Rosanne on Collaboration

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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Matt on Collaboration

We sat down with Matt Girling to ask him about his thoughts and experiences on the OutsiderXchangeS project. Exploring how it may have changed his work and how he  collaborates.

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How did you approach collaboration within the project and what difficulties did you discover, how did you overcome them and also what successes have you discovered in collaboration? 

 I started out in a way that, looking back on it now, seemed naïve. Even before we came to the first studio session I had big bundle of ideas that seemed to me, likely to result in interesting and exciting collaborations. Most of these ideas involved me inviting other artist to participate in what I was doing; I had the door to my art practice open and beckoned people in to try it out. On the whole, this approach fell pretty flat. Other artists were interested but understandably were more interested in getting on with there own work. At that early stage I wasn’t comfortable attempting to influence what anybody else was working on. It felt rude to break somebodies’ busy concentration and try and make a difference to artwork that in most cases doesn’t need to be changed at all.

So I decided to do the same and just get on with my own practice. Just doing the what I would have been doing regardless of the context of the residency. I was mainly drawing. I sit next to Lesley in the studio, He also draws a lot too, and generally with the same kind of equipment to me; he’s the only person I know with a bigger trail of dried out black fine liners in their wake than me. Working so closely in parallel with another artist with a similar process to mine has defiantly affected the way I make drawings in two ways, I have become more interested in making drawings that tell stories. I have adopted a more dogmatic determination to keep going without becoming distracted. The way Leslie is able to concentrate has made me pull my socks up and really get on with it.

After that initial handful of sessions collaborations started to form organically; small at first, using an action figure belonging to Leslie for a bit of animation or giving Barry an alternative kind of paper to do his writing on. Ever since I have just let stuff happen without planning ahead, often working with different artists from week to week. More recently I have been working a lot with David, we have been making some experimental animations using green screen, (or “the ghost town effect” a term coined by David because he had seen it used in the music video by the specials.) we still don’t really know what it is we are doing but we are both just enjoying process for the time being. Looking forward towards the end of the residency I plan to amass all the small chunks of collaborative video work made and into a kind of visual soup. But that might change.

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Will the way you work in collaboration change now moving forward – was there a particular way you approached collaboration before? How has the OutsiderXchangeS project changed your art work? 

I haven’t collaborated on many art projects in the past so I can’t be sure. I’m fairly sure it has in some way affected the way I will work both collaboratively and on my own in the future.

How has it been working with artists who have a learning disability? Is there a difference? If so what is that? 

The difference in the way any two people perceive the world is massive, with the learning disabled artist working on Outsiderxchanges that difference in perception is multiplied wildly. This has made the whole experience insightful, confusing, hilarious in equal measures.

 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 wouldn’t say I have felt proud for any one piece of work but I was very happy with the reaction the project received at the open studio we held in May. I think people were able to see that this project is about mutual growth, which is important. I am looking forward to pulling all the loose ends together to make something that I am proud of in the coming months.

Juliet on Collaboration

We sat down with Juliet Davis to ask her about her thoughts and experiences on the OutsiderXchangeS project. Exploring how it may have changed her work and how she collaborates.

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How did you approach collaboration within the project and what difficulties did you discover, how did you overcome them and also what successes have you discovered in collaboration?

Collaboration, whatever the level, is a very important part of my work; I rarely do art projects on my own. I don’t really have a studio based practice so that was a first “challenge” for me, finding ways to make my thought processes and experiments visible in the space and intriguing enough for people to get interested in them.

I spent most of the first few sessions wandering around the space, chatting to people, looking at what they were doing… but not really creating work at my desk. I noticed that most of the Venture Arts artists were really focused on their work, getting on with it from start to finish, Barry even eating his lunch at his desk!

I wasn’t sure how to approach them as usually I will collaborate with people with specific projects in mind, everybody’s role and position in the group being quite clear, this time there wasn’t necessarily a clear entry point for the discussion and I was pressuring myself about having to create work with absolutely everybody.

I think the collaboration with Sophie and Horace started quite naturally, Sophie and I had a chat outside of the studio space, and then visiting Horace’s school with Martin really helped bounding us. After that Horace was always really up for trying new things we would propose, always bouncing off his own work. The ‘unproductive’ time spent with Horace looking for people or places on our laptops also really helped getting used to his sensibility!

So I think I’ve learned to value the time spent together in a studio setting without a specific outcome in mind (which I hadn’t really had since finishing my master 2 years ago).

I will usually do lots of research and thinking before acting (but not necessarily change things several times), this time because of the long duration of the residency, I really had time to build up ideas, then realise what parts actually interested me, repeat this several times, but also try things out without really thinking about it much before doing it (like the ‘if you could invite anybody in the world to our party, who would that be?’ question which in less than 10 led me to start building life-size cardboard models of people’s favourite guests.

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Will the way you work in collaboration change now moving forward – was there a particular way you approached collaboration before?

I used to collaborate with people I either knew very well and/or whose work I knew well, people who’d been to art school too and had very similar interests and references to mine, but often from different perspectives (sound, drawing, graphic design, film making, dance…). And as my work has a site specific/contextual approach to the environment, we would always have a very clear outcome/setting (an exhibition space, a certain event…). This time it was with people who have a very different approach to art than I do (and also people who had similar art education as me), and we were not sure about the form of the final showing.

It’s made me realise the importance of just trying things out before setting ideas and giving time for relations and ideas to evolve.

I realised that there were lots of ways to ‘collaborate’. I think I was quite weary of ‘using’ Venture Arts artists’ practices to create something that wouldn’t be meaningful to them, but by leaving things open ended and not feeing rushed some exchanges happened (even if it was just a discussion, giving someone a hand… and not necessarily creating a work together with absolutely similar involvements).

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How has the OutsiderXchangeS project changed your artwork?

My work is usually immaterial or takes the form of performances. This time, because all the other Venture Arts artist create works with visual physical outcomes, it helped me think of my work as installations, actions to be documented in video, etc.

But all the participants have a very ‘performative’ element in their art making, for example Barry whose writings are almost like performance writings; it’s helped me think of ‘performativity’ in a more open way. The discussions we had about celebrities, actors and TV shows has really made me think about ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’, when do both start and end… how important they are to us.

As an artist and person, I think I’ve become more patient and comfortable about speaking to people I don’t know. I feel like I have more attention and understanding for people I come across in public spaces. Disturbing/highlighting social behaviours and conventions was already very important in my work but it’s like these six months have really help put my beliefs into practice, so I hope this evolution will transpire through my future works and ways of working.

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How has it been working with artists who have a learning disability? Is there a difference? If so what is that?

They have very different artistic or cultural references to me (having been to art school, so being quite knowledgeable of art history and always ‘aware’ of it when I work, and also being foreign – so knowing little to nothing about British TV series or movies.). This meant that when we were interacting I couldn’t focus on the things I usually focus on.

I think there are common elements in the reasons why we do art and why we enjoy it, but also great differences, due to the fact we experience the world in very different but also very similar ways. We share really strong feelings in common (for example our admiration for a movie or a character) but they will take different places in our lives.

It really made me more aware of the direct impact that engaging with art / creating art can have on people’s wellbeing, why it’s important for people like Horace or Sarah or Leslie to do art, and how I can contribute to that.

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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 really amazed by how the geography of the studio evolved throughout the months, at first we were all in our own corners and Matt’s decision to invest the centre of the space felt like a really bold statement, now everything is much more fluid and we feel comfortable working next to someone / don’t feel like we’re being intrusive. I feel like we’ve all created a really welcoming atmosphere in the group and that James, Martin, Glen and Tanya’s presence and advices throughout the months have really helped make everyone feel comfortable.

Then there are those little pearls that happened, which were not exactly ‘art making’ but really bonding moments: that day Leslie hugged Sophie to say goodbye, that day Sarah got really interested in the book I’d brought for Leslie weeks before (which didn’t really interest him) and we spend over 30min reading it, the day Horace took us to see his old school and wait for a freight train – and the level of excitement when a train did actually go past! I feel like these were moments when we forgot about our differences or what was expected from us and just enjoyed that sharing of joy.

Horace Reflections

We sat with Horace Lindzey, one of our OutsiderXchangeS artists to find out a little bit more about his work and his experiences on the OutsiderXchangeS project.

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Horace what have you been working on during the project?

“I’ve been working on a big book which shows a lot of things I’m interested in also the different types of people that interest me. One of the main things I’ve been making art around is my old school, a school called Cambrian school.

In my book I’ve brought together a collage of new and old pictures of different schools, but also showing different people’s schools as well. For example I’ve got pictures of Tanya’s school and my mum’s school which was Webster School near Denmark Road.

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Horace a lot of your work seems to focus on your school days and places. Is there any reason for this?

“My school days were good, I also went to Whitworth. This was back in 1977. I was really happy in school and I always think back to my time there. Especially the teachers who aren’t there now, but it is a long time ago.”

I see food and people celebrating features quite a lot as well?

“Seeing pictures of people out enjoying themselves I like very much, so I’ve collected them all in a collage. Food I really like because there are certain foods I’m unable to eat because of diabetes. So foods like Christmas and fruit cake and finding out if people eat them I like to find out. So I ask people questions about food as well. “

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So you’ve taken those questions to the next level working with Juliet and you’ve been conducting a number of interviews?

“Yes I’ve been interviewing lots of people. I’ve been asking them a lot of questions about their schools and weddings. Juliet has been recording them and then we’ve asked them to build their old school out of wooden sticks. That was good to watch.

Also working with Juliet and Sophie I’ve visited my old school and interviewed staff and I also made them both wait till a train came through the local railway bridge. It was very exciting

I’ve also been making art with Rosanne and we broke up old records and made bits of art with them. I quite like this piece of work because I love music and vinyl. Although it is strange, but felt good, to cut up old records.

I’ve enjoyed the work with Rosanne the most because it has included records but the work with Juliet and Sophie has really got me excited as well.”

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Going back to your artist book there looks like there’s a style developing there?

“There is an artist called Peter Blake who James introduced me to. I like the way he takes images and cuts out people and then turns this into his own art. So I’ve done the same. I’ve made art of Last of the Summer Wine, people with spectacles on, people from television history, comedy – like Eric Morecombe and soaps – I very much like Rudolph Walker (Patrick from Eastenders). Using these characters takes me right back to watching television when I was young. But I’ve also used complete strangers and shapes with abstract art, or flowers and body shapes. I’ve even started to use pictures from these workshops we all do on a Wednesday.

So my collaboration has brought about some good art but my little book is like a mini book exhibition about what I like and what work I’m doing now. I’ve curated what goes on each page.

The work I’m proud of the most includes the pictures we captured of the freight train near my old school, the work that’s come from the visits to my old school and of course my book. When we have exhibitions of the project I will feel proud to tell people “I made that”.

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Sophie Lee – Thoughts on Collaboration

This week we posed a number of questions to OutsiderXchangeS artist Sophie Lee focusing on her progress during the project as well as some thoughts on collaboration.

How did you approach collaboration within the project and what difficulties did you discover, how did you overcome them and also what successes have you discovered in collaboration?

I felt it was really important to get to know each other before approaching the collaboration. I spent the first few weeks observing the way others worked and having conversations, becoming familiar with one another and comfortable in the space. For a while I was concerned my pace was too slow, but on reflection this period was very important for me. It was challenging initially to see a way in to collaboration with the artists with learning disabilities as they were very focussed on their own work, it was quite difficult to engage them in an alternative idea. However, over time Horace has become very open to testing ideas with Juliet and myself. Perhaps this is through spending more time together or maybe because the project has quite a heavy focus on Horace’s interest in school. I think it was really beneficial for the three of us to go on a trip to Horace’s old school, he regularly reflects on this shared experience. I feel it brought us together and firmed up our connection to this project.


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Will the way you work in collaboration change now moving forward – was there a particular way you approached collaboration before?

When I’ve worked collaboratively in the past it has been very organic, coming together over a common interest or similarity in ways of working. It was a little overwhelming at first feeling pressure to find this in one another, but through conversation common ground was quickly established between Horace, Juliet and myself. It has been interesting to discuss our shared interest in schools, childhood and our relationship to architecture, but particularly exciting exploring our different approaches in how to communicate these ideas. Moving forward I see huge value in collaboration with artists working in different mediums and with different perspectives. This is really pushing my practice and stimulating my ideas.

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How has the OutsiderXchangeS project changed your art work?

Working on OutsiderXchanges has definitely encouraged me to become more playful in my practice. The focus being shifted on to the process rather than the outcome has helped with freeing me up, as well as working along side such a diverse group of artists.

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How has it been working with artists who have a learning disability? Is there a difference? If so what is that?

The artists with learning disabilities are uninhibited and unpretentious which is really refreshing. It may be quite challenging to discuss the development of projects together, I have found it is better to experiment and reflect on how we feel afterwards. James and Martin have been key in supporting us in this, using questionnaire style worksheets is very helpful in giving a structure to reflection and allowing the artists voice to be heard. Almost always conversations about our collaborative projects go off on a tangent, this is one of the reasons that the work is playful and it really encourages a continued enquiry.

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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 am very proud of the studio environment we have built together, it’s a lovely place to come and work with a different atmosphere each week. Sometimes it’s really calming and others we are belly laughing all day. I’m happy to have met all of the artists and I’m excited to see what comes from our time together. Each artist is making engaging work that is authentic and honest, I am delighted to be showing work alongside them on some established platforms.

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Sarah – Buildings, Architecture and Fashion

During her time on the OutsiderXchangeS project three things have inspired Sarah: Architecture, Sketching and Fashion.

Sarah constantly sketches the world around her and has a huge passion for the buildings around us in the North West.

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“I like to take the tram or bus rides across the region to look at buildings. Recently Wythenshawe Hall had a large fire and I took the structure of the building as inspiration for a collection of clay sculptures. These included the roof, the fireplace and other parts of the building.”

Sarah begins her creative explorations by sketching these buildings or particular details of the buildings:

“I like buildings and like to draw parts of them. Sometimes I’m trying to find some unusal features in a building so I can capture that in a sketch. I’ve explored bridges in Altrincham, Errwood Hall and Wythenshawe Hall, buildings within central Manchester and lots of places that I come across on my journeys. I just sketch them in to my little blue book, to start with these are just little scribbles and what not and then I transpose them into more physical pieces of art, like the clay work I’ve done and currently as part of the leaf clothing on the model dress I’m making.”

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Alongside the clay sculptures Sarah has also been sketching and designing a dress full of artistic flare. The dress has a leaf design within its tailoring and Sarah came up with the idea to merge the two explorations of her work recently – her fashion designs and building sketching. Sarah has now begun to move her sketches of buildings onto tiny leaf fabric and adding them to the small model dress she is constructing. Resulting in each part of the dress being connected to a place and a history. Bringing sketching, architecture and fashion together as one.