Reviewed by Kev McVeigh
“[Collaboration] kind of runs counter to the auteur theory but you have to look at it case by case” — William Gibson (1)
Case by case what is obvious in Joined Up is just how many ways of collaboration there are. I am struck first of all that it is something odd in fine art. Collaboration is he norm in music, theatre and not uncommon in literary forms but rare in fine arts, which leads to a concern that an exhibition themed this way may become more about the act of collaboration than about the results. Fortunately the results here are more than good enough to overcome this fear.
The work of Alex Lowman & Adam Tadeusiak exemplifies an organic strand of this show whereby there is no strict delineation of styles between collaborators. Although working in contrasts, with pencil/ink, and precise cutouts and raw backdrops they acheive a coherence that works well.
Similarly Esther van Dijk who normally works in purely abstract forms and figurative artist Vena Naskrecka acheive a symbiosis of form that is impressive.
I am unfamiliar with the solo work of most of these artists but I would guess that Kathy Wray and Charlotte Williams might normally work in similar ways. Their bold blank spaces and shades of grey created distorted perspectives and subliminal palimpsests that offer uncertainties in repeated views.
Most collaborations are pairs, (and there are a raft of pseudo-Freudian theories about that if you care to look) but four artists come together in the shape of Maryclare Foa, Jane Grisewood, Birgitta Hosea and Carali McCall. Their work, four ‘fragments’ in their words, is the most disparate on the surface and the work that offers most digression on structural format. Four sets of four pieces are overlaid making for a confusing, intriguing presentation that I remain unsure about.
Certainly the foursome had a plan behind their collaboration and the same is also explicit in the pictures produced by Leslie Forbes, Bettina Reiba & Andrew Thomas based ona cornish landscape. The combination of straight landscape imagery and topgraphical contour mapping produced my favourite individual work in the show.
Philip Elbourne & Jo Marsh also look to have planned out and constructed their surreal cartoon-like works in advance. They talk of two crows duelling in flight, a dance trading roles, a metaphor that is apt when regarding their stark lines, solid blocks of black and absurdist captions. ‘Part Owl, Part Fuhrer, All Bastard’ received its share of approving comment, whilst I alos liked ‘Insides Are Yum.’
Lisa Letch on the other hand set no rules in her collaboration with her 13 year old son Sam. The results comprise what may well be typical teenage male visions of dark, violent events with rhorshack-like science fictional settings and fantasia. Four drawings not directly linked, based on the artists intuitive responses to each other, sharing a common identity.
“One of the great things about a collaboration isd that it frees me up to like [my work].” — William Gibson.
Several of the artists involved in Joined Up talk about the difficulties of working with or against a different style but equally of the fresh prespective this grants on their own work. It’s not damning to say that artists of all kinds can be protective, precious even, about their own work given the intensity of their emotional and often physical engagement with it. Collaboration in giving a new freedom and fresh inspiration as it has here must be applauded.
As I said initially though, what ultimately counts is not process but product once it goes on display, and in their myriad ways these 17 individuals have risen to a challenge and acheived much. So much so that when the exhibition closes I may be tempted to buy at least one piece. )Not saying which one though…)
(1) William Gibson interviewed for Vector 159, 1991 by Kev McVeigh
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