Bob Lee was an inspiration to so many. He came to any conversation often with radical ideas, opinions and an enthusiasm that could persuade you to do what you had always wanted to do, but somehow never had the confidence to pull off, the very next day. He would look at you with a cunning smile and say “Why not? What d’you think?”
So it was that one evening in a London pub a small gathering with Bob at the centre, wrote down a few key notes for setting up The Collective – a simple but unique way to collect and share contemporary art works between seven households in London. Seventeen years later it is still going and has over 65 artworks that we still share between us. Bob will always remain at the centre of our Collective thinking but very sadly he is no longer with us. After a long battle with cancer, he passed away on the 20th September with his family at his side.
Bob’s passion for the arts was as vital as his commitment to politics and the causes he supported throughout his life. He never did anything in halves but immersed himself in a way that gave him a rare ability to talk to curators and artists with an ease that won him respect and friendships in many different circles as if he’d been doing it all his life.
Clutching on to a well-wrapped artwork as he fell overboard a Dutch barge (the home of another Collective member) in to the Thames was probably a memory we would all rather forget, but remains etched in the Collective’s history. Unable to swim well he was rapidly plucked out of the water still clutching on to an unharmed art work determined to make sure the work took priority.
“I think it’s OK” he said referring to the artwork as he shivered from the cold wet dip. Both survived well from the experience.
Bob’s energy seemed endless moving from work to family to attending private views in the evening, and art fairs and exhibitions when they came along. As his knowledge of artists grew he always had an eye out for the next purchase – often succumbing to what became known as a “side order” – a purchase for his own personal collection if he couldn’t persuade the Collective’s purchasing panel of the moment that we should buy a particular work. “it was an excellent opportunity – it would have been crazy to miss it” he would be heard exclaiming.
When it came to reasoned argument he was a master, quelling minor storms in opinion over purchases or exchange bids and suggesting ideas for the next Collective step in a journey that had already lasted much longer than any of us anticipated. He listened with equal measure to the thoughts of others, never wishing to dismiss alternative opinions and encouraging to the end, but somehow managing to win us around to his viewpoint without us noticing. Discussion (and a glass of wine) were surely the best route to making good decisions.
People and family were central to Bob’s life and from which much of his thinking emanated. His role as a founding member of the Collective was no coincidence but deeply embedded in what he liked doing most – sharing, appreciating, discussing and being open to new ways of looking at the world through art.
His loss will be felt by so many and yet his legacy will remain in our minds and hearts for ever.
Our thoughts are with his wife Jo, and his two children Manu and Olivia.
It’s not always easy to explain to people why you are passionate about a subject, or why you decide to create a concept that takes you down a defined and creative path. Yet, as members of ‘The Collective’ we are often asked “what inspired you?’ , ‘What brought you together to where you are now?’
The fact is, we’ve reached an interesting hiatus where physical space has started to constrain how much more art we can accommodate in our homes. At the same time this has been met with a collective desire to evolve and adapt. As society and the world at large is in a state of constant and rapid change, this is no surprise. The whole idea of exploring new experiences should be a pre-requisite to preserving the concept of ‘The Collective’ for the future.
As we talk to curators and artists we receive a lot of affirmation and encouragement for what we do now, but less for a move in a different direction. The appeal is the co-operative process, the domestic context we operate in, the introduction to new audiences and the love the artists have that their work is constantly ‘seen’ in different homes and environments across the Collective. It is not only enjoyed – but a focus for discussion. The art assumes a life of its own.
So is the The Collective evolving or transitioning? ‘Transition’ is a very over used term these days and means multiple things in different circumstances.
Many artists use transition techniques to draw the eye across a canvas and help tell a story or evoke an emotion in a particular way. In business we associate it with strategy, goals and planning in order to realise a smooth change with more profitable outcomes. It has meaning in music, in physics, in nature, in child birth and many more aspects of life besides. There are limitless ways to describe ‘transition’ and what it offers.
The English Oxford dictionary defines it as
“The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.
So are we, The Collective, experiencing a period of change which will ultimately alter our story? – or are we simply exploring new avenues to what we do whilst keeping our original objectives and ‘state’ in tact? Put more simply are we going through a new period of development in our evolution? The problem is there is not another model quite like it to use as a comparison.
For those of you who follow this blog you will remember that ‘In the beginning’
The idea was straight forward: we would buy art “collectively” and share it by meeting up on a regular basis and “exchanging it” between households.
We’ve evolved a lot since then: growing other groups nationally, sharing performance experiences, visits to art fairs and artist studios, giving talks, and having the opportunity to exhibit as we did most recently at Work Place Gallery, Gateshead.
But the story doesn’t end there. Next year will see the beginning of a new adventure, a journey down a different path that will still keep close to our founding ideas but perhaps explore ‘experience’ further, rather than focus on acquisition. Though that might still be the final collective outcome.
Until then I’d like to wish everyone a very happy and peaceful festive season
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.
The 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.
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!
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 assembly) 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.
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
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
If 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
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
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
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.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
When they were very young we took our children to see exhibitions. In a country where it rains more than the sun shines, it was a good place to take them: it was indoors (though not always), there was space, usually not too many people, interesting shapes and colours to look at (even if they didn’t understand) and a chance for the adults to feel “adult”. There were always those unforgettable moments when your child was the one lying prone on the gallery floor, legs kicking and murmured explanations of “they just don’t want to leave” , or the disappearance under a no-entry cordon out of sight, setting off a train of panic that could only be made worse by the sound of an alarm going off because an identified visitor had touched an artwork. We remember, even if they don’t.
Occasionally a particular exhibition or piece of art would mesmerise them and they would talk about it for weeks, later becoming absorbed in to family folk lore. The more strange, the better – Richard Wilson’s 20:50 oil installation at the Saatchi Gallery being such an example. Creating themselves was inevitable. A house filled with crayons, paints and pens and a fridge pasted with the latest master pieces that extended beyond the magnets and crept up the walls. It was their space to fill as we all pleased.
As they grew older the master pieces became replaced with photos of their landmarks, more refined master pieces and holiday fun. When we mentioned the word “exhibition” the room would miraculously empty as they informed us of previously arranged commitments that couldn’t be avoided, friends waiting for them and more homework than would possibly allow them to go out at that point. So we would make arrangements and go on our own.
But then something better happened. We started to buy art and bring it home to put on our walls. Six households buying and sharing art collaboratively between and in their own homes. The Collective had arrived.
To the children it meant periodic gatherings (“exchanges”) where they could meet up with their cousins and friends and eat cake whilst the grown-ups looked at art. They ran round the house playing hide and seek and occasionally voiced an opinion on what their favourite piece of art (and cake) was “can we take that one home this time?”. Cake and painting. Exchanges were social occasions for all ages. We encouraged interest and opinion in what works we chose to bid for and take home for our walls, even if it fell on deaf ears.
As they grew older our three children welcomed their friends in to our house, as we would want them to. Their friends accepted we had lots of art on our walls and even expressed their opinions – noticing when things changed “oh, don’t you have the one with the circles any more?” , “What does this one mean?” Our own children often reacted strongly: “I’m not eating at the table with that drawing looking down at me!” ,”That work shouldn’t be in here, or my friends won’t come round”. But they did come round, and their friends either ignored the art or engaged in conversation with us, asking questions about a particular piece, “everyone has an opinion” muses our eldest son, “there’s always something to say“. A few started to look for the changes and grew to expect new works over time pointing out anything new. “It’s like a feature of our home”, our youngest son pointed out, “you live with it, but it doesn’t mean you always like it”.
At Christmas time when families gathered the cousins delighted in entertaining us with an annual sketch of The Collective “in action”, how we engaged and how we purchased art, bringing us to our knees with laughter, but only because they knew what an important part of all our lives it was – and that nothing would change that.
Recently we acquired sculptures by artist Jemima Brown – life size figures, one of them eerily realistic. Collective member Jo Eastop described her experiences with it in her house – and her son’s reaction:
“That thing frightened the life out of me!” he said.For the first few days, Beigelbird frightened the life out of me too. Every time I came down the stairs in the morning I jumped. I’d go into a room, become preoccupied with something, forget about Beigelbird, come back out and get another shock.Visitors to the house were dumb-founded and amused. “Oh my God what’s that?”
A friend of my son’s came over. “Do you like our new art work?” I asked. “It’s not something you actually like, is it?” our son replied.
Living with unusual pieces of art goes a long way to challenging one’s perceptions and understandings of what is “likeable”, child or adult. When we visit a gallery or an art fair you have reactions to all kinds of art , but you know you can walk away and never look at it again. Living with art in your home is another experience altogether. You see it at different times of the day, with different moods, different lighting and can surprise yourself each time, for better or for worse. You can absorb the reaction of those who enter the house. It becomes a relationship, a daily transaction that you can take something from or just accept , even if “like” isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. It’s enough.
There is often a sense that, however much you enjoy your job, what you do outside of working hours is quite separate from what happens within your working environment. This in turn helps to support that much sought after “work-life balance” that so many of us aspire to achieve. As fulfilling as work can be, it can seem that the more removed that interest or passion is from your career the greater the chance that the apparent “balance” may be realised. So whether sports person, actor, singer, artist, writer, poet, tech wizard, what you do with your passion outside of work may improve your sense of well being at the same time. Perhaps this is true for many people? You spend so much time at work it is sometimes hard to imagine putting a lot of energy in to something quite different – though sometimes it is just what you need to remove yourself from the stresses that can occur in the day-to-day running of your life.
But what happens when external interests and work cross paths and the two worlds meet in an unusual combination – when you have the opportunity to connect both areas of your life? When, as blogger John Stepper would say, you bring your whole self to work.
Although there are arts’ specialists in the Collective, members are, for the most part, from very diverse non-arts professions ranging from local government to teaching, communications, IT, and the NHS. For two of us the influence of the Collective has contributed to producing some unusual projects at work. I have decided to separate the two experiences in to two blogs as they represent very different journeys and professional backgrounds. The first is my own story.
In 2011, just a few weeks in to my new role as a corporate communications manager at UBM plc I was unexpectedly drawn in to some discussions about refurbishments of the top floor of our office building – a floor that was filled with meeting rooms, UBM’s board room and a long corridor that stretched the length of the building .Various ideas were discussed from themed areas that represented the different businesses, to fresh interior designers being brought in, to new photography to replace the old. As the floor often welcomed external visitors, what would best represent UBM?
For the most part I listened and observed – I was new after all.
In reality, I was already forming an idea, but I needed to work on it first. With over 8 years exposure to contemporary art, artists, galleries and studios through the Collective it would not have taken a genius to know what was going through my head. But my colleagues didn’t know that, and the challenge for me was “what” and “how”.
Over the next few days I discussed with Collective member Tim Eastop what he thought the chances were of UBM, a commercial B2B events-led global organisation, collaborating with a local arts organisation? UBM had no previous history of supporting the arts (in their London office at least ), but it did have a great track record of local community engagement often supported by their Charity Committee. I leveraged all the experience and contacts the Collective offered and within a couple of weeks came up with an idea for the proposed 9th floor refurbishment that could suit both sides of a collaboration.
A proposal was submitted and much to my amazement – approved. The result was a unique collaboration with Drawing Room, a public non-profit contemporary arts organisation based in Southwark, the London borough where UBM’s head office is located. The idea was to promote and support emerging artists in a local but global business environment whilst also providing training for an emerging curator .
After a meeting with Drawing Room Co-Directors Kate MacFarlane and Mary Doyle the project began to take shape. Under the leadership of Gallery Manager Jacqui McIntosh two sixth-month exhibitions would take place on the 9th floor, and with the help of a curatorial intern, funded by UBM through Drawing Room’s education programme, they would be responsible for researching local artists under agreed themes that resonated with UBM. The second exhibition, “Material Matters” explored the ways artists referenced consumption and mass production and how they responded to recycled materials, tying in with UBM’s own sustainability exploration and journey.
The funding from UBM’s charity committee was initially for 1 year, but was subsequently extended for a further 2 years resulting in 5 exhibitions representing over 30 emerging artists from our own doorstep in Southwark. The final exhibition “Full Circle” drew artists from the previous exhibitions in the project and focussed on ideas of continuity and change – a concept critical to many business environments, not just that of UBM. As a community engagement project it also included a networking event for local artists and curators as well interested employees. The project finally ended this year when UBM’s London office moved premises.
The project gave UBM employees at our London HQ an opportunity to see and think differently in their every day working lives. They were challenged, sometimes moved and occasionally mystified; they engaged with a very different professional community brought in to their own business environment; they welcomed the exhibition change every six months (no complacency about what was on the walls), and came to lunchtime talks offered by the artists in order to explore why and how the works of art they saw every day were created. . Thanks to our internal social intranet other UBM businesses outside of London and the UK were able to
enjoy the works as I shared the project in a curated space for that purpose.
The relationship and collaboration with the Drawing Room team and many of the participating artists was inspirational . The three curatorial interns UBM sponsored have all gone on to good jobs in other arts establishments, and the artists who exhibited continue to move on to new adventures and shows. A full list of the exhibitions in the collaboration and the participating artists can be found on Drawing Room’s website.
For me? Certainly one of the most memorable projects of my career, when two worlds came together in the most rewarding and fulfilling way I could have hoped for.
* “Connecting Worlds”, the fourth exhibition in the project, explored ideas of community across diverse cultures.
There was no epiphany of any kind back in 2002. Tied up with family life and grappling with a notion of a rewarding work-life balance we realised one thing we all enjoyed was looking at, and talking about, contemporary art .
Translating that in to something more full-time at home on any significant level was clearly the challenge. We had limited financial resources to buy art as individual families even if the desire and interest was there. With two arts professionals amongst us, we were not short of encouragement and ideas.
“We” were seven households back in 2002: four were related (siblings) and three long time friends spread over London from north to south. But we were all in the same City which was a good start. It was almost a “family affair” even if it didn’t have to be for the idea to work – but it certainly made meet-ups easier in the early days and with children in tow.
The idea was straight forward: we would buy art “collectively” and share it by meeting up on a regular basis and “exchanging it” between households.
A number of group conversations started to set our thoughts down on the process and build a framework for how we wanted the group to participate in art more widely and how it should be run more specifically.
It was to be a co-operative approach where each household would commit to a small sum per month and once the funds began building up we would start to purchase new contemporary art works. We shared and agreed a certain purpose around our group. The intention was not to make money or see it as an investment opportunity – but rather to enjoy art for arts sake in domestic settings from new, emerging and cutting edge artists – however challenging and unlikely it was that we may have purchased those art works on our own. We wanted to live with the art and appreciate new visual stimuli around us every day at home.
We had plenty to think about: a name, a bank account, treasurer, how to buy and share and a written model – or constitution.
So we arrived at “The Collective”. Thirteen years later we have a collection of over 50 works that we continue to grow and continue to share amongst ourselves. We are seen as viable collectors by contemporary gallerists, art fairs and Arts Council England and we are not alone as a group. The Founding group has enabled the launch of other groups across the country.
In the beginning we were just seven households who enjoyed contemporary art with lots of stories ahead of us. It is those stories that I will be sharing regularly in this blog.
Stories about The Collective Founding group – a group dedicated to buying, collecting and sharing contemporary art in the home for the last twenty years. Written by group member, Marie-Louise Collard, it is based on personal experience.