“I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space…”

Shakespeare (Hamlet)

I love manifestos. They are a very useful tool for collaboration – in fact, Tenneson and Dale write one for each piece of work we make. As far as this collaboration is concerned, the manifesto has a practical purpose, as it forces us to consolidate our ideas in a coherent fashion, and, as we don’t necessarily meet on a regular basis, it becomes a useful marker of where we want to get to. The act of writing down what our project will be in a pre-determined format makes sure that we consider the work from every angle. (I had an MA tutor who was very fond of telling me that “Writing is thinking” and I’ve added that rule to my many others.) T&D’s manifesto writing purposely matches the pre-determined nature of the work we make, “We do not impose the order, the order is imposed on us” is what we have concluded and so we have made many manifestos (and subsequent artworks) about the rules at large that bind us. We have chosen to fight rules sarcastically… with rules.

When working in a solo capacity, rules don’t necessarily need to be stated, or perhaps even considered, as they will inherently be part of your own working method. It might well go without saying that you will always make sculpture because that is what you made a decision to do a long time ago and that is now your area of expertise BUT because collaboration opens up distinctly new possibilities, your usual unquestioned focus (which seems natural) might need shifting, or even re-thinking altogether.

Although it seems counter-intuitive, what fascinates me about making rules is that they force you to become more creative. What is even better about this when specifically applied to the creation of artworks is that, unlike other creative fields, such as design, you don’t have the pressure of finding the useful, correct or sensible solution. When Cherry and I grind together our chosen ingredients of politics, minimalism and signage, we have no-one to answer to other than ourselves and so we are therefore free to do what we please, safe in the knowledge that our manifesto backs it all up. The manifestos are a point of departure and not restrictive – were we to have no rules at all, we would most likely be paralysed by possibility and stop working altogether.


Tenneson and Dale originally wanted to try working together because we both shared an interest in text as art… I was making artist’s books at the time and Cherry was making signs: the use of language in her work aimed to undermine the authority of the institutional signage she appropriated; whereas I was obsessed with re-arranging existing texts to make new ones.

In late 2004, we met up several times and talked about text works that we liked, such as Bruce Nauman’s neons; Jenny Holzer’s t-shirts and posters; Joseph Kosuth’s Whitney Museum exhibition and a whole load of Fluxus bits and bobs; but the more we talked about text and how to use it in a collaborative way, the more stuck we became. We both had such definite views on how it should be used that we couldn’t compromise at all.

We had also decided that it was important to have a goal to work towards and so we were aiming to put together a joint proposal for the 3rd “Crosby Homes Art Prize” which was coming up in Manchester. So, we had the will to work together and a deadline to work towards, but the initial spark of an idea had gone out.

It became clear that the idea of using text would have to be abandoned and then, as often happens, at the point of giving up an idea you have stubbornly clung onto, better ideas start to emerge. We looked again at our individual working practices; despite being ostensibly text driven, they were really very different: Cherry worked by reacting to site, whereas I usually started with an amorphous idea.

In the end, what started the ball rolling was a silly bit of word-play. We talked again about our work: Cherry’s signs were orders; I liked putting things in order, and one of us – I can’t remember who – said “ORDER ORDER!” mimicking what you can often hear being grumbled in broadcasts from the Houses of Parliament.

One of the most addictive things about being an artist is having the opportunity to make useful links between things which no other cultural practice would ever encourage. From the idea of Order, came the idea of Parliament and being visual artists we naturally went on to discuss the colours of the political parties and how the three primary colours are so pleasing to the eye. From there it was a simple enough leap to Ellsworth Kelly’s paintings and Minimalism in general (which we discovered we both loved, but had not thought to mention previously) and from there it was onto the red, yellow and blue signs that bark orders to us in every public space. We had our starting point. We would make works under the general heading ORDER ORDER and visually explore the links we had found between Parliament (the epitome of order); the Minimalist movement (ordered, pure art) and the various forms of public information signage (the physical manifestation of order). It wasn’t the idea of text we should have focussed on at all, but language, and from there we began to make our own.

P.S. We got down to the interview stage of the Crosby Homes Prize, which felt fantastic, even though we didn’t win. Other than the fact that this opportunity gave a kick-start to a practice which is still going strong five years on, the other thing that I particularly remember from that interview was that the panellists (including Enrico Lunghi, who was really encouraging) told us that from our proposal they had assumed we were men… but then that’s what collaborations are all about: surprises.


The aim of this blog is to share my experiences of collaboration and over the coming weeks, I am going to use it to think through issues that have come up during various attempts at collaboration and share them with you. I hope you find my comments useful…

The collaborative nature of my practice can be divided into two distinct camps. Firstly, there are the direct collaborations – the most recent of these is with composer and playwright Ailis ni Riain; but I have also worked with a poet, an electronic musician and a gallery collections officer amongst others; then there is also a long-standing collaboration with my Rogue Studios (Manchester) colleague, Cherry Tenneson.

Each collaboration has taught me (and continues to teach me) an enormous amount, perhaps most importantly I have discovered that the end result of collaboration is work that would never, ever have come to fruition otherwise… Just imagine those millions of possible artworks wafting about in the ether waiting to emerge during a shared studio session, or conversation, or email exchange: it takes more than the will and imagination of one person alone to make them come to life.

For simplicity’s sake, I am going to call the other type of collaboration I undertake indirect collaboration. This is basically the way in which I try to incorporate what I learn from other cultural practitioners (artists, designers, film-makers, authors, musiciansetc.) into my own work. This is not just about appropriation (though I am drawn to that activity), but more about trying to think about how each artwork I makes fits into the general art-historical conversation going on all around. Last year, I began to formulate a set of rules to follow in the creation of new pieces, the fifth of which, “Acknowledge your heroes and pay your debts”, basically sums up the notion of indirect collaboration… even when I am undertaking solo projects, I still feel like I am collaborating.