Category Archives: The Collective blog

When “sharing” involves money

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Giraffe with blue eyes by Peter Pommerer 2000. Owned by The Collective

Across our broad digital landscape the concept of “sharing” has become closely associated with a world where little is left to the imagination, for better or for worse.  We share the way we work, the fruits of our efforts, our ideas, our views, our culture and even our private lives. Why? According to a New York Times study on online sharing apart from a desire to reach people with entertaining and informative content, it is also motivated by altruism: our need to define ourselves to others, build and share reputation, seek validation or a sense of fulfilment and to build “identity”.  Do we look good? Do we care enough? Do we offer something?  Are we entertaining? Can we go viral?  Is the concept of “sharing ” largely about “self” however beneficial to the people it reaches?

Online sharing is by no means the total sum of the concept with more physical modes of “sharing “and “cooperation” still as important as ever across all cultures.

The idea of The Collective was born from a desire by a group of households to have more contemporary art in our homes.  But to do that effectively we needed to find a way to afford it which meant coming together to pool resources and find a solution (or model) that suited all of us. In this scenario co-operation and sharing become multi-directional and the ultimate purpose was

“not so much the welfare of the other(s) but the joint group product” (M.Argyle, Cooperation: the basis of sociability)

Since 2002 ,when The Collective was founded, this has been one of our key goals and the concept of “sharing” art between the six households has worked to all our benefit whilst also allowing the advantage of individual enjoyment of the art works.  But more than that we have “shared” experiences during the process as we come together at different intervals to exchange works, visit artists and see exhibitions.

When discussing The Collective with interested outsiders the burning question that gets

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Untitled, Chris Ofili 1999. Owned by The Collective

asked over again is around the financial input and “how do you get out, if you want to end it?”   And this is where discussion takes a different turn.  The question of sharing your “money” to the benefit of the group as a whole, and how and when it should be spent, is the place where deeply ingrained associations with money and self-interest bubble to the surface.  One of the most heated discussions I have had since The Collective was founded was with another collector (at a private view) on the subject of shared ownership and the merits of collecting in this way versus individual ownership of art works.   And we, as a group, have not been immune from minor wrangles over how and where money should be spent.

 

In the Psychological Science of Money  (ed. Erik Bijleveld & Henk Aarts) the assertion

money is a resource, that when used correctly, can bring people together and facilitate memorable experiences” but can equally have “powerful and detrimental consequences to social harmony” (Mead & Stuppy)

provides an interesting reference point from which to compare a model such as The Collective.  The memorable experiences (of which there are many) are in large part down to the collective’s power of pooling resources to buy contemporary art and the individual appreciation of enjoying art in our homes. The inherent value of the art works themselves and how that can be “shared” to everyone’s benefit (should that be a desire) should also be considered.  “Social harmony” may be discordant on the odd occasion, but it has never yet proved “detrimental” as decisions are made collectively and ideas and issues shared openly.

One way The Collective differs from other collectors or collecting groups is that we don’t buy for investment but on the basis that we wish to enjoy contemporary art in our homes and support emerging artists. Where collective groups with purchasing power may have difficulty is when the concept of “not buying for investment” is not fully appreciated and where money becomes part of a “money-market” mind-set and too central to the workings of that particular collective group.   Clear principles have to be laid down in advance and collective decisions need to be made which is why we have a Constitution.   Agreed with lawyers it includes provision for when a member wishes to leave and for the rotating purchasing panels to acquire new works.

“Money”, ultimately, is a resource for the Collective that enables collective buying and sharing of contemporary art.  The interactions between members in the management of this pooled resource is based both on principle (the constitution) and more importantly on trust, reciprocity and social connection between members of the group.  For the Collective this is made easier by the fact four of the six households are related and the remaining two households life-long friends.  We act as “households” not as individuals so there is community within community and an accepted level of sharing across both, whether between households or within families.

Sharing a common purpose where money is necessary but not a driving force, where investment is not a motivation but simply a consequence has proved the best way forward for the longevity of The Collective .

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Untitled, Jochen Klein 1996.  Owned by The Collective

Story power

 

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Fresco from Akrotiri, Thera 16th century BC. Wikimedia Commons

Everyone has a story to tell and all of us enjoy hearing a good story.

Story telling, across all cultures, has been around for centuries and its power to engage the human mind is recognised beyond reasonable doubt, whatever the medium used to deliver it and for whatever reason it is used.  Well before the written word people told stories through speech, performance and art understanding the power they held to make sense of the world, to immortalise events, to evoke human emotion and pass on traditions.  Story telling has defined our history and as a long-time-ago student of prehistory the single most defining attraction to me was that there were no written words to account for the ancient cultures I studied. What we have is their art, their creations – their artefacts, to piece together the story of their culture. Each tiny artefact telling its own unique story.

There is a science to stories and the way in which humans respond to them.  Darwin noted that there was a biology to how we interact with stories within the context of our particular social environment. So what might be a forbidden fruit to a particular culture, with dire consequences if consumed, causes no reaction if eaten unknowingly by the same recipients.

“Stories configure contextual triggers and the expected emotional reactions of our culture—perhaps defining a sort of emotional grammar.”
The idea that “the human mind is a story processor and not a logic processor” is the

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The story of Herakles with Cerberus. 6th century BC vase painting. Wikimedia Commons

foundation of so many fantastical myths over many cultures. Myths that stimulate the imagination with a world full of characters and events that are at once both unreal and yet able to explain man’s challenges or follies. Is this how we learn to navigate our human place in the world? is this how we best make sense of it?

So powerful is the desire of the human brain to detect patterns, not just in visual forms, but in the stories we hear that it can apparently lead us to see them when they are not actually there! Sound familiar?  In 1944 a controlled experiment was carried out with 34 adults in Massachusetts, USA.  The participants were asked to look at a short film and explain what was happening in it.  The film showed shapes moving across a two-dimensional surface (two triangles and a circle) with an additional half-open rectangle stationary on one side.  33 of the 34 participants came up with intricate and emotional human stories, including one involving men (triangles) fighting over a woman (circle) . Only one of the participants saw it as shapes moving on a screen.

21st century business has understood for some time the power of story-telling – especially “character driven stories with emotional content” (whatever the medium used). Such stories help the best speakers drive home their main points, trigger different emotions and are easier to recall for the listeners.  The story of the customer experience blown open at its worst moment and resolved with empathy might bring greater trust? The altruistic actions of employees that helped change the lives of those more disadvantaged than themselves might bring more purpose? These are the stories that help build understanding or perhaps encourage new directions.  That isn’t to say everyone does it well – or at all, but their motivational capability and association with potential resolutions is recognised.

So how are stories communicated in contemporary art? It was not until the 20th century photo 2 (4)that narrative art started to be replaced by more abstract and conceptual themes, when stories could be evoked without being told and left to the viewer to interpret or not.  That isn’t to say that narrative wasn’t an option for artists but the purely abstract works provided a new stream of thought alongside more traditional narrative forms.  How often, when visiting an exhibition, or just discussing contemporary abstract art do you here

sorry, I just don’t get it, what is it?” or “is that art? – what does it mean?

How do we make sense of the nonsensical? How do we read the patterns or colours? For some it may overwhelm and for others it will trigger thoughts and emotions that provide a connection that satisfies the need for a narrative.

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For members of the Collective there is an added layer to the story of each art work.  A layer that comes from the process of purchasing it, the interactions with the artists themselves and the reactions of the people who pass through our homes as we exchange
or purchase new works.   We re-tell the stories of our experiences within and outside the Collective just as our children recount theirs and their friends reactions to some of the works.

 

It all adds up to a multilayered narrative that is our story.

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Bobby Dowler, Odd painting 1. Owned by the Collective

The head of Kim Jong-un

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“Is it really him?, is it Kim Jong-un?” they asked.  Called “Head” there was no certainty provided by the title. “Where is it from?”.   Catapulted to the forefront of recent news events over missile capability, nuclear arms and the potential threat to the US – Kim Jong-un was up there at the top of their minds. But was it him?   Although completely recognisable could this remarkable little drawing be the portrait of someone else?   I needed to find out.

Created by Lisa Wilkens and drawn with Chinese ink on old stock East German paper The Collective purchased this and two other works in 2013 from Sluice Art Fair.  This portrayal of the man, drawn with such precision and to such a small-scale on a very large piece of paper is intriguing.  What is its significance?

Apart from living with the art works day-to-day, The Collective has always sought opportunities to visit artists studios and connect with the artists themselves. More than that – we try to incorporate it as part of how we make purchases.  Every work has a story attached to it whether it is focussed on how we purchased it, the studio visit, or the reactions and conversations to each one from visitors to our homes .  This aspect of how we collect particularly struck me when Workplace Gallery exhibited half of our collection to the public: the stories around each art work and the personalities of Collective members were invisible to the public.

So it happened, that this particular reaction to “Head” from my son and his friends encouraged me to get back in touch with Lisa herself and see if she would be happy to have a chat with me about the works we had  – and to catch up on what she was doing. Was it the head of the North Korean leader (now so topical)?  Why him?, why was the scale of the drawing set within such a large piece of paper?  Why the chosen mediums of old GDR paper and Chinese ink? Lisa responded immediately and agreed to have a call.

After working with Wysing Art Studios and Paper Gallery  Lisa decided it was time to “push herself more” and has joined a post academic 2 year research programme in Gent, Belgium where she has both studio space and access to a wide variety of visiting artists, curators, theorists and visiting lecturers.

I have space to experiment and to test without having to produce works for a specific outcome like an exhibition – whatever idea, interest and concern I have, and then see where these ideas go”

Motivated very much by personal interest and concern in politics and history Lisa created both the “head” and 141_img“drones” during the period after her father died.

It was her father who would encourage political discussion and an interest in history and his passing came at the time of the last North Korean crisis when Kim Jong-un first came to power .

The use of materials from two communist states – ink from China for her detailed drawings (a technique she learnt in a previous scientific illustration degree) and old, yellowing stock paper obtained from an aunt in East Germany, seem to provide the work with a certain cohesion. A symbolic representation of a communist ideology brought together as one work and charged with questions, messages and an indiscernible meaning as we look on the head of Kim Jong-un.

When I asked Lisa about the small-scale of the drawing in contrast to the size of the paper used she explained

The world is too overcrowded and complex. It has to be broken down in to small and isolated pieces to allow time – and space – to think and reflect

Lisa believes that the technique used to execute the drawings “almost disappear” after the drawing is completed which gives you freedom to reflect on the politics and history of the space.

The dismembered head was a chance to focus on the features of Kim Jong-un’s face – a man with an almost child-like appearance with enormous power at his fingertips. The isolated head spoke to the idea of a “head of state”, an authoritarian rule, communism portrayed almost as a joke.

We ended the conversation talking about the importance of art in domestic spaces which Lisa believes can have a lasting impact on art and culture, perhaps more than the big art fairs. She believes that living with art is much more likely to generate discussion and thought, whether about the artist, the techniques or the subject matter.  That desire to produce work that asks questions is so important to the way she produces her art irrespective of the longevity of the materials she uses. Interpretation itself is not essential.

As we said our goodbyes I couldn’t help thinking how inspiring the conversation had been.  Now I look at “Head” on the wall across from the table and I see a new layer of appreciation and reflection.  A new depth to the story, whatever I might read in to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workplace Gallery: The Collective goes public

 

The Old Post Office in Gateshead, a 19th century grade 2 listed building that is now home to WorkPlace Gallery, was appropriately built on the site of the studio of the 18th century British artist and naturalist Thomas Bewick, so maintaining the location’s dedication to art.  Founded in 2002 to promote artists in the north-east, Workplace Gallery has now become an established part of the British cultural art scene with an additional gallery in Mayfair London opened in 2013.   For The Collective, founded in the same year as Workplace, it was a unique opportunity to open up a part of our collection to the public and introduce the idea of collective buying and sharing of contemporary art for domestic spaces to new audiences in the north-east of England.

As we entered the Gateshead gallery on a brilliant sunny afternoon in May, the first thing that struck me was the effect of seeing the works in a gallery space, rather than surrounded by the trappings of our various domestic existences.   Suddenly the diversity of our collection seemed all the more pronounced and intriguing with Gallery directors Paul Moss and Miles Thurlow quizzing us on possible themes within the collection.  This is usually difficult to determine as most works are bought on an individual basis by different buying panels within the Collective and the works then spread across six households.

Given this exhibition represented only half of the Founding Collective’s collection it was an eye-opener to see how far we had come with a limited monthly investment over the last 15 years. Artist names, once less known – now well-known!

As I looked at the works on the gallery wall what I began to see more vividly than before was the different acquisition “stories” behind each one, the different Collective members, the research, the learning, the gallery and studio visits with the artists.  Was it possible to determine, not themes, but the characters and influences of different Collective members over the choice of certain artists and works?  And then there were the memories of reactions to the art works within our households and the history of anecdotes that go with many of them.  Each work seemed to have a life of its own, now brought together in a single gallery space to an unsuspecting exhibition audience.

Workspace Gallery talkThe opening was preceded by an informal discussion chaired by the Gallery’s Co-Directors about the Collective, how it began, how it worked and expanded, and where we had got to today. Bob Lee and myself spoke about every aspect with contributions from members Tim Eastop and Paul Tanner.  The questions that followed were often focussed on the practicalities of the Collective objectives, the constitution, the insurance, succession, our families – all of them important elements in the success and longevity of such a co-operative way of collecting between households. Investment, however modest will always be a source of anxiety across a diverse group of people.  The individual discussions with participants after the panel discussion were equally illuminating often with very frank remarks about what they would find acceptable in their homes and what they would not!  I didn’t hesitate to remind them that having a work that was not to my taste was often part of the learning curve inherent in being part of a collective  – seeing how my relationship would change by living with the work over a period of months. It usually did.

Over the course of the evening the steady flow of visitors was impressive ranging from those working in the arts, fine art students, curators from Baltic and interested art collectors. This was especially gratifying as the exhibition was not about a represented artist(s) but about a different way of collecting amongst a group of households bound together by an interest in buying and sharing contemporary art at home.

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The Workplace Gallery start to fill up as the evening progresses

Towards the end one of the visitors said to me “I can tell how much you enjoy it from the way you talk about it” .  Fifteen years on that wasn’t a bad place to be!

Many thanks to Paul Moss and Miles Thurlow for all their hard work in putting together the Collective exhibition (on until the 3rd June) and ensuring its success at the wonderful Workplace Gallery, Gateshead!

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A view across the Tyne that bridges Newcastle with Gateshead

 

 

Things to remember

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“Witness” by Tom Dale. Owned by the Collective.

“So you’ve got a new one up” says my son’s friend as he passes from the kitchen and through the dining room.   “it’s got wheels.. what is it?”  A shrug of shoulders as they disappear out pondering what it brings to mind.  Tom Dale’s work “witness” is an eye-catching work for any audience but placed on a domestic wall it tends to attract more comments than usual. Witness to a mix of people both transitory and permanent as they pass through our house.

Growing up with changing art in our home is something our children have got used to – and their friends too.   Sometimes they just nod in acknowledgement, other times they may ask a question about it, but usually they take a quick moment to have a brief look with little more than an “interesting”! But they don’t forget .  However they remember equally, if not more clearly, what I served up for tea – asking my children years later if they can come back and have that meal again!  Tea and art, art and tea – things to remember as you grow up.

One game that was never part of our children’s repertoire of favourite pastimes or memories was “hangman” – the simple pen and paper game where you guess the letters of your opponents “word” suffering a ‘hanging on paper’ if you don’t make it in the number of guesses given!  I remember as a child the feeling of victory when I hanged my opponent who failed to guess my given word, drawing in that final limb to the picture to signify their demise. Or the feeling of defeat when they escaped the gallows and the endless paper we got through to pass the time on a slow afternoon!   Why on earth did we find it so pleasurable?  Perhaps our children had more sense: “death on paper” the punishment for failure to get the word or the spelling right? Is that the best way to encourage our children to become successful wordsmiths?

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Hangman by Mark Wallinger. Owned by the Collective.

Mark Wallinger’s work “Hangman” illustrates the steps needed for the game to be completed.  A victim hung for failing to guess the very name of the game. Taken from Wikipedia’s text description of a strategy that uses the most frequently occurring letters in the english language, Wallinger illustrates how the victim is not spared his punishment, with his simple drawing.

London-based with an international reputation and winner of the 2007 Turner prize for his exhibition StateBritain, Mark Wallinger is perhaps best known as the first artist to be commissioned to do a work for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square – Ecce Homo

Wallinger is not a stranger to social commentary or political statement. But it’s the combination of the sometimes playful exterior of his works combined with undertones that invite much deeper speculation that make them so memorable.   First seen by members of The Collective on the walls of the Drawing Room Biennial exhibition and auction we were drawn to the simplicity of Hangman and the fact its creator was Mark Wallinger – so we put in our bid.   Safely acquired and looking at it everyday on our wall at home I found myself compelled to find out more about the origins of the game.  Why hangman?

Apparently created in Victorian times when hanging was not only commonplace but a form of established “entertainment” that could draw huge crowds (the more famous, the bigger the crowd) hangman was first referenced in 1894 in Alice Bertha Gomme’Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland .  Entertainment that could clearly be replicated on paper in a simple spelling game format for children!

The strange thing is, is that I had never considered the game in any other way than an easy way to pass the time with pen and paper.  If having seen the work in a gallery we’d left it there, I’m not sure it would have engendered the same reaction. But living with it has become a different experience altogether.   As Hangman sits on our wall it reinforces Wallinger’s suggestion that an art work can have the effect of seeing

how far we can get in to the consciousness of someone or something other…”

It was certainly doing just that.

In his video work “Sleeper” Wallinger appears dressed as a bear in the Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, alone and late at night running, walking and surprising passers-by chancing upon this unusual spectacle. You can’t help but smile at the vision of this light-hearted “prank” in an empty museum at night! But its actual meaning is intertwined with disguise, espionage, surveillance, the history of Berlin and its physical division before the wall came down.  Wallinger suggests the art work was triggered by a childhood memory of “The Singing Ringing Tree” a story about a prince who was transformed in to a bear which originated in East Germany, but was unknown in West Germany. A symbol of a divided country. So perhaps not the first time haunting childhood themes have played a part in his art.

So for me at least Wallinger’s Hangman has become more of a statement, a piece of history, a symbol of an act that impacted our culture here in Britain until August 1964 when the last hanging took place.  But dressed up as it is as a simple word game for children that I played a long time ago.

Things to remember that are often unexpected.

 

 

“Do-its”. it rules.

A continuous scroll of two-word “do-its” on a small electronic LED sign encourages us to act – without knowing what “it” is referring to. It’s up to us, the viewer, to decide.

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At random intervals comic-strip exclamations stop the scrolling action for a second..

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seemingly to make you think about the doing of “it”.  Rose Finn-Kelcey’s evocative piece despite being only 19.7cm x 2.2cm has a presence beyond its actual size. It Rules can be left running while you get on with your life.”  Discrete yet powerful in its message – how often do we not do it through our lives and regret it later? What holds us back? Or what inspires us to go and do it?

Rose Finn-Kelcey very sadly died three years ago this month, aged 68,  from motor neurone disease. Her ability to combine irony and seriousness so effectively (like this work), her sense of purpose, her firm belief that a piece of art could be made of anything, the fact that no two works of hers are actually physically alike and her continuous desire to experiment (Steam inhalation) all combine to make one wonder what she would have been producing today? “omigod!” .  Her presence in the Collective is a special one.

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“it rules” Rose Finn-Kelcey 2002. Owned by the Collective

Two things happened last week that made me reflect on this work – both completely different and unconnected.  For as long as we have it in our household, I now return to it often and read the scrolling text. Previously unseen do-its always pop up.

The first was a video I saw of the first ever no-parachute jump successfully pulled off by veteran skydiver Luke Aikins from twenty-five thousand feet! Mad man? “thrill it” reads the digital screen, “breathe it” continues the LED messaging in green.  Whilst most of us would regard such an action as insane “omigod!’ or even “enough!” that was Luke Aikin’s “it” and he certainly did it.  Does it matter “why”?

The second was an excellent session I attended last week organised by the Digital and Social Media Leadership Forum [DSLMF ] on “women in digital”which was a chance to discuss the opportunities and challenges in leadership for women in the digital space. How can you “do it” ?- what are the obstacles that may be holding women back?  You didn’t have to speak coding languages to benefit from the session and there were a wide variety of careers represented whose common denominator was “digital”. But what really took it to the next level was the sense of support in the room for having the conviction to pursue the best route for you in your career irrespective of age, family priorities and responsibilities and the obstacles and pressures that may exist to put you off pursuing “it”.  To “do it” without compromise, “believe it” and “ok it”.

Rose Finn-Kelcey, despite her early death,  left her legacy  for us in all her art.  She once said of herself

I work in the belief – or dare – that I can continue to reinvent myself and remain a perennial beginner.”

You may not want to be a “perennial beginner”  – you might even become an expert! But working in the belief that you can reinvent yourself, continue to learn , start on new paths throughout your life is surely worth “it”.  “own it”, don’t “miss it”.  It rules

An influence not to be dismissed

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The Parthenon © Chris Conway

I’ve always been proud of my (half) Greek heritage. As I was growing up I felt that it enabled me to think differently and see life through more than one lens, which I saw as something special.   And it didn’t stop there.

The more tenuous connection between Greeks today and their ancient forbears didn’t stop any additional thoughts I had of laying claim to a small part of all the best of their great Classical Greek heritage. What more proof did I need than the ancient Greek words I could pick up in modern day conversation? The remaining monuments themselves, testament to that great civilisation: the Parthenon, ravaged so many times by unwelcome pillagers and yet still there!  As I studied the ancient language and learnt about the civilisation I continued to make my connections from ancient to modern with a degree of satisfaction.

But that’s just my personal view. Well known to most is the legacy that the “Classical” Greek civilisation left to modern western thought and philosophy. A society that lasted at its peak for less than 200 years and yet continues to influence some of our thinking, our teachings and provided the foundation for parts of our modern western culture over two thousand years later. Whilst other cultures have certainly influenced our development what is most striking is the limited time and small scale that was “Classical Greece”.

There are other links too that are less acknowledged but equally remarkable for their sophistication so long ago. Take today’s communication through social media and the digital space it sits in?

In Classical Greece the “agora” (from the Greek “ὰγορᾱ” meaning gathering place or mil_northmarket2assembly) was the place where “citizens” including philosophers, artists, playwrights, artisans, thinkers and decision makers , met to demonstrate new skills, discuss and exchange ideas and information about the future of society. Every person in the agora was equal and “no-one subjected to another”  It was an open public forum that was democratic. All it lacked was today’s technology and digital social networks. But the concept was the same – it was a “common space” that could be accessed by all citizens on an equal footing and involved the sharing of multiple common beliefs or opinions (Πολυδόξα) both commercial, political and social. Whilst the link back to Roman times, where the written word became transportable on small parchments has been documented ,for me “social” communication started in the ancient Greek agora itself and rested on the principle of open and shared communication.

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Sculptural relief: Plato and Aristotle in heated debate!

Plato and Aristotle, two of the best known philosophers of the classical world, would have visited the agora regularly, standing in the shade of the colonnades espousing their views on different subjects. Their perspective on art and artists was well known and recorded [Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Poetics].

Plato completely disagreed with his pupil Aristotle viewing art as merely “an imitation” or “mimesis” (μίμεσις) and “thrice removed from reality” that had no connection with those that possessed a real skill (tέχνη) – (like the medics, the builders and the mathematicians)

Both focused their attention on the theory of mimesis and the principle that all art was a form of it. But it was the “imitative function of art which promoted disdain in Plato and curiosity in Aristotle” [Stephen Conway 1996, Plato, Aristotle and mimesis]. For Aristotle imitation was good, how we learn, how we understand objects and how we can understand “an inner beauty” by viewing an object through art. All forms, thought Aristotle, should be subject to scrutiny and understanding – that’s how we learn.

For Plato the visible result of any human creation was “an indistinct expression of truth” (Republic X, 22), truth and knowledge being the ultimate objective in life. “Art as an imitation is irrelevant to what is real” and still worse Plato believed it could corrupt the mind of the viewer. He saw art as a threat to his ideal Republic because for him it widened the gap between “reality and appearances”.

Aristotle, however believed imitation was a creative and educational process, and that

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The 200 year old art room at the Royal Academy

skills required to do it well could be taught, learned and developed over time.  Some art schools today teach skills in drawing as Aristotle might have imagined.  How infants learn from the adults around them is through imitation.

But as I look at the art works around my house I often wonder what these philosophers might have thought of contemporary art forms? Imitation has become irrelevant in many ways.  Contemporary Art is more about reaction.  It can engender a feeling or a thought that may trigger a conversation. Imitation might be the seed for an abstract concept but to the viewer may offer a completely different interpretation to what the artist originally conceived. But that’s fine. We don’t seek absolute truth and knowledge like Plato.  What we seek is the reaction art

creates in ourselves as we look at a work: the emotion, the appreciation, the transcendence to something outside of the ordinary. And yet embedded in our everyday lives at home as we surround ourselves with contemporary art.

Perhaps Aristotle saw that capability in human understanding. Whilst he didn’t speak much about individual artistic expression he appreciated that skill and knowledge was required and that we could learn and understand about life by looking at art.

That’s not to be dismissed.

Looking in from the shadows

IMG_0802The last 10 days of political turmoil in the UK has plunged us in to an unprecedented period of apparent chaos.  We’ve ejected ourselves from our European counterparts, hurled our two main parties into leadership uncertainty and contest, highlighted major divisions across the nation and left 75% of our youth who voted for “Remain” feeling betrayed and deprived of a future they thought would look very different.  With three young voters in our family alone our collective shock on that dismal Friday was palpable. We tried to understand the enormity of the news as we heard it.

“What’s happened?” was a question I was asked by friends outside of the UK.

It was difficult to answer, and I don’t intend doing so now. Tireless analysis has filled our ears and heads, outpourings of all kinds continue to emanate from our national news channels. The day after the result I missed my bus stop transfixed as I was by the haemorrhage of opinion flooding through social media.  I was well on my way in the wrong direction before I even thought to look up.

Reactions in the art world are no different in their divisions –  “business as usual” say the global collectors and auction houses – whilst acknowledging volatility in the financial markets may cause some fluctuations and a “few jolts”.

“the world isn’t moving backward, ….. We are moving backwards. Yesterday little England got a lot littler” said artist Ryan Gander to Artnet news

Artists, curators and galleries have shared their views and worries publicly just like everyone else – additionally concerned by the possible threat to the flow of European grants that currently arrive in the UK for the arts.  European students help support our higher education establishments including the art colleges – with £3.7billion worth of revenue generated by EU students every year.

Still too many unknowns to know what’s next.

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The Life Drawing Room at the Royal Academy of Art, London

But a visit with various Collective members to the Royal Academy of Arts to see the final show of this year’s selected group of 17 post graduate students was a welcome reprieve from the ever gathering clouds of this unusually gloomy summer.  It was refreshing to see a slice of some future emerging artists, wherever their journey might take them.  For me, the video and animation was the highlight , and stood in stark contrast to the the 200 year old life drawing room that we stumbled across in the middle of the exhibition rooms. A great insight in to the long history of the Academy, now interwoven with techniques that bridge drawing with the digital age.

Elliot Dodd’s surreal animated heads on human figures having a conversation in their BMW in his 4K digital film Limpid and Salubrious, was so transfixing that one felt almost absorbed in to it.

Because of the need to make time to watch film, it is always difficult to see how they can best be seen and appreciated in a domestic setting for a Collective group such as ours. Art on walls or free standing sculptures you can absorb and walk around as part of daily living- but not so easy with film.  Nevertheless there was an attraction that I found compelling.

Two friends, two curtains – Molly Palmers two channel HD video with sound had me sitting in the room watching for a while . Not easy to understand, I didn’t think that was the point, but more the connection with movement, colour, shapes and sound and how they interact together on screen for the viewer to interpret as they will.

 

Gery Georgieva was my other top attraction with her multimedia installation. She uses her own Bulgarian roots to explore cultural identities and pop cultures, often using herself as the main subject on which she builds her creativity.  The main projection spilled over the screen to the wall behind whilst two other screens displayed different topics including the view from behind a windscreen as it was being washed.

Finally I must mention Kira Freije’s installation A Rapid Succession of Noises That You Confuse For Danger – in fact a room full of steel sculptures and structures, that had an eerie and sinister quality despite the bright white walls and fine steel parts.  Particularly intriguing was the kneeling Holy Woman  which brought a smile to my face as I thought of the life size sculptures we’ve had in our house and the reaction they invoked. I tried imagining how this might go down….sitting with us in the living room..

 

There was more, so much more from these 17 Royal Academy students.

As we left the academy at the end of the evening and headed off to have a drink I knew what the topic of conversation was likely to be.  But at least I felt some restoration of spirit as  I looked in from the shadows at some bright futures.

 

 

 

Tales of unexpected moments

It all seemed to happen in the last week of May .  A visit to the opening of an exhibition in a small gallery in Hoxton, east London and a studio visit to an artist based in south London.  Both quite different, both centred around sculpture, and both memorable for different reasons.
Bx5gLxxCEAA6x6dIf you’ve ever wondered why gallery assistants accost you, with degrees of politeness or hostility, when they spot you carrying bags whilst visiting an exhibition – the first unexpected moment will almost certainly answer that question for you once and for all.     The gallery space in east London that we visited occupied a small basement floor beautifully laid out for the current exhibition showing a sculptor who worked in mixed mediums.  It was a first solo show and the combination of unusual found objects separated from their original purpose or identity and reconfigured with the artists own “additions” – often made from a different medium – was both intriguing and stimulating.  Each sculpture told a mixed story of old and new recreated to present a quite different concept from the objects themselves.

But then it happened.  Amidst the murmur of conversations and people, small movements and manoeuvring as the space filled up with visitors, the air was punctured with a heavy sound of smashing glass on the concrete floor.  The gallery was silenced in an instant.  We didn’t need to turn to guess what had happened – it was written all over the faces of those looking in the direction of the noise – “thank god it wasn’t me!”.    An accidental swing of a shoulder bag had unseated one of the sculptures and brought about its noisy end. A corporeal unwinding. As I was leaving the exhibition I heard a visitor talking to the artist “You must have been so angry?” , “no, I wasn’t angry , not everything works out”.  An unanticipated and forgiving moment.

A studio visit is always unexpected in terms of what you’ll find- and is probably one of the

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ASC studios

most rewarding aspects of what we do as a Collective.  A rare opportunity, not just to view art but to get beneath it to the creator and learn more about how, why and what motivates them to make the art they do. – and in the space they do it!  So it was we went to see artist Tom Dale at his studio in south London.  All six households turned up for the occasion.

Tom calls himself a Sculptor, although video and digital photography feature in his collection in addition to the objects. There doesn’t seem to be a restriction in what materials he favours and uses, or what size they are as long as it “creates a reaction”.”What I’m

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Tom Dale in his studio in south London

interested in is creating an immediate and visceral response so that you ask yourself – why do I feel like this?”   Tom likes to steer away from over intellectual explanations and prefers that you ask questions – both of him and his works – mainly because his art “begins with an idea I have to solve – a question – and through the making of the work I try to answer that question”.  The result may be that it encourages you to ask more questions

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Ball with wheel by Tom Dale

as the viewer.  Tom’s openness to his approach is refreshing and his down to earth way of speaking engaged us all as he went through his works past and present (and not all of them in his studio).  In 2005 he wanted to see if he could improve on the idea of something that was essentially  a “perfect “sphere and added a castor wheel from a chair.  In so doing he made the ball useless – trapped in immobility.  “it might seem banal” says Tom”but there was a specific thought behind it”.

With castor wheels in mind there was one work on the wall of his studio that had already grabbed our “Collective” attention.  Called “witness” it consisted of a small off-white blanket with four castor wheels attached.

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“Witness” by Tom Dale

“Only in the moment of being hung does it look like a figure – on the floor it would collapse without

substance” says Tom. Just an ordinary blanket – with wheels. Can that ever be ordinary, I wondered? We all had different interpretations from quite dark thoughts of faceless and threatening figures to totally playful images of animated  sheep !  “I like the idea of objects having a life of their own” – and this one certainly did.

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Work by Tom Dale

Copper pipes and taps giving testimony to a networked and connected world (that could nevertheless be switched off) , grey painted Russian dolls representing interconnected world currencies (that could disappear inside each other) and redundant coin-covered motorbike petrol tank covers provided a remarkable afternoon of unforeseen highlights .

“I make lots of work – but not loads.  Ideas take time and often have a slow release”.   Just as living with art allows us a slow release of acknowledgement and unexpected moments of reflection and pleasure over time.

Thanks Tom Dale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the conversation turns to “what next?”

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Joy Gregory, Handbag,2003. Owned by the Collective

When we meet as a Collective group, one thing we are never short of is conversation. Is it critical engagement? No, not always. We come with different perspectives and from different professional backgrounds so there is always plenty to bring to the table, bound as we are by our common goal of buying and sharing contemporary art for domestic spaces.

But after 14 years of existence as a Collective group and a growing reputation, there was one conversation that we hadn’t yet had, and was starting to surface amongst us: where do we go next?

Having acquired over 60 works during the course of our fourteen years of existence– there was a growing question of capacity. Walls and spaces are finite in our homes, however much we love the art,and our homes could well get smaller as children move away, not bigger. Storing some of the art would mean not seeing certain works and seem to defeat the purpose of acquiring new pieces if we were hiding some of the old. Added to this artists love the idea that their work will always be on display in one of the houses. And if we were to start selling, which ones?

So on a cold March Saturday we met in town in a small library room for the sole purpose of

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Peter Pommerer, Giraffe with blue eyes, 2000. Owned by the Collective

discussing “what next”? Perhaps there wouldn’t even be a “next”, but a “winding up”? Was that a possibility? Not all collective groups that have started have continued as long as we have, and sometimes the commitment combined with life’s demands require flexibility and a different approach.   We have certainly never proposed that our approach should be a lifetime set up.

As this was potentially a momentous step in the history of our founding Collective, I decided to record the session with audio, whilst Theresa kept notes. This blog is based on those two sources.

Going round the table of the 12 members present it became clear very quickly that we were all agreed on a single point: far from wishing to wind up we wanted to continue as a Collective group – but we were in need of new ideas and a degree of reinvigoration – possibly a redirection.

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Mel Brimfield, On board, 2010. Owned by the Collective

There were certainly pressing practical considerations: a large number of works, limited capacity in our homes and the reality of assembling twice a year with all the works, some of which required van hire because of their size.   Getting to private views, art fairs, auctions and studio visits appeared to be getting increasingly hard to achieve with the same few members always attending, and the buying panel system was starting to be less workable. But this should not be interpreted as “nothing happening”. On the contrary in the last year we watched a live art commission unfold in our homes, attended the Drawing Room’s excellent biennial auction, gave a talk about the Collective at Sluice Art Fair, visited Art Rotterdam and acquired three new works. Hardly a sign of disengagement!

Every member contributed their thoughts and suggestions and by the end common themes and ideas started to emerge:

  • we needed a professional valuation of the entire collection to assess what the possibilities were of selling works or loaning to other groups.
  • Reinvigoration – focussing more on the experiential rather than physical works e.g more live art?
  • Engage a curator for a fixed time to take us in a direction that we had not yet considered?
  • Support an artist residency or internship for an emerging artist or student?
  • An educational approach with more international visits and following up on international connections we are now creating?
  • Organise an exhibition of our entire collection – combined with a launch of an artist residency/internship/bursary/curator?

One of the more contentious issues was the idea of selling some of the works, some

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Untitled, Chris Ofili, 2000. Owned by the Collective

members recognising the importance of the history of the group and where it began, rather than any monetary consideration.   But not selling and generating some cash may limit the potential of any new initiative or direction we decided to go in. That conversation needed more time.

So where did the discussion end? We hurried to consult our calendars realising the need to meet again to continue talking.

As we got up to go we all recognised an important step: The conversation had begun and some kind of change was now inevitable for a founding Collective we all wanted to keep.

What’s next ? Watch this space!