Tag Archives: home

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…