Tag Archives: Collective

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?

Hangman
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.

 

 

Home Suite Home : A performance

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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.

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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…”

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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…

Some questions answered: talking about the Collective

Janey by Erica Eyres 2010. Owned by the Collective
Janey by Erica Eyres 2010.
Owned by the Collective

In June I met with Tatjana Schaefer, a Masters student at Goldsmiths University, London, studying Arts Administration and Cultural Policy. Tatjana was interested in analysing “the phenomenon of group collections versus the exclusive stand of the art patron” and wanted to understand more about the concept of our Collective.  Recently I asked her if I could post her questions in this blog as it might be useful for others wishing to find out more about our aims and ideas – and how we differ from other collectors in the art market.  She kindly agreed.

Q1 [Tatjana]. What does collecting art mean to you personally within the context of the Collective?

A1 [Marie-Louise]. The idea of acquiring art collectively was born out of a shared passion for contemporary art by all of us in the Collective. We wanted to find a way to be able to afford to buy, share and live with contemporary art in our homes on a cooperative basis. We wanted the work we chose to provoke and even disrupt in a way that provided more critical engagement. We needed to do it in such a way that fitted in with family life, we could share it, exchange it and circulate it around the six households. The majority of us are not involved in the Arts professionally, though two members are and have acted as guides. We wanted it to be more than just about acquiring a piece of art – we wanted to provide a deeper art experience by visiting artists studios and connecting with the artists whose art we wanted to purchase . So it was also a way to collect art experiences as well as art works. The buying process is a collective experience led by a purchasing panel usually composed of one member from three of the households. The purchasing panel has a budget range agreed with the others, but is otherwise at liberty to purchase according to their interests and tastes, rather than the entire group. During their time on the panel members are expected to visit galleries, shows, private views and the artists studios before making the final purchase. All members take turns to be on a purchasing panel. The other members can accompany the panel on its visits, offering thoughts and comments.

Occasionally there are “exceptional buys” which enables one-off purchases to be made outside of the purchasing panel. For example one of the members may see something at a show/exhibition that is an excellent example of a new work by an emerging artist and really good value. If they are not on the purchasing panel they can nevertheless recommend to the the Collective that, providing the funds are there – we make this purchase. If everyone agrees then the work can be purchased.  This year a few of us went to Drawing Room’s Biennial event and did exactly this, ending up bidding for and acquiring a drawing, Hang Man” by eastablished artist Mark Wallinger, “

The Drawing Room Biennial 2015.
The Drawing Room Biennial 2015. An opportunity for an “exceptional buy”

Q1.1 [Tatjana]Is the Collective a stable group of households?

A1.1 [Marie-Louise]Yes, it is made up of 6 households. Originally it was seven, but one of the households emigrated after the first year. So for the last 12-13 years there have been the same six households.

Q1.2 [Tatjana] Would you take on any new households to your group?

A1.2 [Marie-Louise]As we’ve been established for so long, it would be difficult to take on new members to our group. Instead we would rather encourage them to set up their own group – and we do have other groups around the country, in Scotland and Holland.

Q2. [Tatjana] Collecting has always been regarded as a “personal passion” and for most it is about building a collection as an act of individual creativity based on particular tastes. How is this realised in a Collective context as individuals can be so different in their personal tastes? Do you all have similar ideas and tastes about what should be purchased?

A2. No, not at all. Part of the experience of the Collective is about living with art that we may really like or not like that much. houseThe challenge of living with art opens up lots of new experiences, for better or for worse. Unlike visiting a gallery where you can walk away from something you like less and never see it again, living with contemporary art allows you to spend time with a particular art work, see it at different times, with different moods and form a relationship with it. It may not be your taste, but it can still be a valuable experience provoking new questions and ways of “seeing” differently. Living with art can influence or change your perception, together with meeting the artists and understanding more about their creative process to produce a particular work. You can grow to like something that you did not like at first glance.The purchasing panel are at liberty to buy according to their tastes at that moment in time, not the tastes of the entire Collective.

As households the art also impacts the rest of the family – children, teenagers, friends, family and visitors. Teenagers are the hardest to please!

Q3 [Tatjana]. What does the Collection itself (the works) mean to the Collective and does that meaning differ significantly from the reasons a typical art market collector would be collecting?

A3 [Marie-Louise]. First thing to say is that we don’t collect art for investment. We are a Collective that buys and shares art

No substitute for your love by Tracy Emin. Owned by the Collective
No substitute for your love by Tracy Emin. Owned by the Collective

collaboratively and cooperatively. We collect because we love contemporary art and we have a desire to share and “live” with art.   As our budgets are small we focus on emerging artists at the beginning of their careers as that is what is affordable for us. That said there are many artists now in our collection who have become more well known on an international level including Chris Ofili, Tracy Emin, Bruce McLean, Tacita Dean, Wolfgang Tillmans, and more recently Michael Armitage. There are many individual collectors who collect art for the same reasons as us but what separates us is our collaborative approach and that we collect, share and discuss experiences along with the purchase of art works. Ownership belongs to the group, not an individual, though purchases are made by each purchasing panel and not the entire group. Performance art is also included in our “collecting process” as we embark on our second performance piece this autumn.

As a Collective we have reached a point in its development where we are evaluating the collection as our twice yearly exchanges have become harder to co-ordinate because of the size of the Collection (over 50 works) and our homes have almost reach capacity in what we can display.  So selling some of the works has become a consideration for us. Under discussion is what we may do with the money if we did sell part of the collection – invest in new works, hire a curator for a fixed period of time or go on a cultural trip as a Collective? This may be a different experience for an individual collector or an investor collector. The Collective is not there just to acquire art but to collect experiences related to art, so simply reinvesting the money in new works is only one consideration we are discussing. It’s about the “whole package” – something other than just acquiring and handing over money for an art work.

In terms of what it means to us, the experience of the Collective itself has had a profound affect on most of us and in two cases spilled over in to our work place where we have introduced art projects in to non-art environments. These have been captured in separate blogs

Q4.[Tatjana] How is each Collective group formed and how does it evolve over the course of time?

A4. [Marie-Louise] We are the Founding Collective and we have a constitution in place setting out the structure required, it’s aims and principles. With the help of funding from Arts Council England we were able to help set up more groups around the country – in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Cambridge. New groups are asked to follow our model though there is flexibility to suit local circumstances and cultural differences. More recently groups have been set up in Edinburgh and Rotterdam .New groups are guided and helped by us as much as possible though how they evolve is not something that we monitor regularly. We try to meet up annually so that all the groups come together in one location to discuss progress and ideas.  We’ve had a number of exhibitions over the years where we’ve asked a curator to select works from across the groups. Hannah Higham, curator of modern and contemporary art at Norwich Castle Museum, produced a great show one year in Cambridge.

As the Founding Group we would like the Collective to continue to spread beyond the boundaries of the original group, maintaining the original model but remaining flexible enough to absorb local and cultural differences to suit each instance.