The installation that Chris Graham and I have worked on for the past six weeks or so – SANS TERRE / + – is no more. We took it down yesterday afternoon. We had thought about taking lots of photographs but once we got going it was hard to stop. I took a few as you can see, and a film, but basically we packed it up. Much of it went in the bin.
What have I learnt from the project? Mostly, that saying ‘yes’ is the most important thing when collaborating. You can always edit stuff out afterwards. If you haven’t made it, it’s not there to be discussed. We had all sorts of plans that never came to fruition – some were thought about before the exhibition started and some were cooked up during it. But it doesn’t matter. They were overtaken by better or more practicable ideas.
Another thing that was interesting is that we rarely worked together on any single element except when finessing the room. Pretty much all the components were either mine or Chris’s, but that doesn’t really matter. The collaboration was conceptual and / or collegiate. We egged each other on, encouraging outlandish ideas and using each other as sounding boards to test ideas. A lot of what happened was spontaneous. Chris and I are both extremely talkative and the actual conversation ran parallel with the material conversation and interaction.
I read somewhere that the key to a successful marriage was finding someone with the same standard of cleanliness as yourself. Working with a collaborator on a complex art work requires, I think, having someone with a similar work ethic and also, and this is the hard part, the same brain-speed. Chris and I jump to conclusions and passed ideas back and forth like a hand grenade with the pin out. That speed of thought can be intimidating at times and occasionally I felt like I was clinging on. Chris has said – several times – that on one occasion he sat dumbfounded as I made some cardboard lumps and attached them to the pallet that would serve as the raft in the centre of the room (see picture above). I wasn’t thinking about anything much, just responding to the way the double-walled corrugated cardboard wanted to move and then twisting it. I then – unaware that he was just watching – wrapped the forms in clingfilm and tape before covering them with some gold mylar that Chris had brought. My idea had been that the raft would have tumours on it with the blobby shapes would help break down the angularity of the pallet. Chris saw so much more and encouraged me to keep going. When it was completed the raft looked – in the flashing light that illuminated the installation when it was finished – like a fleshy rack of body parts. We were constantly referring back the the Géricault painting, and so this seemed appropriate. A combination of thinking, doing, and looking came together. I don’t think I could have made anything like this on my own, and Chris has said the same.
I’m exhausted and exhilarated by the whole experience. Chris and I are particularly grateful to the artists and friends who came down to see what we were up to and for sharing their thoughts about the work. We learned a lot from hearing you speak I only hope you enjoyed listening to us.
We should single out Richard Bolam for special thanks as he came three times and spent as much time engaged in the project as any spectator. He photographed and filmed us and was encouraging and wise in his comments. He also dragged a few others down and raised the profile of both the show and our work.
I can’t wait until next time.