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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“I was the assembly hall” – Horace

Today we tried the wallpaper on to re-build Cambrian School. I was the assembly hall, Juliet was the dinner ladies room and Sophie (not Sophie Lawrence) was the classroom.

It was nice being underneath the wallpaper and talking about the school. It was like being in a den (not a lions den). Listen, if horses were in there with the lions, how would they feel? They’d be feeling upset.

We also talked about the fact they are going to take the school down. Mr Nutall said he would send us a letter so we can visit the school again before they take it down.

Then we took the wall paper down.  After that we watched the video that Sophie’s camera had been filming.

We would like to continue working with this idea, to make a video about the school to bring back memories.

 

Collaboration within OutsiderXchangeS – Julie not Juliet

Horace was the first person I met when I came to Venture Arts – I actually met him outside the building on the day of my interview and remember being intrigued by his interest in knowing the year I was born, but also a bit intimidated by his insistence in my name being Julie and not Juliet.

When ‘OutsiderXchangeS’ actually started, Horace, Sophie and I quickly got together thanks to our common interest in education, childhood, and ways of working which are not limited to the studio but also involve online research, discussions and trips around Manchester.

Horace has been doing his interview series on the theme of school days and we thought the Open Studios would be a great way to take this project further.

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On Saturday 28th May, after Horace had been to church, we did five individual interviews in a small room next to our communal studio space where Horace first asked people questions about their childhood memories, before we asked them to build a small version of their school with wood blocks, so they could explain better how the school was structured, where their classroom was, where the head master or mistress’ office was, where they would play…

I was fascinated by how people would answer Horace’s questions in different ways: because they can be quite general (‘What were your school days?’), some people mainly spoke about the subjects they studied, some would enumerate the various schools they’d been to, one mainly talked about the games on the playground! Often the interviews are quite reflective for the people reflecting their stories, having to look back on fairly early memories and assumptions they had at the time (especially about the headmaster-mistress).

Some of the interviews were documented, but the important part of the work for us seems to be the live element, the special encounter with Horace and me in an intimate environment. Horace is being himself and speaking in the way he always speaks, I’m being myself as well… we’re not ‘performing’, but because it’s just the three of us and people have committed to the interview, I feel like this moment that we share together is slightly separate from the rest of the event and the discussions Horace can have with people the rest of the time. Where does the artwork/performance start and end? Who is performing?

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Throughout the interview, Horace, like he always does, impersonates different characters: the detached interviewer, his mum (“she told the dinner ladies ‘do not give Horace no pudding'”), the teacher, the headmaster (‘Where do you think you’re going?!’)… and the person being interviewed equally has to take on different roles: the adult recalling childhood memories, the pupil getting caught trying to get out of the school and having to justify themselves…

Horace also often uses sentences as ‘nets’ to catch us in this impersonation game, by ‘tricking’ us into finishing his sentences. (“-It’s not appropriate. It’s not what? -Appropriate.”)

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We’re hoping that these 15 minutes spent with us can help spark a mecanism of memories for the participants, even when they’ve gone out of the interview, and that by stimulating a conversation in a “safe” place slightly separated from the rest of what they experience during that day, they might be more open to encounters with strangers in their daily life…

Here are some extracts of some feedback we got during the day:

“It was pleasant to think back to my childhood. I was apprehensive at first but was put to ease by Horace. I was told to expect questions about my school years, but didn’t expect it to be deep and probing. I don’t think I have ever been interacted with by an art piece before.” Kamran, 28.

 

“It was great. It was different from the other artworks I’ve experienced before because of the interactivity, the focus on you as a participant and the ability to ask the artist questions.” Steph, 28.

We are going to develop the interview format during the future public events that will happen with Outsiderxchanges, and also devise a way for the artwork to be accessible when the interviews themselves are not possible. We’re currently working with Sophie on a video and a sound piece not being a mere documentation of the interviews, but a piece in its own right.

We’re really pleased by the enthusiasm that the participants have had so far and exited about the other works we want to develop together over the next few months!

Reflecting on our Open Day event

 

 

Sarah- On Saturday, when the art space opened, me and my parents came to look around to view other peoples work. We also noticed some musicians who were performing in the space that we are using at the moment. I first took some time to explain and talk about my work. Once I got going, talking about the pieces on display,my ideas and what I’m doing on the float for the Manchester parade I was okay doing it.

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Leslie-I drew some big cartoon work about this building, the Chorlton space.  I also talked to people about my career and my picture of Tarzan. My mum came and my brother Geoff came which was fantastic. 

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Horace- I was there. I went to church first so I wore my black suit. I asked the fella about his school days. I met newer people to ask questions to. It was good. It was a bit like a party. 

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David-  I thought it was really good. I didn’t realise there was so many people’s work in the other spaces. I was interested in what people did. Loads of people talked to me about my inspiration, I said ‘Its just Life; skin, colour, texture, genetics and vibrance’. They all liked what I did. 

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Horace, Sophie and Juliet – Bringing back school memories

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Two weeks ago we went to see my old school in Ancoats with Martin from Venture Arts and met the owner, we went inside the school which is going to become a car park. After that we went to Every street where my old house was and took a picture. We then went to Counsillor street where the freight trains go. We waited for a train to pass and were really lucky to see one! Sophie took some photos. I used to go up there and watch the rail line, that’s bringing back memories.

Last week we made a mini version of the school with my instructions and did research about Grange school where I went after Cambrian school closed down. I then interviewed Nick about his secondary school, he told a memory about setting something on fire in the science room! Nick used some wood to make the shape of the school’s buildings and the lake next to it. I liked Nick’s school.

People used to go to school in different days, they used to learn different things. I like talking about schools because it brings back good memories. I think people like bringing back their memories and I like hearing them.

This morning we talked about the development of the project. I would like to interview more people. We might be doing it in an art gallery. I am exited about it!

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April – Quotes and Images

The last few weeks the OutsiderXchangeS studio has been a hive of great activity.

Collaboration between all artists has started and individual artists have started to experiment even more.

Below are some images and quotes from the OutsiderXchangeS artists from the past couple of weeks.

Sarah used different clays for her architectural 3D sketches- and Juliet sketched her in the process. Sarah has continued to experiment with different types of clay to construct her buildings.

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Rosanne: “I’ve been recording Barry reading some of his wording. We’ve also been working with Horace to position records from history as well as collecting imagery for our AV collaboration”

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Matt decided to gift Barry a calligraphy note pad to which Barry said “WRRIGHTING IN THIS BOOK IS DIFFERRENNT. IT MADE ME HAPPY”

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Horace has also added a selection of Polaroid’s he took of his old school to his map drawing- “it brings back memories” he told the fellow artists.

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Lesley bought in a chimpanzee figure to show Matt and has decided, “I might paint on the tarzan picture” which Lesley has been working on for the past few weeks.” When asked about his painting Lesley said “I used to watch Tarzan as a child in the 1970’s, on Granada TV, and it has always been a favourite of mine. So I’m really enjoying painting this. It makes me feel good.”

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David has really enjoyed having a studio space for himself. “It feels a lot better to have my own space to experiement with my work. It has helped me realise sometimes I’ve got to reinvent myself’

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We’ll be capturing the thoughts and progress of all artists every week and you can keep a track on the work and collaborations on this blog and on our Twitter page. Give us a follow on @oxchanges