People do ask me occasionally about collaborations, as I’ve done a few. Some successful, some not. And I can’t really, even after all this, tell you how to spot a potentially good one, because you don’t know until you actually do it. All I can say is that if you have a bad one, don’t assume that collaboration is not for you. You just haven’t found the right one, or the right way for you to do it… and every time it is different.
All I can say is that it shouldn’t feel like hard work. It shouldn’t feel like you are the one doing all the work, or making the concessions. Equality comes in different guises. It is to do with attitude rather than who does the shopping, or mops the toilets.
I have an upcoming joint show with Bo Jones. For those who haven’t followed this blog religiously, Bo is a fellow artist teacher who I met while doing my MA at Margaret Street, almost ten years ago. We were the only two on the arts and education bit of the course who were there the whole time, so we became initially course companions, and very gradually friends. The friendship, as Bo tells the tale, sealed by me telling him to fuck off. Hilarity ensued!
When the course finished, we were feeling completely bereaved by the loss of it, so made a pact to book a gallery, a year on, and whatever we were doing, fill it with work. That year saw the establishment of a deeper understanding of what it meant for both of us to be artists away from the structure of the academic. We learned a lot. Much like driving after you’ve passed your test. But having a co-pilot in those early days, I now see as a formative, extremely valuable experience. We had a long-distance collaboration for that show, and ever since. It is loose, casual, kind and supportive, but also critical. Having got into the habit of examining and thinking about the other artist’s work, that continues to this day. For the most part it is slow. For the most part it is me sending work to Bo saying “Look! Look! Look!” And Bo tutting and sighing. He is relentless, setting himself year-long projects to post on social media, that I couldn’t begin to embark upon. I once started a month long drawing thing and got to about 12 before just forgetting and couldn’t be bothered!
So the slowness and long-distance nature of this conversation is useful, allows thinking time. It does have an unreal, unrushed, natural feel to it.
However… we now have a show coming up in August and slow and unrushed is no longer appropriate. We have decisions to be made and stuff to do. So yesterday we had a rare and treasured day together in real-time, real-life, our reality augmented. I had an agenda in a note book. This apparently is hilarious. But we got it done. We looked at work, looked at how to hang it, looked at the gallery, discussed printing needs, designed flyers and wrote blurb… all no doubt to be tweaked at the last minute. We drank tea and coffee, had a bit of a moan about the teaching world that I have left behind, and Bo is still embroiled in. It was a busy day, but still had an easiness about it. The thing about the roles is governed by our situations. It’s in my studio/gallery space, so much of the practical stuff will be for me to do, but also because I’m not teaching, I have the time to do it. Bo has a way of saying things, a way of writing that is possibly more direct than mine. He has a way of cutting through crap, that I can struggle with sometimes. We get there.
This exhibition is a snapshot of a continuing collaboration/conversation about our work, our converging and diverging themes, how they touch, despite the differences in our materials and methods. I think this will make for a vibrant show and I’m excited by the prospect…
Watch this space…