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The head of Kim Jong-un


“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.













‘Tis the season to be …at an art Biennial

Couple on Venetian bridge by Tim Eastop

Venice has the ability to conjure up a wide variety of imaginings from romantic trysts to historic and cultural forays. With its numerous canals winding their way between the small islands of the old town and joined by little bridges under which the famous gondoliers guide their mesmerised visitors, its magic reputation over-rides anything else.

It’s historic stage also plays host to the largest and most well-known theatre for contemporary art – the Venice Biennale.  The juxtaposition of old and new is a fascinating one and seems to point more to the history of internationalism that Venice built through its history.  As a centre for trade across the Mediterranean reaching toward the eastern markets of Constantinople, the Venetian Republic attracted

18th century view of Venice by Canaletto.  Wikipedia commons

traders and dazzled visitors for many centuries.  It still does.

Held every odd year and begun in 1895 to celebrate the silver anniversary of the accession to the throne of King Umberto I of Italy and his consort, Margherita of Savoy the Venice Biennale now attracts around half a million visitors for the six months it is open . Showcasing the latest trends in art, architecture, film and dance and the best representative creators for their country – it’s an honour to be asked to participate knowing that curators from far and wide, millionaire collectors, celebrities, dealers and gallery owners are pulled by its legacy magnetism.  This year the Venice Biennale boasts 86 country pavilions with 28 in the Giardini and the rest in the Arsenale, the city’s former shipyard, with the curated main show, titled “Arte Viva Arte”, showing works by 120 artists from 51 countries.  The scope seems unimaginable to most.

Whether it is the scale or the masses who patiently wait in queues to attend the shows and pavilions, it puts a completely different perspective on the art world from our own domestic adventures with sharing contemporary art in our homes. For The Collective it is like looking through a telescope at a vast universe expanding in front of us and yet with definite links and opportunities back to our earth.

It is from the biennials that trends may be set, artists emerge, names are established, think tanks initiate discussion and large sums are circulated in the future global art market determining market prices.  Names of artists whose works we have in the Collective have featured in previous biennials (Chris Ofili and Tracy Emin). Despite the fact biennials are not about the exchange of money for works and the Venice Biennale banned the actual selling of art works in 1968 – the event remains an integral part of the global art market and its increasing commercialisation.

Microsoft Word - Document2
Untitled by Chris Ofili. Owned by The Collective

The Biennial Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 2009 as a platform for art biennials around the world, lists a huge global network  – with the crowning event being the Venice Biennale.  Documenta in Germany, not a biennial, but an equally important event is held every five years and runs concurrently with Venice this year.  As the two most eminent art events in the world there is definite competition and curators often come under scrutiny from the art critics for the artists they select.  Other biennials in major cities (eg Sao Paolo, Istanbul or Moscow) compete for well-known artists and established curators understanding their value in terms of their own national art cultures and attracting tourism.

The art world has never been bigger or more international and it’s a good season to get a taste of it if you happen to be travelling to Venice or Kassel.  But at the end of the day it’s also about what works we chose to live with on a daily basis and the journey we go on with the artists to acquire them, and later share amongst the households of the Collective.

“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.


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


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.

“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

African vision

Tanzania, Africa

2017 began in Africa .  This was not something I or my family ever believed would happen until we started planning the trip in early 2016. Nor was it something that we could fully imagine in all its detail, however prepared we tried to be.  We read, we had vaccinations, chose the anti-malarial tablets, studied the climate, the route we were taking, the planned itinerary  and packed as little as possible , not forgetting the insect repellant.  It all looked straight forward as we boarded the plane at London Heathrow on the 28th December.

Our destination was Tanzania but we could only get there via Kenya where we needed to pick up a second flight from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro.   A second flight that unfortunately never took off.  The cancellation was announced just before the departure time and threw us, and some fellow passengers, in to a degree of panic. This was suitably fuelled by the chaos at the airline’s transfer desk.  As the day dawned and with it our realisation that there was no guarantee we would get on another flight that day, or the next, we were advised that “by land” was our best alternative. ” By land??” We were in the wrong country, not just the wrong city!  This was not an African vision I had anticipated.

We were advised it was three and half hours drive to the border where we would be picked up by a rep from the tour company – followed by another 3 hours to get to our destination.  Long, but not impossible, and we would get there by the end of the day, provided there was no hitch with Kenyan visas or the border immigration. Thankfully there wasn’t.

It was a good plan that none of us regretted.  The drive across Southern Kenya to the border was our first introduction to East Africa and despite the fact all of us were exhausted the expansive landscape absorbed us whole heartedly – the vast open spaces, the trees, the villages, the colours, the roaming Masai , the waving children and the road side stalls and shops. Everything made was brightly coloured – painted shop fronts, fabrics, clothes and trinkets.  Kenyan locals sat under trees and by their shops alongside the road as we passed through the villages. Clusters of people were gathered around local bars as well as stalls and shops.  There were busy markets in some of the bigger centres but all activity happened along the roadside , the well trodden route to economic survival.


The Collective is fortunate to have two “studies” by Kenyan born artist Michael Armitage, who works between London and Nairobi. He draws most of his inspiration from observations and memories of Kenya but interweaves his images with reflections on the deeper social problems associated with the effect of globalisaton on East African cultures. Michael’s main medium is oil painted on lubugo bark cloth, made from beating the bark for several days before stretching it out as a canvas.  The two studies we have in our collection are drawings – studies for larger oil paintings not yet done, but beautiful works in themselves.

Our first contact with Michael was during a collaborative project I ran between my employers UBM and Drawing Room, a Southwark based public, non-profit gallery of international reputation.  Michael featured in the exhibition “Connecting worlds” (held at UBM’s previous Ludgate House premises) which highlighted the diverse communities and cultures we live and work between.  The Collective visited most of the exhibitions over the three years that this project ran, and as the works were available for purchase we bought Michael’s two studies of “people by the roadside”  in Kenya.


I have always found the drawings compelling – their simplicity and yet their ability to capture  a scene, a way of life, a gathering, a community, a moment in time in a culture that interacts with our own and yet is so different.

Now when I look at these drawings multiple visions of Africa come to mind – not just the people of Kenya and Tanzania but the landscapes, the colours, the heat and the feel of once being there.  African visions that can overwhelm and are never forgotten.






The Partial Declaration of Human Wrongs

The work stands tall, bigger than I remembered.  When I first saw it at Art Rotterdam its significance stood out despite the throng of people, artists and works. But not its size.

The partial declaration of human wrongs by Libia Castro and Olafur Olafsson.  Acquired by the Collective from the RAM Foundation at Art Rotterdam.

Now in a domestic space it speaks out louder and begs different conversations. The text lingers longer in your thoughts as you scan each article and contemplate its satirical and conflicting truths.

A Partial Declaration of Human Wrongs?  Trump. Syria. Poverty. Oppression. Injustice. Racism (to name a few) fill my head before I even start to read.  This year has witnessed a good share of political shocks propagating uncertainty and fear across the globe.  Have we become immune to the depth of human wrongs?

This remarkable work was the creation of three people –  a dialogue between artists, Libia Castro and Olafur Olafsson with philosopher Nina Brown.  Addressing some of the turbulent political upheavals of our times they deconstructed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to rewrite 30 of the articles as the partial declaration of “human wrongs”.


Castro and Olaffson live in Rotterdam and Berlin, but the work was first shown in the 2012 Liverpool Biennial as part of a wider project on the ThE riGHt tO RighT  .  Every article brings to mind current events we are familiar with, and are accustomed to seeing and hearing through the media.  There is a humour to the irony but underwritten with an acknowledged sense of humanity’s failings – what is right and what should never be acceptable.

For a text based piece of this size it has the ability to draw one in, to provoke, to explore our own beliefs and ask the question “are we going backwards or forwards?”


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written on the 10th December 1948 in response to the experience of the Second World War, “as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations”.

It’s a timely moment to reflect how this Partial Declaration of Human Wrongs expresses what we still need to achieve, rather than what we have just become accustomed to assimilating.










Portrait of a group as an individual

It’s been a longer summer recess from blogging than I imagined – or wished for! Though that shouldn’t be mistaken for inactivity . The opportunity to step back, assess and think can be the most active and creative of tasks and all too often swallowed up by the process of daily life.

Simon Lee Gallery

One of the highlights for me in the last couple of months was an opportunity to talk to Ceri Hand, Associate Director (Institutions) at the Simon Lee Gallery in central London.  With 25 years of experience working in the art world  as a curator, arts manager, director, commissioner, producer and fund raiser (to name a few!), it was a perfect opportunity to ask how she saw The Collective. With our own method of collective buying and dialogue with artists , our interaction with galleries and yet our existence outside the gallery programme, gaining an experienced outsiders view on how we fitted in to contemporary art thought and practice was what I was hoping for. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Collective’s first meeting with Ceri was as Director of the Ceri Hand Gallery  where

Mel Brimfield: On Board 2010. Owned by The Collective

we purchased Mel Brimfield’s “On Board” [2010] A bold and evocative print with suggestions of an antiquated notion of women and domesticity (or death of!) that has inspired many conversations amongst visitors and viewers in our homes.  Watching male members of my household iron always evokes an image of this work in my mind!

One of Ceri’s first remarks about the Collective was around the “the ethos of the collection itself” where the collection is in “the hands of multiple people in multiple houses who are having multiple conversations with multiple ideas and voices around one piece of work”.  This principle is then in dialogue with other works which creates an exciting dynamic that artists would naturally support.  “If one took a snapshot of an individual household at any one time and put it alongside the snapshots of five other household interiors, the kind of dialogue that is generated would be fascinating” 

Bedwyr Williams: OO/HO model lamp post 2012. Owned by The Collective

Finding new audiences and expanding discussions on individual artworks can also stimulate a wider discourse on contemporary art and culture more generally.

I was interested to find out from Ceri what her experience was of the way in which individual collectors interacted with artists whose works they purchased?  Were they buying for investment? From favoured galleries and curators? Did they rarely meet the artists, or was there potential for a deeper interaction, which is so favoured by the Collective where we regularly visit artist studios? “Everyone is unique”, says Ceri.

Ceri explained that there was a lot of education and discussion by the gallery curators around an artist and their work, and some collectors do form very deep relationships with the artists and continue to buy their work through their careers.  For others however it is not about wanting “to know” the artist but about the significance of the work to the buyer, who may feel that by meeting the artist that “meaning” might be altered, and so shy away from any interaction.

This was a fascinating insight and a reverse process to many of us in the Collective.  As we are a mixed group of people with different tastes the purchasing panel may buy work that is not to the taste of every member.  By meeting and talking to the artist that perception often alters, combined with living with the work on a day-to-day basis so that what starts out as “unlikeable”changes to “likeable”.

The Collective is great in the way you encourage each other to look again” says Ceri  “and exciting from a gallery’s perspective in terms of bringing you in to see different works”. For Ceri, working with museums and institutions, any opportunity to open up conversations to a wider audience is a top priority.

Susanne Treister: Obama with 9 eyes 2009. Owned by The Collective

I was very interested to hear Ceri’s view on our “what next” dialogue for the Collective and possible suggestions for a new direction.  Ceri felt that as supporters and investors of contemporary art thought and practice through The Collective that we have become, as a group, “patrons”. Viewed in this way we should look to other ways of making contributions that could support arts organisations and widen the audiences and dialogue around works, whether emerging artists or entry works from known artists that are rarely covered.

Loaning (or even donating) some of our works to regional galleries where there is less resource for acquisitions would be one such route.  At the same time programming talks around such loans would be a way to expand the idea of “the Collective” and draw on new regional audiences.  Partnerships with arts organisations where we could support research ideas in different areas through our own acquisitions was another idea (e.g performance art, women artists).

Despite the short amount of time I had with Ceri, it was idea intensive and very thought provoking.  I arrived quite drenched and anxious (thanks to a cloud burst at the moment I walked out) but left both dry and inspired by our conversation.

My favourite take away remarks was her view that the Collective was “a portrait of a group of people as individuals and as households” which held great potential with many multiples for an extended dialogue around art works.   How true.

Many thanks to Ceri Hand.





When the conversation turns to “what next?”

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

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.

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

Microsoft Word - Document2
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!







The Collective go to Art Rotterdam

February is a cold time of year to visit anywhere in the northern ar signhemisphere but a VIP invitation received by The Collective to visit Art Rotterdam was not going to be passed by, whatever the weather.  Although not all of us were able to go, it was the first time that a sizeable number of us made the trip. Kicking off a season of European art festivals Art Rotterdam is now well known for the opportunity it offers to see young emerging artists with over 100 galleries occupying the vast Van Nellefabriek building, an impressive Unesco World Heritage site set in a bleak landscape on the outskirts of Rotterdam.

Art Rott. building
The Van Nellefabriek building in Rotterdam where Art Rotterdam was held

There was a perceptible excitement and energy inside the Fair and although there was a good proportion of commercial galleries mixed with not-for-profits, there was not the same sense of wealthy collectors and cash machines that you find in some of the more established Art Fairs. This was largely about new visual art, new talent and ideas and it felt good to be there as an individual and as a “Collective”.  I enjoyed being surrounded by the sounds of Dutch, Belgian and French to name a few, although English was always an option when you needed something!

Exhibits included video projections, installations, sculptures as well as the more traditional painting, drawing, print and photography.  The deeper you went in to the fair the more interesting it seemed to get, and it was easy to forget your way back through the labyrinth of walk ways, spaces and ideas to our various meeting points. What really struck me was how busy it was on a working day – the constant throng of people testimony to the popularity of this fair, the commitment and engagement with art and new talent. Yet you never felt overwhelmed by it or crowded out by it, as each gallery space offered its own intimacy.

ART RotterdamCertainly time to experience an audio sculpture in the RAM Foundation stall where you could hear moving stories told by migrants while you sat on the sculpture, or some virtual reality in the new projects section where you could exchange your body for the opposite gender in a parallel world.

Art Rotterdam 2
An opportunity to experience a virtual reality with a different body



As a Collective, a purchase is always a shared decision, and approval for a purchase must come from more than one household or the buying panel.  Did we come away empty handed?  Of course not. A piece by artists Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson who together with British writer and philosopher Nina Power “deconstructed “the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and reconstructed parts of it through a provocative art work and powerful commentary  called the “Partial Declaration of Human Wrongs“.   Given the current global political upheavals and the huge migration and displacement of people across Europe, it could not be more poignant and thought provoking.


Example: Article 3:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security
of person. The police will let you know when
and where these rights are operative.

Living and working in Rotterdam and Berlin the artists compiled thirty articles for this art work that represent the injustices that exist, despite the “right” that is being proclaimed.

Rotterdam is a wonderful city, a mix of old, new, different architectural eras mixed in with canals, barges and bicycles.  And if we hadn’t had enough of walking during the day at the Fair, there was still time to visit the  spectacular Boijman’s Museum in the heart of Rotterdam where the opening of Ugo Rondinone’s show was taking place by night. An intriguing piece consisting of forty-five life-size clown sculptures was displayed across the expanse of the 1500m2 gallery floor to mimic, sit with, walk around, absorb and be entertained by in a way that only a gallery allows….

Boijmans 2
Ugo Rondinone’s work “Vocabulary of Solitude” Boijmans Museum, Rotterdam

and only experience can tell….

Boijmans 3
Double vision- Collective members enjoy Ugo Rondinone’s work, “Vocabularly of Solitude” Boijmans Museum, Rotterdam

Collectively called “Vocabulary of Solitude” the clowns describe a solitary and contemplative day at home.  And yet the experience of seeing them seemed a far cry from that description.

Thank you to Art Rotterdam for providing so much pleasure at the Fair.















Performance publishing: prints and empty spaces

Driving in to a lorry park in what felt like the dead of an autumn night wasn’t where I expected to be. “But that’s where the blue dot says we have to go” – referring to the directional bible on my illuminated screen.  Not deterred by the lorry park I insisted we had to go that way, despite all advice to the contrary!  It was the dim light through an open door at the other end of the stationary lorries that made me think this must be right – and knowing that this particular artist was drawn to large empty warehouses!  We had arrived at the V22 Excelsior Works in Bermondsey where artist Maurice Carlin was showing his latest performace publishing work.

Maurice Carlin: Performance Publishing, V22 Excelsior Works Oct 2015
Maurice Carlin: Performance Publishing, V22 Excelsior Works Oct 2015

Maurice explains his work as an “exploration of structures and processes” – which is exactly what it is.  Maurice maps out the floor of the cavernous warehouse through a series of print “rubbings” that reflect the surface of the floor below, each one quite unique as the floor is never uniform and so varies in tone and colour to reflect those anomalies.  Using the standard colour printing process referred to as CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and key [black]) and standard sized sheets of paper (A2 or bigger) he pulls a screen printing squeegey applied with one of the rich CMYK inks over each sheet.  As he works his way across the floor over his herring-bone placed sheets he makes a decision as to which ones he will apply the current colour to with his squeegey, in a purposeful and methodical way. The process is very silent, save for the bang at the end of each application as the squeegey is hit against the floor and amplified across the warehouse. Where he lands seems quite arbitary to the viewer, so that one sheet may have one layer and an other a multiplicity of layers. Carlin’s “process” references a very ancient Chinese publishing technique that used stone or brass in a similar way to make official records.

Maurice Carlin: V22 Excelsior Works. Oct 2015
Maurice Carlin:  print based installation at V22’s Excelsior Works in South Bermondsey, London

It’s an exhibition that explores a published record of the bulding’s floor which in turn transforms the large grey empty space in to a new environment with a colourful floor map.    It is mutli-layered on many fronts with a combination of Maurice’s own performance to create the prints with the CMYK printing process, the mixture of historical record and ancient practice set within a modern industrial space to create a contemporary art installation.  It’s both simple and complex – a layered visual “story”.  Is an art work ever “just an art work”?

Maurice doesn’t confine himself to the physical space he is working in. He constantly communicates the unfolding story through video streaming and daily live broadcasts via google+, socialising the concept and pushing outside his physical boundaries to a virtual reality for a more global audience – with whom he can interact. The slight whine of the video monitors are the only other audible sound  – a reminder of this external transmission. He has more than one webcam set up around the large warehouse so different perspectives are constantly available.  It’s this combination of physical and digital, ancient and modern that combines to create an art work that is compelling and intriguing.  The more you understand it, the more fascinating it becomes both as a whole and as individual art works.

Maurice Carlin: print based installation at V22’s Excelsior Works in South Bermondsey
Maurice Carlin: print based installation at V22’s Excelsior Works in South Bermondsey, London

Meeting Maurice for the first time was the result of an invitiation to join a discussion group on “shared ownership” where we explained our experience of The Collective and how we worked together buying and sharing contemporary art.  Maurice himself wished to explore his plans for the distribution and shared ownership of 135 relief prints from a 3-month live art performance  within a 750 sq foot old furniture warehouse in Salford, using the same techniques we witnessed in Bermondsey.  When we met Maurice again he explained his latest plans for the project and how “temporary custodians” were being sought who can invest £1000 for a ten year lease of each print. It would be

an alternative to a simple act of ownership over a work of art, custodians instead become participants in the life of the artwork. They are invited to help us explore methods of sustainable artistic production and an alternative means of ownership through their act of shared, distributed ownership. This collective investment will support our creation of a new and permanent space devoted to large scale works and collaborations at Islington Mill.” 

At the end of the 10 year period, the temporary custodians will be invited back to discuss the future of the relief prints, and possible ownership.  In the interim, the collective investment of all the custodians will go to a project that helps other artists.  It was difficult to find a reason not to take up this particular art experience – right at that point.  But as a Collective member the decision did not just rest with one household – it would be a discussion in itself, and a decision by the purchasing panel.

And what would we be considering? A print with a rich multi-layered story in its making and a “collective” experience of a very different kind to our own: we would be extending our “custodionship” to a conversation beyond the boundaries of our own homes. We left Maurice as he continued to publish his floor prints and slipped out and back through the lorries, with plenty to think about.

Maurice Carlin: print at Excelsior Works
Maurice Carlin: print based installation at V22’s Excelsior Works in South Bermondsey, London

Home Suite Home : A performance

A still from Home Suite by katharine Fry. A site specific performance in seven parts. Part 1: “silliness”. Commissioned by the Collective.

It wasn’t how I imagined.  But what did I have to imagine if I knew so little about it?  Can you visualise the unknown?

In 2007 the Collective‘s purchasing panel embarked on a journey to commission a performance art piece.  On the panel was myself, and Collective members Jo and Sam Eastop – three of the seven households represented.  What it actually meant and how it would work across all the households was a complete unknown.  All we knew for certain was that it would be a commission – the first the Collective had undertaken. But what were we commissioning? Where could we start?

An important introduction to performance art for the Collective was the visit we made to Laura Godfrey-Isaac’s “Home” exhibition – an experimental gallery in a home space where in 1999 twenty one different artists were represented in her own family home. From the very outset the Collective was interested in new, experimental art that challenged – we didn’t particularly exclude any genre of contemporary art practice just because we were in a domestic space.

But domestic spaces have obvious restrictions (not least we “live” there) however well meant the intention to create opportunities for living with contemporary art in whatever form it should take.  Laura’s Home exhibition was challenging, especially where Franko B used blood as part of his work. It felt quite disturbing with few boundaries left between public and intimate which provoked some intense debate amongst us.

But it didn’t deter us in our quest for performance art. First we began with a meeting with live art expert and curator Mark Waugh whose brief was to help us understand more about performance art, what we might consider and how we could go about commissioning the best artist for us.  In fact what he succeeded in doing was so much more.  He didn’t just inform us on some practicalities, but instilled an enthusiasm that propelled us forward full of anticipation on a quite unexpected journey. There would be no stopping us.

We advertised, short listed, using a comprehensive matrix of criteria and interviewed three finalists.  Of these three Katharine Fry emerged as our chosen artist. She stood out, both in what she had achieved already but how she talked through her ideas and wanted to involve all the Collective households.  Katharine had big ideas and to realise the scale she needed more funds than we had available.  The outcome might have been very different if she hadn’t achieved her goal, but Katharine did find support through Arts Council England which welcomed the unusual concept of performance art within the domestic setting of the Collective households.  So with increased funds she set about preparing and researching her ideas.

A still from Home Suite, a site specific performance in seven parts by katharine Fry. Part 6: “Seething”. Commissioned by the Collective.

The whole process from first meeting to final production took over a year and what resulted was a series of seven performances, one in each household, over seven weeks.  Katharine Fry described the work:

“Home Suite explores the nature of domestic habit and routine. That which usually takes place behind closed doors is revealed as a chorus of seven identical females negotiating seven houses over the course of a week, charting the evolution of a marriage and the fate of romance.”

Each house was allocated a day and a named theme to chart the evolution and eventual fate of this relationship.

Monday – Silliness; Tuesday – Seduction; Wednesday – seriousness; Thursday- Solitutde; Friday – Sorrow; Saturday – Seething; Sunday – Senselessness.

It was stunning.  We invited friends and interested public viewers to come and watch as it played itself out, filling our houses in each case with dance, routines, interactions with our domestic wares and spaces, sounds, lights, moments of perplexity and captured moments of inspiration as we all watched it unfold.   In each house, the performance was significantly different in tone and feel – though the same seven dancers performed each time, with different costumes and choreographed to the surroundings with real skill. The story began, rose and ended in a gradual progression, each part quite unique and quite brilliant.

As one member said ”

my favourite work, the best thing we ever purchased…”

A still from Home Suite, a site specific commission in seven parts by Katharine Fry. Part 7: “Senselessness”. Commissioned by the Collective

And yet, none of us have anything physical in our houses to show that it ever happened.  It can’t be repeated.  A video shows edited highlights from the seven performances though not all the soundtrack is original.  It can’t be re-sold.  Yet we talk about it more than anything else we’ve done as a Collective, permanently etched in our minds as a series of experiences.

The experiences didn’t confine themselves to the performances, but the creative process, the “making” and what was involved for each household.   Collecting experiences is certainly part of this story.

Working with the artist Katharine Fry, was fascinating but the creative process was often intrusive to our everyday family life. Home is a very intimate place where we reveal ourselves on many different levels, often not seen anywhere else.  There were many visits to our homes, where there was a fine line between research by the artist and a feeling of exposure within our own “castle”.  A gender divide emerged with the cataloguing of our personal belongings, the interruption to our children’s schedules and meals.  As the rehearsals began I might come home to a full house of dancers, technician, helpers, videographer and all our kitchen utensils lined up on the table, furniture rearranged.  We felt like visitors in our own home, the mere backdrop to a forthcoming event. The children looked confused, not sure where to seek shelter and desperately looking for pets that had run off in terror at the commotion.  “why are these people in our house”?  “It’s OK, it’s just performance art!” .  At times, I wasn’t sure what we had embarked on, or how it would end.

For the performance themes attached to each house, it was the women who questioned the selection and if there should be any inference drawn – why was mine “silliness”? why was another “seriousness”? or “seething”?  What were we to

A still from Katharine Fry's Home Suite.
A still from Katharine Fry’s Home Suite, a site specific performance in seven parts. Part 1: “Silliness”. Commissioned by the Collective

deduce from this reflective story of a relationship that was breaking down? Or the outdated representation of the “archetypal” housewife? Weren’t we all working women?

Nothing, or something?  It was a performance, it was art, it was a story, and we were free to read something deeper or just take it for what it was.  The only difference was that it was in our own homes. Was our intimacy exposed?

It left a deep impression on all of us.  It altered domestic boundaries, it challenged and made us question objects around us and concepts we perceived.  The final productions were fantastic.  Isn’t that everything we’d hoped for?

This month, seven years on, we embark on our second performance piece.  I may know more about performance art, but much less about what’s coming…