The usage of the word ‘collaboration’ has shifted recently in art circles. It’s now less prevalent among so-called socially engaged practices, an acknowledgment of the asymmetries and inequalities inherent in any working situation. Between artists, it’s almost become something to work against: at the Kunsthaus Graz last year, for example, Simon Starling and Superflex preferred the term ‘cross-departmental’, while Liam Gillick and Lawrence Weiner’s show at M HKA in Antwerp was said to rest on ‘dependency’.
‘In the beginning,’ says the narrator of Beatrice Gibson’s film The Tiger’s Mind (2012), ‘it was just about trying to learn to speak. To speak better, or differently. To speak together. In a way that might be more beautiful, make more use of the tongue, sound more like music.’ Gibson and Will Holder approached artists Jesse Ash, Céline Condorelli, pianist John Tilbury and composer Alex Waterman to simply ‘work together’ using Cornelius Cardew’s 1967 script-as-musical-score The Tiger’s Mind as a guide. Each was given a role from the piece – respectively: Circle, Amy, Wind, Tiger, Mind and Tree – with a character description that, since the work was designed for musical interpretation, is quite adaptable. The only aim to work towards was the production of a film, a publication and the ‘working together’ itself. More than a year later, the result is a series of ambiguously co-dependent bodies of work, spread across four exhibitions in three different countries: The Showroom, London; CAC Brétigny; Index, Stockholm; and this manifestation from Leeds-based commissioning body Pavilion. The group’s working model of independent co-creation is like different versions of the same song, where different mixes highlight (or muffle) the roles of other players.
Buried below the Brutalist labyrinth of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s Leeds University campus, an abandoned television studio housed Condorelli’s contribution, titled ‘Additionals’. What she’s adding in this case seems much in line with her inquisitively collaborative approach, both in her own practice and her ‘Support Structure’ work with Gavin Wade, creating frameworks and platforms to shape interactions. A series of four objects sat expectantly in the empty, soundproofed box of a room: a propped-up chair, a wooden bench, a tall stack of speakers and an angular steel structure defining a podium of sorts. They were all spot-lit with a glittering gold curtain backdrop, as if waiting for the game show theme tune and chirpy presenter to zing in at any moment. Instead, the crackling sound of a wood fire grew louder. Suddenly the spotlights went out, and a bright lamp attached to the bench lit up. The gold curtain began to billow, a delicate rustling sound revealing it to be made from the thin foil of a space blanket. The lights went on again, the gathered furnishings standing like tongue-tied actors.
In the studio control room upstairs was a wall of monitors, six of which played short videos featuring the objects installed downstairs. In each, a film crew is readying a shot, fiddling with placements, vacuuming the floor. In one, the space blanket is half-submerged in an outdoor pool, spreading out along the water’s surface while the cameramen gauge the distance. We hear, ‘OK, great, ready?’ and then it ends. These screen tests, moments between and around the ‘main’ shots of the larger film, reinforce the sculptural qualities of the objects as props.
But returning back down to their level, this certainty becomes unmoored; each is, as the titles describe, a ‘structure for’ doing something – the curtain, for example, being a Structure for Communicating with Wind (all works 2012). In his notes for The Tiger’s Mind, Cardew describes the tiger as ‘a beast; he likes to hunt […] Movement is his language’. Condorelli’s tiger is reflective, helpful and shy, circling the edges of the group. Her objects reflect that movement insofar as they are enabling tools or mediums, an embodiment of a relationship between co-conspirators. The ten-track speaker system Structure for Listening, for example, channels Waterman’s performance of John Cage’s 1970 Solo for Voice 51 (‘Play a recording of a forest fire’). A series of events during the exhibition puts the other objects into play, Holder staging a reading from within the Structure for Public Speaking, the Structure for Preparing the Piano bench used for a concert by Tilbury. Gibson’s film could be seen once weekly in an adjacent radio studio; but Condorelli’s platforms maintain an uneasy defiance. The resultant feeling of walking among them is pleasurably unsettling, the activity and boundaries of physical, temporal and individual creation being prodded and tampered with: the echoes of an expanded working group structure. But within the context of interlocking but independent works about working together, it is also felt oddly like a vacuum, with no air for anyone outside the group to breathe.
First published in Issue 152