“It’s not a negation, it’s a celebration”
– Robert Rauschenberg discusses his “Erased de Kooning Drawing” (1953)
When it comes to making collaborative artwork, the more successful the compromise, the less you can tell it is there – that’s a bit of an odd concept to apply to something that is created in order to be looked at, but there is it nevertheless. What I mean to say is I hope a Tenneson and Dale piece never gets mistaken for a solo work by either Cherry or myself, or that you can tell who did what. (I even quite enjoy it when we meet people and they don’t know which one of us is which.) Good compromise is invisible.
Conversely, poor compromise is as glaring as a photoshopped sunset. The worst visual compromises almost always seem to stem from subordination to technique… A few years ago, Tenneson and Dale were deliberately linking each exhibition we had to the previous one by changing/updating and reworking existing work, so that originals didn’t remain so for long. This was an interesting idea and worked OK for a while until it seemed to take over. We kept shoe-horning our ideas into dead and deader ends in order to keep this technique going, which, as we eventually realised, was self-defeating. Inevitably, the work looked overworked. Bad compromise blocks out everything: the compromise obscures the work.
You have to stop being what you were when you start paying attention to the work it takes to maintain your clear distinctions – B.C. Smith
To my still much missed grandma, the term “collaborator” would have meant something very different to the sense in which I use it.
When I think of her, I see myself looking up at a tiny lady waving at me from the umpteenth floor window of a communist grey block of flats in a small Polish town. My gran – my “babcia” – was one of the small but brave millions caught up in World War II. To her generation, a “collaborator” was a very bad person indeed.
I am happy to see this sense of the word fading and even happier to extol its positive aspects; but still, the murkier account of its meaning lingers…
Why is this bothering me now? It’s because of the current social climate: life feels particularly difficult at the minute, so we are all desperate to protect our own interests – it’s hard to think about other people when you’re worried about yourself. What if the work dries up? How will the rent get paid? What if things get worse?
Counter-intuitive though it might seem, in this currently precarious situation we should be more aware than ever of how our actions and connections affect others. This is as true for the legions of jobbing artists, who will increasingly come to rely on – and answer to – private sector funding, as it is further up the power chain for the problematic collaboration that is the governmental coalition.
When it comes to collaboration, there has to be a balance between getting what you want out of it AND not letting the side down – otherwise you might as well go off and build yourself a bubble to live in.
Thank you Dan Thompson – I am incredibly flattered… I read your comments and now feel guilty that last week’s post was, in essence, a press release. What can I say? I was excited about the big opening! Whilst I’m on the thank yous, extra big ones to everyone at Metal last Wednesday.
Opening on the 180th Anniversary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, inside the buildings of the oldest existing passenger railway station still in use, “Dream Machine” will celebrate the first journey taken between two cities through a series of large-scale works which reflect on time, routine, repetition, direction and discipline; qualities that all inform the artistic process.
A reflection of the beat and rhythm of train traffic and influenced by the idea that the rail industry’s timetabling created a need for a uniform measure of time throughout the UK, the work will show how the journey itself can be a source for artistic inspiration.
It’s nearly show time! On Wednesday I went to Metal to install “Down”. By the time I arrived, it was already a hive of activity: Phil was busy finishing his sculptural structures; Tom was up miles of scaffolding sorting the lighting for his thousands of paintings and Richard was completing his installation upstairs – the work in the show is pretty diverse, but it all comes together amazingly well. The unusual layout and the history of Edge Hill’s building is a massive bonus – it’s not a typically sterile gallery space at all, it feels special.
I love the giddy but purposeful atmosphere of a space just before a show. It’s a shame that Ailis (the composer I have collaborated with on “Down”) wasn’t there to see it all coming together in the final stages (though she had an excellent excuse – she was away at yet another premiere of her work… I thought I worked hard till I met Ailis http://ailis.info/).
When I asked Ailis if she had a score for the music she’s made to accompany “Down”, I think she thought it wouldn’t be of interest to anyone else, but it’s definitely worth seeing… it’s a small peek into the way her mind works – a bit like having a chance to look through an artist’s sketchbook. Given how few people actually hand write scores anymore, it’s also quite unusual.
Dream Machine is showing between 15/09/2010 – 23/10/2010
Metal, Edge Hill Station, Tunnel Road, Liverpool L7 6ND
After being in a photographic studio over the weekend watching “Sit Gena Rowlands” being expertly photographed by Donna Kempson (thanks Donna!), it struck me that one of the best things about being an artist is having imagination, which makes it impossible to be lonely or bored. I don’t get tired of looking at people or objects and trying to see the world from these alternative perspectives. What would it be like to be you? Or you? Or it? How would I feel if I was a book, a chair, a map, a rope?
Because my solo work is always indebted to people I admire (whether they are artists or not), I don’t even really see it as “solo” work: it’s a linked set of practices, a chain which starts with other people’s words, actions and deeds and stretches out across time and space in order to be translated into a different form by a different person. There isn’t another way of making work which makes sense to me.
As I’ve been thinking about collaboration in general for quite a while now, I want to call the aforementioned chain-like process “indirect collaboration”, but it might be more accurate to call it “tradition”… which makes it all the more curious that when it comes to presenting ourselves as artists “in our own right”, the more instantly recognisable the individual artist brand, the longer the chain of people behind it.