the art world including: Gilbert and George, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin with their mixed-media assemblages;

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen with their large sculptures of everyday objects and vinyl forms; Christo and Jeanne-Claude Javacheff and their material covered buildings, islands and architectural forms; ATOI exploring ideas about what sculpture is and can be considered in spaces; Patrick Gallaher and Chris Klapper explore mapping and the elements of nature, forming interactive performance pieces; Erika Barbee relays through her performance pieces a collaborative passive process through applications like Twitter – exploring our relationship with technology; Professor Josef Danek explores collaboration with artists around the world, using dropbox to send projects to work on and exhibit in the Czech Republic.

Mike Collier from Sunderland University explores working with groups of artists, scientists, writers, poets and the public through the act of walking in the landscape. The research gathered from these walking journeys lead to the formation of new works exploring the phenomenological aspect and our place in space.

The 21st Century has seen many changes in the way we send, receive and share content. These innovations are leading to new ways about researching collaborative projects. Technology has emancipated communities, social groups and individuals.

Claire Doherty’s From Studio to Situations: Contemporary Art and the Question of Context (2004), notes:

“using art as a means for creating and recreating new relations between people.”(4)

One such relationship was recently shown on BBC Two’s Artsnight. (5)

Nicolas Serota explores the role of art in the 21st Century and the changes happening outside of the gallery space – revealing projects that utilise the Internet and the gallery space. The Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art has been exploring the work of The Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise, a group based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa. Through Dutch artist Renzo Martens he brings together plantation workers who engage in art making at settlements of the Institute for Human Activities in the country’s rainforest, for the purpose of affecting social change.

‘The current exhibition features sculptural portraits or representations of art-market figures such as the collector. Each one is moulded from clay and then reproduced in Belgian chocolate through multiple technologies, including 3D scanning and printing. Profits generated from the sale of these works are directed back to the plantation workers, improving their living conditions and help redressing global economic inequalities.’(6)

These experiences are being explored in the community of Middlesborough. Groups of artists run workshops teaching how to work with local clay from Teesside, once used in the ceramic industry, creating new skills and learning, forming sustainable living – repositioning concepts on contemporary craft and art-making in the 21st Century with the traditional skills from the past.

New technologies are re-shaping the future of Visual Art – ready to be accessed online and 3D printed directly in the customers’ home. These developing technologies will change the way artists collaborate with the community and the World at large – changing the way people see and think about art and craft-making, its production and the shifting creative economies of the future – no longer bound to a gallery and high street system.  Art and Design is increasingly becoming accessible to individuals and communities via a developing and evolving Internet mindscape.

The future is now.


[1] Claire Bishop, The Social Turn, Artforum: 2006, Pg 1

[2] Ibid

[3] Rubens & Brueghel: A Working relationship

[4] Claire Bishop, The Social Turn, Artforum: 2006, Pg 4

[5] Nicolas Serota, BBC Newsnight: Artsnight, Series 3: 2, (London: BBC, 2016) [accessed Friday 13th May 2016]

[6] Ibid

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Art as Transformer is an exploration into the relationships between painting and photography and the effects photography has upon the ways we interpret the world around us.  The increase of mobile digital photography over the last 17 years has given rise to new forms of image making and manipulation, even more so today than at any time previously before the digital age.  These have formed profound changes in our consciousness and is shaping the ways we see and view our world and our lives, particularly considering the many forms of changing digital images through the various filters available today on our computers, changing our images before we share on-line on the many social networks and platforms today.

There are many concerns that have arisen through these new forms of image-making and photo-paintings, shaping and shifting collaged images that contain a variety of meanings and interpretations through the use of this technology.  However, on the flip side these technologies have also given us new ways to interact with others who are similar to our individual tastes and desires, whilst at the same time given rise to new forms of sharing information leading to greater democracy and understanding on the various forms of ‘being’ today.

 Art as Transformer delves into these shifts and changes through the use of art and the impact photography has had upon ways we interpret the world, images, how we began to see differently and how both medias have influenced one another.  At the same time this critical theory explores those hidden appetites and manipulations that arise through  the use of these forms of making images, particularly with advertising, something that can be utilised both to emancipate us from previous tags of prejudice or control our desires through the subtle influences feeding obscure, subconsciously embedded wants, something that is not part of our truth, yet the shamans of industry have utilised through their spellbinding grimoires.

 We must be vigilant and cautious due to photographic images becoming easier to manipulate. Editorially manipulated collages that form corporationist ideologies that could seek to control ways we interpret our view of the world. One can become easily enraptured with these new forms of photo-paintings pervading the virtual world, especially during this so-called fake news era of manipulated words and pictures.  It is also concerning how information can be directed via algorithms, creating individualised feedback loops of implantable desires and appetites, reducing access to new information vital for a balanced mind, society and democracy.


Art as Transformer What are the relationships between the photographic image, painting and mediation?


This essay is a theoretical investigation exploring my practice and its relational mediation between painting and the photographic image. Since the 9/11 attacks on 11 September 2001, the following years have seen a period of immense change and instability in the world. Our interpretation of reality, seen through photographic imagery, has further evolved with the introduction of the mobile phone camera. This has created particularities that hook into unknown appetites, allowing us to devour and assimilate new forms of information into our lifestyles, through the cacophony of phantasmagorical imagery shared on-line: something that could saturate our sense of culture and ourselves.

Firstly, I begin this essay by looking back in time to explore key areas that have informed my practice. Examining a range of drawing and painting experiments investigated over the last seventeen years, exploring ideas and practices that inform and examine the background that led to hybrid processes, formed as a result of utilising photographic techniques, idioms and imagery.

Secondly, I investigate concepts explored by critical theorists, psychologists, philosophers and artists including: Jacques Ranciére, Roland Barthes, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Wilhelm Sasnal and others – exploring chemical and digital photographic manipulation, focusing on its use and its relation to painting.

Thirdly, I examine the hybrid nature of photo-painting, utilised as a method for determining reality, seeking the unprocessed beyond the sentimental. Drawing out past-tense imagery to reveal particularities that inform our view of the world, encouraging a re-evaluation about our mediation with photography and painting, investigating how these shape public opinion in the 21st Century.


The Photographic Image

‘I’m always mentally photographing everything as practice.’[1] Mark (Minor) White

On 11 September 2001, two planes flew into the World Trade Centre in New York and changed how the world saw itself. This event was so unreal the images captured on that day can still shock and disturb us. As it unfolded, the mainstream media broadcasted a form of reality it devoured and shared throughout the day. The plumes of black and grey smoke rising from fires imprinted themselves onto my memory, reminding me of The Great Day of His Wrath painted by John Martin, inspired by St John the Divine’s last judgements in Revelation.[2]

Gustav Metzger at an exhibit of a newspaper at the Tate Modern in 2008 mentioned ‘newspapers are reality, they represent reality; they also shape reality in as far as they influence world politics’[3], influencing how society sees itself through the lens of the mass media and the appropriated images we mentally consume.  The variety of 9/11 images and how the media used these affected and shifted the way we were to see the world, as well as how I began to view my practice.

  I was interested how 9/11 was recorded and represented in this moment, aware how images from mobile devices were utilised as this event happened4, igniting powerful emotive responses and how ‘photography and the cinema have been brought to such a high state of perfection that painting cannot hope to compete with them’[5], therefore:

We cannot produce an art of our own by continuing to borrow styles and ways of working that came from different physical, philosophical and psychological world environment[s].[6]

The aesthetic of the mobile image invites us ‘to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability and mutability […] slicing out this moment and freezing it’[7], sharing instantaneously on social networks to an on-line audience. Planes flying into WTC 1 and 2; grey and black smoke emanating from fires in the buildings; the people trapped and those who chose to jump; the shocking collapse of both buildings that had pulverised into toxic dust.[8]

The Internet has created many platforms for communicating via applications on smartphones and tablets, creating an immediacy to connectivity, instantly sharing news, thoughts and images with a global community via email, texts, networks, forums, websites, community groups and blogs. Social networks have changed the way we view each other, other cultures, our place in the world and our relationship to identity.  These methods of communicating via images and text also contributed to: the Arab Spring uprisings in February 2011 resulting from information released on WikiLeaks[9] (Figure 5); the collective protests against austerity and the Occupy movement (99%); civil unrest and rioting during August 2011, which spread across the United Kingdom and orchestrated through text services.[10]


Art as Transform is available worldwide via Amazon as a paperback book [with a free Kindle download with each purchase] and as a Kindle download.  Those with Kindle Unlimited read it for free as part of their membership and Prime subscribers will receive free one-day delivery.  Complete with references and bibliography.


Walking and being immersed in the landscape brings a connection to its integral beauty and its value to our mental and physical health.  Through these walks I absorb the sights and sounds the landscape of Somerset and elsewhere brings to my mind, as I consume the imagery for my painting and printmaking.  Lately I have expanded my printmaking with rock powder, obtained from the rocks and materials collected from my walks, using them as pigment to form new ways of layering and forming landscape art.

Through the sciences of geology, chemistry and biology, I explore the obscure aspects of the landscape and its effect upon our perception of reality and its links to our past, the moment and where it is heading, particularly concerning the environmental aspects and our effect upon it through the industrial age and our current post-industrial digital age.

Many artists have sought inspiration from the landscape and walking, including: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Hardy, Richard Long, Dr Mike Collier, Paul Newman, Deborah Westmancoat, Georgina Towler, Jenni Graham, Sara Dudman RWA, Andy Goldsworthy, David Bomberg, Michael Andrews (with his painting ‘Thames Painting: The Estuary’ a particular inspiration for me during my time in Cyprus) and many more.  Nature inspires new thoughts, ideas and ways of seeing – including current research from the British Medical Journal revealing the effect on our health being with nature and the value of exercise.

These new paintings explore various influences coming from my walks in the landscape, either from rocks I have seen, cliff faces, caves, old walls, planet surfaces, moons, peeling paint and objects left to the elements of nature, bringing their own aesthetic to the object and the image.  These explore Zen inspired practices and landscapes resonating with the great Chinese and Japanese paintings of the past.

These explore the intervention of the artist with the materials, in this case rock powder taken from rocks collected from Watchet, Somerset and Soapstone powder, working with the natural consequences of chance, accident and natural forces of nature (maybe even those tiny microbes in the seawater and collected snowfall water added to these paintings).


Over the last year I have been exploring landscape art and investigating the various forms attributed to Landscape Art throughout the history of art. Throughout the Modernist, the Postmodernist and into the Contemporary Art era, landscape art has changed and evolved through continual experimental research grounded in our link and relationship to forming new ways of seeing the world around us. Interventions in the landscape; Abstractions; Shattered Landscapes – developed from the returning soldiers from the First World War; Found objects brought into the gallery space and extractions taken from the post-industrial landscape, explore landscape in new and interesting forms. My particular journey began when I left the U.K. in 2013 for a residency for six months in Cyprus and six months in Spain, being drawn to the dry, eroding, weather worn and Sun scored land of Mediterranean culture.

During my explorations finding new ways of working, away from my previously Media inspired figurative work, I explored extracting information from my walks – using technology to record my pilgrimages via GPS, collecting rocks, soil and photographic images taken from the landscapes I was travelling, evolving my processes of painting and drawing in new ways. These developed further once I returned back to the U.K. in July 2014 and whilst teaching at a PRU for a year. I began to extract soil samples and develop bacteria cultures in Petri dishes. These formed the basis of my Petrus prints and since May 2016 have developed into methods of layering printing ink, forming and exploring through chance, intervention, will, Eco-Feminist and Zen principles – exploring landscape through seeking a synthesis between masculine and feminine co-operations, using nature (application and pressure) and material exploration to form memorial abstractions of the landscape and time.

These will be further explored during my residency at Contains Art in Watchet during September 2016.


Opening day for the Somerset Open Studios and a brilliant day it was too. No sooner the time reached 11am, visitors began to arrive. I did not know what to expect. Lots of people arrived throughout the day, visiting all the studios to see what we have been up to and I was non-stop answering questions, revealing my processes and my three main practices.

Here are three of the six monotypes I have been working on with the latest layers. Six layers in total. I feel these three might be finished – I will put them to one side and reflect.