My arts practice is quite varied - I don't just make art; I also teach, work on community arts projects as well as do all of the admin, social media and other mundane things like renewing my insurance and doing my accounts!
When I get time in my studio, it's very precious and I like to use this time to be as productive as possible, exploring new things and ways of working as I feel that this develops me as an artist. This is the reason I really enjoy working with other artists. Sometimes this is very low key, such as going to an artist group I'm part of which is similar to a co-working day. Other times it's a more formal and longer lasting project, which is what this post is about.
One of the artist collaborations I've learnt most from was with a poet - Harry Man. His work can be found online here We collaborated one a project called Dene within a Dene. A dene is a wooded area with water running through it that leads directly into the sea. The North East coast, where we both live, has lots of denes. Our project involved taking a large photo frame to five denes and photographing it in an area that was interesting to both of us. The work that we created was in response to the area within that frame (dene within a dene), the wider dene and also the topics we had discussed during our walk through the dene. These topics were centralised around our working methods, the way that we created work, different types of poetry and embroidery.
Above are some images of our dene within a dene and some of the work created in response to that.
From our conversations I learnt a lot about poetry, the different structures and ways of making meaning clear or implied. A lot more than I ever learnt in school! It was also a chance to learn about the working practices of another creative, the highs and lows and good to see connections and new ways of possibly doing things. I learnt more than just art related things.
By going to the denes with a purpose it made me look at them in a different way, especially those I knew. They weren't just somewhere to go for a nice walk, they had a history and a story to tell. Really peeling back the layers and exploring was so interesting. The image below are from Hardwick Dene; the photo we worked from and also the work that I created.
Hardwick Dene was one I was excited to go to - the information online sounded excellent and I thought we were heading to somewhere with an abundance of wildlife and beautiful walks. The reality was very different; lots of rubbish, uncared for and we only saw two ducks in the time we were there. It may well have changed now, as we did this project a few years ago. As we were there we decided to make the most of it and we were so glad that we did. Once we got passed the huge amount of litter and became used to the uneven trackways and got towards the middle of the dene there was a beautiful expanse of water with lots of interesting reeds and a huge amount of spiders webs glistening in the Autumnal sunshine. My response to this became very much about looking at the layers, peeling back the first impressions and really looking at what's inside. I produced a piece of work made of three layers. The bottom layer was machine embroidery on calico representing the tall grass, the middle layer also free machine embroidery on sheer fabric representing the reeds and the top layer a spider's web on soluble fabric, which when rinsed away leaves just the threads. It was an interesting place with an interesting history and overall we're glad we went.
This project was a funded project and the funding was there for us to visit five denes. However, as we found the project so interesting and felt there was more we could do, every now and again, when we both have time, we pick it up again and revisit previous work developing it further.
As part of the project we set up a website and you can visit this here. The website hasn't been updated for a while, but it gives a really good overview of the main project and what we did.
For me, working with other artists - especially those who work in a different artform to me - is really valuable. It's a good way to learn new skills, not just arts related, new ways of working and encourages me to look at things in new ways. I'm always open to working with other artists on both short and long term projects and this is something I actively look for opportunities to do.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this collaboration and other artists collaborations in general - feel free to leave a comment below.