We sat down with Rosanne Robertson to ask her about her thoughts and experiences on the OutsiderXchangeS project. Exploring how it may have changed her work and how she collaborates.
How did you approach collaboration within the project and what difficulties did you discover, how did you overcome them?
When I first considered collaboration as part of this project I had ideas that took the form of quite academic tasks. All of this way of thinking went out of the window as soon as I spent the first day in the studio. On reflection my ideas had been of a certain type of academic environment that our studio was not. In reality when at the studio I felt apprehensive about asserting any sort of leadership in our studio to organise – I did not want to front any task based collaboration at all. I instead found myself being led by the environment and allowed myself time to be influenced. I listened to the studio- and made some sound drawings which spiked with Barry’s squeaking marker pen and circled with Leslie’s repetitive and focussed drawing.
The thing that really helped me was to invite other people to join me in ‘play’ / improvisation. I brought in a big bag of old broken records that had been sitting in my studio- sometimes a record would be used to scratch or skreak or snap in a sound recording or performance. But now they were tipped upside down all over the middle of the OutsiderXchangeS studio floor. I invited firstly Horace to play with them with me and consider some 3D works together with them. As I use found objects in my practice to make temporary arrangements, as sound sources, sculptures and in performances I wanted to introduce how I would start with a piece of work.
To me- these records were objects to be used/misused- they are detached now in a way from their original use – but to Horace they were records. He did not want to misuse the records. In a way my practice is based on misuse- there is a strong element of destruction- and often I don’t make any thing at all- I break things! Horace was dubious. But then Horace began to worry less about misusing the records and by the end of it he was happy snapping piles of records like no-ones business. We made piles of sort of assemblage / collage and some small sculptural models. It felt good to get out of 2d and into space- interacting with objects and each other. A theme of ‘play’ was developing in the studio at this stage- and many others joined in with their own additions to the improvisations that were going on.
And also, what successes have you discovered in collaboration?
One of the successes in collaboration that stands out for me was the spontaneous birth of new experimental noise group Psychedelic Brain Cells at our studio party. A big part of this project for me has come from artists like Leslie Thompson- doing and making art about things that really make you tick- that make you feel in good shape as Leslie puts it. We have talked a lot about identity, who we are, what makes you who you are, memories, who we look up to, who and what influences us- what we like. The party gave us a way to explore that more- “wear your best party clothes” and “who would you invite to the party if you could invite anybody?” The party gave way for us to all let a bit more loose and brought disco dancing (lead by Leslie) into the equation too- which is a form of expression you may not find in every artists studio on a Wednesday afternoon at 2pm. During this party I had set up some noise making things-and David mic’d up some of his objects from collaborating with Matt. Myself, Matt, David, Juliet and later Horace all started to make sounds together. After 15 minutes or so I thought we sounded quite good and were ready for our first inpromtu 5 minute concert. Everybody agreed. I gathered the rest of the studio/ party guests and we introduced our first gig- our band was given a name there and then by David- Psychedelic Braincells and we performed our first 5 minute set to a captive audience. We have all agreed to continue the band with a future recording, self release and gigs at both The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and The Whitworth Grand Hall for Thursday Late. I think this is one of my favourite outcomes of the project- because no body really saw it coming and I am excited about where it could go. We will be off to a good start with some quite high profile venues for first gigs!
My favourite collaboration has been with Barry Finan.
I have realised over time that Barry is not a visual artist and does not work like a visual artist- he works as a writer and a very ambitious and prolific writer. His desk is a writers desk- a vast stock of paper and pens and reems and rolls of writing- top to bottom left to right- an urgent and ongoing commentary. It has been important to spend time with Barry’s work to understand it as more than the striking bold visual experience that it is. To read and hear Barry’s work over and over again is to understand Barry’s ambitions, restrictions, freedoms, lack of freedoms, assurances, reassurances, dreams and goals. Barry is very clearly telling whoever will listen that he is a writer- he is confirming that he is a writer with his actions and he is telling you/us/him/the people who need to know in order to make it happen that he wants to work- he wants to write, he wants to tell the BBC of his work, he wants to be interviewed by the BBC, he wants his work to be publicised- to be printed in the newspaper and to be recognised- and he wants to make a living- to move into a paid writing/acting job and make good money so he can do things like learn to drive and buy nice food.
I work with my own personal experience in my own work- with things that are difficult to express verbally or in writing- so in a way I am quite opposite to Barry but in another way we are exactly the same. I want to make art for the rest of my life- and it hasn’t been straight forward- there have been obstacles and in a way I have had my own internal monologue like Barry’s external monologue that I will be able to do it if I just keep going! I really want to do well- I often want to make up for what I feel is lost time due to turbulent periods of mental health when depression has kept me from pushing myself and achieving. I feel I understand the sentence in Barry’s work that says “Yes Lad you are doing well” – sometimes just a little bit of support can spur you on a long way. My relationship with my work feels like Barry’s to his- it is my life- it has always been everything to me and there is no distinction between what is life and what is art.
We have a video titled SCRRIPTT that shows some of the process of working together- which has informed our final mixed media installation- which stands like two bodies of work facing each other in conversation. Barry’s writing in all its forms piled up on a handwritten plinth propping up a televission with edited footage from our reading sessions facing my metal frame work laying bare bodily assemblage encasing amplified sounds, voice and close up footage. Our installation will draw the viewer into the personal space of our work and ask you to listen to the many parts. The final installation is titled YES LAD, YES LASS.
Will the way you work in collaboration change now moving forward – was there a particular way you approached collaboration before?
I can’t imagine finding a project in which I can work like this again! Collaboration will never be the same again without these guys. From this project I have learned to not have pre conceptions about how exactly to collaborate but just be open to it and go with what happens whether it is how / what you would usually do or not. I have not made my usual work on this project which is OK- it has been about new results. In the future I would try things out like the party idea- ways to bring people together on one large fun task really worked well and this is not something I would have done in the past.
How has the OutsiderXchangeS project changed your art work?
I don’t think the project has changed my work as such but it has changed how I work and how I work with other people. I feel more able to work with other people now than I did before- and can see how collaboration can help an artist understand more about their own work.
How has it been working with artists who have a learning disability? Is there a difference? If so what is that?
The main difference has been the level of dedication and concentration demonstrated by the artists with learning disabilities. Other artists I have worked with have slacked a lot more and also it hasn’t actually been about making art- in fact often working with other artists has often entailed more talking about or organising doing than actually doing. I found the ways the artists worked very inspiring and it has taught me to pull my socks up and get my head down. I found in this studio and on this project there are less egos and competitiveness than you might find in the ‘professional contemporary art world’. Often I find artists will adopt a sort of emotionless professionalism about their practices which I find a real turn off. All of the artists with learning disabilities are less afraid of being themselves with their work- all of the artists work with more honesty than you will find in more mainstream art worlds. I would like to be part of an art world that has more room for this honesty and is more accessible and inclusive.
If there was one thing you felt proud the most about the OutsiderXchangeS project what is that? – this could be a piece of work, a collaboration, the environment…
I was most proud of being the first to go on the karaoke to sing Wild Boys with Horace- and of our enthusiasm on the mic.
I am also proud of my work with Barry it means a lot to me when Barry says he likes working with me and that we are good friends now. I am proud of our work on SCRRIPTT and YES LAD, YES LASS.