I think it harks back to being at school, but it’s always hard to be productive at this time of year… but tough, there’s no rest for Tenneson and Dale. We have an exhibition at the Harris Museum in December (http://www.harrismuseum.org.uk) and we need to get the work finished. It’s going to take a chunk of time to complete, but it will be worthwhile and besides that, we’re used to repetitive strain at this stage. (Our piece called “Rulers” which translated the duration of peerages into the form of plastic rulers – see diagram – took us forever. Attaching the string was the worst bit, as we had to do that 245 times; but at least we have each other’s company when engaged in such tasks. When I’m undertaking my own ridiculously time-consuming work, I only have myself or the radio for company and both are predictable at best.)

Tenneson and Dale usually make new work for each place in which we show – some pieces get used again, but most often we make them with a specific venue in mind. For the show in December we have mixed up our usual trio of minimalism, political statistics and public information and have come up with a colourfully bonkers piece. It’s inspired by recent discussions of the hung parliament, but also by a Frank Stella painting called Empress of India (http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79806) and by a popular way of visualising celebration… I’ll be letting you know how we’re getting on. In the meantime, thanks to the Harris Museum for taking a chance on us (we’re not the type of artists they usually show) so Tenneson and Dale are chuffed that you liked our proposal!…that will need to be remembered when we are tearing our hair out and throwing tools at each other.


I have been thinking about my favourite artistic collaborations…

Christo & Jeanne-Claude
particularly Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin (1971-1995)

Politics aside, Jeanne-Claude and Christo’s claim that “All our work is about freedom” is also interesting to consider in relation to the act of collaboration itself… perhaps artistic freedom cannot be found in solo work; however counterintuitive that might sound? By its very nature, (artistic) freedom needs to be expansive, it needs a language and what’s the point of a language if only one person speaks it? http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/wr.shtml

Michael Rosen & Quentin Blake
The Sad Book
(Walker Books, 2004)

Probably the most perfect visual collaboration I can think of. http://www.michaelrosen.co.uk/sadbook.html

Werner Herzog (director) & Klaus Kinski (actor)
particularly Wojzeck (1979) and Fitzcarraldo (1982)

What happens when you can’t stand the person you are collaborating with, but you know that what you create together is amazing? At what point does the collaboration stop being worth the anger and the stress? I can’t even begin to imagine how I would undertake a collaboration with someone I don’t get along with; but then I have never had the misfortune to be either an actor or director – neither side of that power relationship appeals to me.

Leopold & Rudolph Blaschka
particularly Glass Flowers (1887-1936)

This father and son produced beautiful, intricate and surprisingly life-like glass models of invertebrates and flowers. The romantic in me is drawn to the fact that the secret of their craft died with them – an appropriate analogy for the unique nature of collaboration. For an overview of their work see http://designmuseum.org/design/leopold-rudolf-blaschka.

Gilbert & George
particularly The Nature of Our Looking, video sculpture (1970)

I don’t know if they are lovers, but I have always assumed that Gilbert and George are partners in every way. Do they not get sick of each other? We will never know; they allow us to see them, but not know them – they really are sculptural in that sense and the mystery is appealing. I would really like to undertake an artistic collaboration with my partner (a painter), but every time we try, it doesn’t work. Our working methods are just too different. Whereas I “see” a finished piece in my mind’s eye and then try to make it reality, my partner’s paintings come about in a more fluid, wending kind of way. We’ve recently started talking again about how we might work together and have come up with a possible solution, perhaps because of the subject matter of his recent work: “My recent paintings are populated by groups of individuals coming together to grasp at some kind of understanding of their surroundings.”

Rineke Dijkstra
The Buzzclub, Liverpool, UK/Mysteryworld, Zaandam, NL

Not a collaboration in the sense of creative practitioners working together to create a finished piece, but this is still collaborative work – impossible without the teenagers who agreed to participate. Perhaps I secretly like this because it reminds me of the now long gone together/alone feeling of clubbing? Maybe my current interest in collaboration allows me to find that together/alone feeling in a different way?


As I am currently gearing up for exhibiting the collaboration I have been working on with composer Ailis ni Riain (http://ailis.info) in September, I’m having a small pause for thought about how it all began.

Ailis originally got in touch with me after seeing the work in a solo show I had at Southwell Artspace, Nottinghamshire (now sadly closed thanks to the recession’s bite). The show – called “Flashback” – brought together 14 altered book works; I had sculpted the books into the shape of fires. My aim with these works was to draw a parallel between the way that knowledge is disappearing thanks to books being outmoded by the internet and the knowledge that has disappeared due to the various book burnings that have occurred throughout history. As is often the case when you are so focussed on what you want to say with your work, you forget that other people will inevitably have their own unique take on it. So, I was taken aback when Ailis contacted me to say that when she saw my pieces, she “heard music” and would I like to collaborate? After finding out a bit more about her and her work, I had to say a chuckling yes to that – I am one of the least musical people I know – as I was intrigued to find out what it would be like to work with a composer.

Ailis had recently completed her “Lighthouse Lullaby” project (www.bigartmob.com/view/4857/singing-lighthouse) and was keen to site more music in public spaces. She had spotted a place she liked the look of in city centre Manchester – a closed off part of Victoria train station – and we began to discuss potential ideas. By a massive stroke of luck I had recently acquired an almost complete set of UK Ordnance Survey maps (circa 1970s), as I had rescued them from being thrown away at my local library. Because our project was shaping up to have a travel/journeys/train theme, the maps seemed to be a good starting point. Looking back now from a nearing-project-completion standpoint, they seem an appropriate symbol of the long road we’ve travelled in order to reach this point…


In late January, I was contacted by a local gallery officer who asked me if I would be interested in creating a text based show. The plan was for me to design an exhibition based on the work of local writers who had written responses to artworks in the gallery’s permanent collection: my role would be to “translate” their work into a visual form, keeping some sort of textual element in each. There were thirteen texts in all and they were a mixture of short stories, poems and essays.

I agreed to the project even after discovering that my timeframe was very short. Due to a gallery programming mishap, I had just two weeks to acquaint myself with the texts, produce ideas, create the translations and design the space. Although I knew it would be stressful, I was actually looking forward to the challenge, as my own work usually takes so long to make (my latest piece, “Sit Gena Rowlands”, has taken well over a year to finish) and so a short, sharp shock was appealing.

As both time and budget were tight I had to look for simple, effective ways of getting across the essence of each piece of writing. This was relatively easy with the texts which were descriptive, but far more difficult when the works were not obviously visual and more contemplative in nature. I was wary that a show full of text pieces had the potential to look quite flat, so although there was a digital projection and a couple of large prints, the show also contained texts-as-objects: huge balloons, bunches of keys, sloganned t-shirts, lazertranned bricks, a beautiful old typewriter, a word game frozen in time and a whispered, looped sound piece.

The project was an example of “indirect collaboration” as mentioned in an earlier post – although I wasn’t working with any of the writers face to face, I had to consider them and their ideas before my own. I didn’t want the work to look like mine, I wanted it to seem as though each piece of writing had somehow disguised itself as another art form. I wanted each “translation” to seem almost natural, so that when each writer was confronted with the visualisation of their writing, they might be surprised, but not feel misunderstood or maligned. The sense of obligation weighed down on me more than it has during other projects; perhaps this was partly due to the stress of the short timescale, but it was mainly down to the fact that I was having to try and argue against myself on the writers’ behalf, which stopped me from creating lazy responses, but which was also a very strange (though rewarding) way of working.