Archives for category: Collaboration

Being a design lover and keen marketer I have watched the development of Art Series Hotels with much interest. A company that embodies the idea of collaboration and seems to whole heartedly embrace their artistic partnerships throughout all aspects of their business, I was keen to chat to CEO Will Deague about their collaborative process.

Interview by Krista Huebner

Your collaboration with contemporary artists is very much an intrinsic part of your hotels’ overall identity and brand experience, and in fact is at the core of your business model. What was your inspiration for collaborating with artists?

Our family business is property development and hotels, with most of our experience in more traditional hotel models. When we were looking to develop the sites that the Art Series Hotels sit on, we knew we had the chance to do something completely different. We set out with that goal in mind, and originally had the idea to incorporate more art into the hotels. We were inspired by the popularity of design-led, boutique hotels overseas, like those of Ian Schrager working with Julian Schnabel. From there, our idea of working with art evolved into working with artists to become a completely artist-led hotel.

What challenges did you face working with visual artists? How did you react to these (i.e. what did you do/change/adapt)?

As all artists are NSW based we suffered sometimes from the tyranny of distance, but it was mostly abated by good planning and ensuring clear communication.

Another thing to consider was the art itself. For example, Adam Cullen’s work is really exciting though at times can be controversial; so we had to think about that and if the artists were perhaps more contentious, where they would be placed and how they would be displayed.

Artists work to a different timeline to businesses, so that was something we needed to be considerate of when developing our timelines for each hotel. They also work very differently as a whole. We found that the most important thing for us in working with each artist was being very clear about what we were trying to achieve and how we wanted to work together.

From the outset we used an art consultant who knew both us and the artists very well. He helped facilitate conversations and kept everyone on the same path, whether representing the interests or concerns of the artist to the business, or those of the business back to the artist. Being upfront about the commercial side of things meant that everyone knew how it would work and what was expected.

The artists you have worked with (Adam Cullen, John Olsen, Charles Blackman) are all well-known artists in Australian contemporary art. How did you decide which artists to collaborate with?

Our family has been involved with artists and the art world for years as collectors and philanthropists through the Deague Family Art Foundation. About 10 years ago we travelled with 10 artists to William Creek at Lake Eyre to experience the saltpans and work in bush studios. It was an incredible experience, and started a relationship with many of the artists who we are working with today.

The actual location of each hotel also helped us decide which artists to approach. For example, the Chapel Street location is a great fit for John Olsen, the elegant older statesman, while Adam Cullen is an edgy artist who is better matched with the Prahran/Windsor location.

Have there been any unexpected benefits to the partnership/collaboration, either to you personally, professionally or to the wider business?

As a family, we’ve always been so passionate about the art. It’s a great thing to connect people to contemporary art in a new way. People might initially book with us because it’s a great boutique hotel and then walk away with not only a great hotel experience but also a cool art experience under their belt. So the art education aspect of this has been fantastic, and that also translates to staff. Staff is trained about the art and artists, and additionally knows a lot about what’s happening in Melbourne at a cultural level. People are responding to that and we’re noticing that potential staff is seeking us out as an employer of choice. That’s something to be proud of.

What are the 3 key things you would advise other business managers looking to follow a similar collaborative model?

  1. Be open and honest from the start with the artists – what the end product is going to be and how you want to work with them.
  2. Treat artists with respect. Don’t try to capitalise on their work or reputation, and respect their craft and expertise.
  3. Stick to your guns. Stay true to your values and vision. We built a new hotel brand from scratch by staying true to our strategic vision.

Further reading on creative collaboration:

Katy B Plummer and Kuba Dorabialski are Sydney based artists who collaborate both professionally and personally. Currently they are curating Transcendental Freakout, a new online arts publication which works as an evolving exhibition platform for artists and curators (available online via Remote). Katy and Kuba describe Transcendental Freakout as “the crystallisation of a whole bunch of wishful longings and nervous twitches, willful misunderstandings, stubborn demarcations, and grudging acquiesces of a reasonably private part of our relationship”. It is also the first time they have collaborated as artists in their eleven-year relationship. Katy and Kuba took some time to share with us their learnings on creative collaborations.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

What inspired the two of you to collaborate in a more formal sense at this point in time?

An old friend of ours, Tsering Frykman-Glen, wanted to start a new online publication called Remote, and, out of the blue, she asked us to curate the first instalment. It was actually funny that she asked us both, not one or the other, because we’d never, strictly speaking, art-collaborated before. We’ve always helped each other and invested a lot in each other’s work, but never taken the collective plunge… in fact, though, most of our individual creative energies in recent years have gone towards keeping ourselves and our two little kids sort-of fed, kind-of clean and more-or-less entertained. This is, certainly, a kind of collaboration. We’d both been looking longingly in the direction of art making for a while, and this was the nudge we’d been waiting for.

You state on your website, “While they’ve never really collaborated on an art project before, they’ve never really not collaborated before.” How did your working relationship change when you took on a formal collaborative aspect?

The shocking thing to us is that it hasn’t really changed anything. We’ve always worked closely, being each other’s technicians, taskmasters, sounding boards, slave-labour etc., but each always maintained the final say on our own projects, because our aims and processes are actually pretty different. And even though we’ve always known precisely what the other wants and likes in an artwork, we’ve never actually shared our interests. For example, Katy likes High Melodrama and Theatrical Excess while Kuba likes acidic German modernist literature; so there’s little room for overlap. It seemed like actually collaborating would be this vast fraught and uncharted frontier, but… nope. Same-o, same-o. Seamless joy and snuggles. Maybe it’s just that this particular project is one that we’ve been working on for ages without even really knowing that we’ve been working on it. Maybe we’ll come apart on our next try, but this one did pretty much just spring forth, fully formed.

What challenges have you faced throughout the collaboration?

Irritatingly, even in the thick of it, we still have to keep our babies sort-of fed, kind-of clean and more-or-less entertained. And we have a bookshop to run. And we’re by nature quite untidy. You get the picture.

Also, I guess, we’ve been a bit sequestered for the past few years, so we’ve lost touch a bit with our art networks and forgotten how to make these sorts of connections with people. There were also some time-zone issues; the project has been organised from various parts of the world entirely over the internet, so things that should have been quick simple fixes sometimes took an agonizing number of days to settle, just because people would miss or misunderstand each other. But really, the main challenge has been to carve out the space and time to get it all done.

What benefits has the collaboration brought to you as individual artists?

We were both having trouble dragging our heads back into the art thing. The whole baby/bookshop combo is a very compelling reality, and there really is no telling how long it might have taken for us to gather the necessary creative impetus individually. We’re really grateful to Tsering on that particular count.

Katy and Kuba are in a unique, happy position, where art meets life and both gain for them. When asked what advice they could give to those who are contemplating collaboration, they ended with “This collaboration snuck up on us over eleven years, so maybe our advice could be: Only ever collaborate with a life partner.”

Interested in further reading on creative collaborations? Link below:

Russell Storer, alumni of COFA, UNSW, is a Curator of Contemporary Asian Art at Queensland Art Gallery (QAG). He has been working collaboratively to curate exhibitions such as the QAG’s Asia Pacific Triennial (APT) and the ongoing  Singapore Biennale 2011. He was also a visiting curator at Documenta 2, Kasel and Curatorial Comrade for the 2006 Biennale of Sydney. In his previous role with the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, Russell curated a number of exhibitions among which was the Situation: Collaborations, collectives and artist networks from Sydney.

Interview by Shivangi Ambani

What was the experience of working across a geographically dispersed curatorial team for the Singapore Biennale 2011?

Working long-distance is a common situation for biennales today, with curators working from a home base as well as in the host city often in tandem with others. It offers the possibility for new connections and to draw in different networks of knowledge, experience and information. It does of course also present major challenges in terms of time and communication. Fortunately Matthew (Ngui), Trevor (Smith) and I all knew each other and had worked with each other before, so we had an established understanding of each other’s approaches, and we shared points of reference. We communicated regularly via Skype and email and every few months would come together in Singapore or Australia for intensive meetings. We also had a wonderful exhibition manager, Michelle Tan, who could co-ordinate with us and centralise information in Singapore, and we also had an online ‘cloud’ where we could share materials and documents.

For the APT you work with your curatorial team at the QAG as well as external curators. What were the challenges and benefits of working in this kind of collaborative environment?

The benefit of working collaboratively is that you expand your knowledge base and shift the dynamic into a more discursive mode rather than as a singular statement. There are benefits in that approach, but I love the dialogue that takes place and appreciate the multiple perspectives that collaborative curating offers. In some instances, as in APT, external curators are essential if you are working in areas that are unfamiliar or inaccessible to gallery staff, where you cannot proceed without specialised knowledge and on-the-ground contacts. As with any relationship there are negotiations and compromises to be made, which depending on the spirit in which this is done can be very productive or very difficult, but fortunately I’ve only really had positive experiences so far!

What do you look for in a collaborative curator when embarking on such a project?

I think as with any collaboration, you look for the experience and knowledge that people offer, but what is also important is that they are people you can relate to and there is some kind of shared goal in mind. There may be different views on how to get there, and the goal posts may shift, but there needs to be a desire to develop something together that you can both contribute to and learn from.

The upcoming Sydney Biennale for the first time will have a curatorial team rather than an individual. Do you see collaboration between artists, curators and institutions becoming increasingly important?

That is true, although the 2000 Biennale did use a ‘curatorium’ of advisors/curators from around the world to develop the project. Artists and curators have been collaborating for decades, from early 20th-century avant-garde groups to the activist collectives of the 1970s and 1980s to the participatory projects of the 1990s and 2000s. There has been increased attention and historicising of collaborative activity over the past decade, as well as expanding possibilities enabled by technology and new forms of organisation and production. With the enormous emphasis on the individual in society, and with the increased instrumentalisation of culture, the critical possibilities that collaborative work offers in setting up alternative structures and approaches will definitely continue to be significant into the future.

Any lessons learnt from your past collaborations—would you do anything differently the next time?

I see curatorial work as a constant process of learning, with each project teaching you so many new things. There are always aspects you might like to have done differently in hindsight, but that applies to everything in life I think! It’s important with collaborative projects to always be open and flexible while having a clear sense of what you are trying to do. You can bring your experience to each new project, but there are always situations you have never encountered before which makes it exciting and requires you to think in new ways. Collaboration – with other curators, with artists, with audiences – is a significant way of developing these new ways of thinking.

Adam Synnott is an independent artist, contemporary dancer and designer. Synnott’s roots are grounded in the contemporary dance world, having previously worked for companies Leigh Warren + Dancers, Australian Dance Theatre, Chunky Move and Sue Healey as well as many independent artists. In 2008 Synnott and Jason Lam, also a fellow artist and dancer started design studios, Kaboom Studios and have designed for theatre, film and installation with notable names such as Graeme Murphy.

Synnott is currently working with Leigh Warren on his new work Touch and collaborating on a new dance and media work Chance with Lisa Griffiths, Craig Bary and Josh Thomson. Later on this year he will spend time in development at the Critical Path (SYD) and Tas Dance (TAS) studios. In addition to all this he is part way through studying a Masters of Interactive Multimedia at UTS in Sydney.

Adam talked to arts interview about collaboration in dance and the projects he is currently working on.

Interview by Alex Bellemore

What are the differences in collaborative methods between dance and design, besides the obvious difference in style?

Being a dancer I’m always designing from a dance perspective so I couldn’t really comment on the differences between the two except that dance is so physical and is invariably developed from an internal and almost unconscious place. Dance can also happen a little more instantly and be created in the moment. Design perhaps is a little more of a conscious and planned thing. The challenge then becomes how to create designs for dance while it’s being created in the studio. When collaborating with Lisa Griffiths and Craig Bary on their work Side to One, this usually resulted in a great many late nights getting stuff ready in time for the next day’s rehearsal. Craig makes a great coffee so it was all OK.

Can you tell us a bit more about your collaboration with your wife and fellow dancer, Lisa Griffiths. What have been the positive and negative aspects of working with your partner?

It’s all good. Lisa and I already have a common understanding and a strong vision for our work together. We work intuitively and at a level that only comes from such a place of trust and involvement, we often don’t need to talk everything through we can just dive into an idea head first. There’s no greater joy than getting in a studio and working with your friends and Lisa is my best friend.

Contemporary choreography today is very much a collaborative practice between choreographers and dancers. Can you articulate the difference between working for a choreographer who ultimately bills the work as their own, compared to a work which is billed as collaborative?

This is definitely something that I’ve come up against a little bit over the years. This type of work spans across the technical, creative and collaborative aspects of working with other artists and organisations. The line is somewhat blurred and the specific role that I fill is dependent on the individual project. Most of the time billing is not a problem, especially with independent artists, they are generally awesome and understanding. Sometimes you have to fight for recognition of your own work (not always successful) and sometimes people just flat out steal your ideas. You have just got to role with the punches I suppose and hope that your work will speak for itself in the end.

At Kaboom Studios you work with fellow artist and dancer Jason Lam, how do you two work together effectively as a business and as artists?

I wonder that same thing myself sometimes. Jason lives in Darwin (he’s a doctor of all things) while I’m between Sydney and Adelaide so it gets a little complicated at times. I don’t think we could sustain a business as well as work creatively together without ‘the cloud’ (cloud computing). We’re lucky our partnership has emerged at roughly the same time as services like drop-box and google docs so we’ve never really had to do without it, though I can’t imagine how we could. We keep or business model as flexible as we can and just try and keep it fun and interesting for ourselves.

What do you think is a key guideline to remember when working with other people?

One of the pitfalls of collaborating with other people, especially with people from different disciplines is communication and finding a common language. If you find a common language between your collaborators early on in the project your off to a great start.

www.kaboomstudios.com

Image: Helen White Photography

Gaffa is an artist-run initiative committed to providing an accessible creative space for emerging artists in Sydney. With its accessible CBD location, situated in a beautiful heritage listed building, Gaffa’s business is all about promoting and nurturing cross-platform collaboration, collectivity and cohesion within the contemporary art community. Since moving into its current location, Gaffa has expanded into a complex of gallery, studios, workshops and a retail arcade. Gaffa’s initiative director, Kelly Robson talks to arts interview about the Gaffa journey.

Interview by Iris SiYi Shen

Can you tell us about yourself and the Gaffa Creative Precinct?

I am one of the founding directors of Gaffa so have now been in this role for coming up to 7 years. My only formal education is in the visual arts, for which I have a Masters Degree. Gaffa is first and foremost, about access. For artists and designers this is access to space, access to networks, equipment, support and an infra-structure. For our patrons, its access to a welcoming environment which the public doesn’t often get to be a part of. They can become part of our community, come to exhibitions, social events, attend workshops and open studio days and support us by buying exhibition pieces and retail items. They can enjoy a genuine experience that isn’t homogenized or franchised, which in our current location of the CBD, is pretty hard to come by.

Tell us about Gaffa’s journey, starting as a small gallery in Surry Hills to becoming an established Artist Run Initiative (ARI) that dabbles across the art, fashion and design fields. Can you articulate Gaffa’s growth as an ARI?

Gaffa was established at a time when many artist spaces were in flux. Between 2004 and 2006 a number of spaces closed down (Kilo Gallery, Space 3, Imperial Slacks, Quadrivium, Gallery 156) just to name a few. In fact one of the first spaces I was involved with, ‘The Wedding Circle’ in Chippendale was closed down by council after only a year of being open with the reason being cited as a “place of unlawful assembly”. However the closure, and also general climate of instability in the ARI community is what motivated me to comply with council requirements and red-tape in all endeavors since then, (as much as possible) to avoid disappointments down the track.

For this month, the theme for arts interview is collaboration; can you tell us what collaboration means to the Gaffa Creative Precinct?

Collaboration means everything to Gaffa. If not directly on projects, then through developing a supportive community and frame-work through which people can feel comfortable trying, testing and refining their ideas. Having numerous projects, exhibitions, launches and artists upstairs in the studios at any one time creates a certain dynamic in the building. Frequently, when people walk through our doors for the first time, they comment on the energy in the building. They can feel the excitement and the intent. Creative networks are collaborative by necessity, it is critical to pool resources, to support each others projects and to create strength in numbers in general.

Currently Gaffa is home to a handful of fashion labels and homeware stores, what do you think about the dynamics of these retail spaces in relation to the gallery spaces and artist studios upstairs?

Having the crossover of activities in the building is critical to what we do. Our store, cafe and arcade work well on the ground level as they serve as a welcoming ‘entry’ point for random passersby. It is a familiar and easily accessible environment. Once they have entered, they realise there is much more going on inside and are hopefully hooked! Since moving to what is a much larger building we have adopted the phrase ‘Creative Precinct’ and the fact that you can meet with our artists and designers, have a coffee while you browse, see art works and also purchase quality design work on the ground floor all works together to create an almost physically felt dynamic and energy. Something often commented on by our patrons.

 What are the challenges Gaffa faces as a Creative Precinct?

I guess first and foremost is the obvious, which is being disciplined enough to sustain our infra-structure. Everyone who works here is a practicing artist, yet the tasks that need to be done each day are so diverse. Everyone here learns everything on the go! But that’s also the great thing about here. People who come on board can choose what skill-set they want to develop and then really run with it. The second is also obvious, which is making sure that we choose to spend the money that we manage to make on things that will increase our longevity.

www.gaffa.com.au

He Made She Made (HMSM) are the recent recipients of a grant from the City of Sydney (CoS), subsidizing creative spaces to revitalize Oxford Street. The four members of He Made She Made, Bent Patterson, Maaike Pullar, Laura Kepreotis and Patrick Chambers, create and curate works within this space which, may be considered art, but often encompass the functionality and utility of a design piece. The collective sat down with arts interview to talk about the gallery space and the process of establishing a new collaboration.

Interview by Alex Bellemore

How did the HMSM collaboration begin?

Three of us knew each other from university and work and two of us were planning collaborative projects already. We all ended up looking for space and opportunity to try new things around the same time. The City of Sydney began a push to revitalize the lower end of Oxford Street through subsidised rent for creative spaces, which provided the impetus to form officially. What followed was a series of ‘meetings’ or sessions at the pub where the four of us talked about world domination and the like. Our agendas were written on the back of coasters.

What do you think are the pros and cons of collaboration in an opportunity such as this grant, compared to other collaborations such as forming out of art school, mutual friends, working together on another project etc?

 I think the opportunity from the CoS probably gave us a reason to push ourselves, a reason to collaborate. Certainly I think if we hadn’t had the CoS expressions of interest deadline we would still be discussing how to set ourselves up, if we wanted to be a collective, if our practices even meshed. Once you’re out of uni/art school, furniture and prototyping is a solitary sort of project, but the need to keep the space open really required a team effort. It’s turned out to be awesome, having people around to bounce ideas and processes with.

The major pro is location. We would never have been able to afford a space entirely for ourselves on Oxford street without sharing it with 20 other artists, which is where most collectives start out I guess – in shared spaces. Conversely, a major con is that we are temporary. We aren’t going to exist in the space for a normal 2-5 year lease, so there is pressure to accelerate things.

How do HMSM see themselves as a group in the pop up gallery? As craftsmen/ artists/ curators/gallery managers? How do you manage this juggling of multiple roles?

One of us works professionally as an art director, one as an experiential designer, one as an interior designer and one as a furniture resurrector. We all have different backgrounds, and some of us suit certain roles more than others. I don’t think we see ourselves as being one particular thing, even if we all ‘make’ things. There’s a huge crossover of skills and we all attempt to don the craftsmen/artist/curator/manager hat with support from each other.  We all have our opinions about all aspects of the running of the gallery, and we hear and respect those ideas. Some of us prefer the making of things and being able to facilitate the gallery from a practical level. Others have a strong interest in curating, or in running the gallery so the rest of us can take a step back.

Do you think a business/ artistic collaboration has worked effectively? Do you think it is better to have the two roles ideally separate?

 Most of us have worked in our industries long enough to know that 80% of the time you are running a business and 20% of the time you might get to do something creative. It would be nice to be able to get the business to a level of self management at some stage so we can all focus on our own work – but then we wouldn’t be He Made She Made anymore. Every decision we’ve made so far has been together, be it creatively or in relation to business. You definitely wear different hats when you’re working together. Talking about finance or the running of the business is a totally different mindset to discussing the way to join two pieces of wood – or pull your hand out of a silicone mould.

What is the grand plan for HMSM after the completion of the pop up gallery? Do you see a continued collaboration?

 The CoS has given us a low investment opportunity to trial HMSM as we see it now. We don’t know what public response and the local community will bring to the mix. It’s already creating interest and opportunities for us as a collective and individually, so who knows where HMSM will be in 12 months. Hopefully it will live on in some form – we’ll have a model and a business plan to take to the bank.

He Made She Made’s second exhibition: The Second Coming opens Tuesday March 13, from 6.

www.hemadeshemade.com

Drew Berry is a biomedical animator at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne whose work has transcended the boundaries between science and art.  A biomedical animator’s role is to translate real science into a visual story so people can see it in action.  These visual stories are to do with what happens inside our bodies and animation is the best way to demonstrate and teach concepts such as the complex mechanics of DNA, cell development or the impact of disease.  While Drew’s work is firmly based in the scientific sphere he has also been exhibited as an artist in major national and international institutions.  He talks to arts interview about his art and the collaborations in which he has worked.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

You trained as a scientist; at what point did your work begin to be seen in a new way? Or was there always an artistic component to it?

Certainly when you are constructing animations we take on the visual grammar of cinema and film to help the storytelling. My work originally was not aimed at an artistic audience, it was simply an education piece to show people what the science is about. Around 2002-2003 my work was invited to be screened at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) here in Melbourne, and that show travelled a little bit and my work ended up being picked up by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Pompidou Centre and so on, as art.  I found a whole new audience that I would never have expected to reach, an audience that’s not switched on by science or think science is for them, and to be able to show them science can engage them.  So my stories are very strong in trying to explain the science, but I do definitely put in artistic elements to make it emotionally engaging, whether it’s making disease repulsive or showing a healthy cell as lively to make it look ‘healthier.’

You’ve mentioned in other interviews how science has always had a relationship with art.  Would you say you work in a cross disciplinary environment, or is biomedical animation just an extension of scientific practice?

I think there is definitely a focus on scientific practice, but calling upon whatever techniques you need to help explain that story. I think it is human nature to draw and to draw pictures of what you are observing or thinking about, so being human this is just what we do to try and convey these ideas to other people, or even just to ourselves. So drawing pictures or sketches is really central to scientific development, to map out what you are thinking or observing. So my work is really a more advanced version of that.

Are there challenges in working in a cross disciplinary environment?

I guess so, it’s sort of what I have always done. I have my passion for science and I’ve always fiddled around with computer graphics. I do have to be cautious, as you can be picked on by scientists when you do represent the world in a more interpretative, creative or impressionistic way. But there really isn’t any other way to draw this stuff, to draw in a way that is watchable to a human audience. Scientists are going to challenge it, but I just have to make it as accurate as possible, but still watchable.

 You’ve worked on some very high profile projects, such as the Emmy and BAFTA Award winning DNA project and Bjork’s Biophillia, how is this type of collaboration different from your medically focused work?

The DNA project was actually the first major project I worked on, from that everything else led on. The process hasn’t changed whatsoever, I feel that the topics, the science, the reality of the world of our bodies are so mind blowing and fascinating that the problem is trying to find a way to represent it.

The process of creating animations has stayed the same. I spend my time reading the journals, talking to scientists, and then fiddling around with 3D animation software working out how I’m going to build the animation and the final third of the time actually creating imagery.  These are the ideal steps I go through given enough time, and every project from raw hard science for scientists communicating to their peers, ones for school kids, or a Bjork video is all the same from pre-concept through to production.

Do you believe that artists and scientists think or conceive in a different way? If yes, how?

Certainly art and science are both very creative ways of working in the world, and I do think artists and scientists think similarly.  Scientists have to be much more careful, or they are very, very focused on being careful in how they represent the world because in the world of science everyone else can criticize you or take you down if you take the reality too far. Scientists are very careful or cagey about what they say and do, because it is a game of critiquing everyone else’s work. Where pure art, I would say, is more a self-expression of what you feel or think, in a personal way, where science is a very public and people can critique what it is you are representing.  Pure art is more an expression of an individual.

See Drew’s talk for Ted X Sydney, May 2011:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFCvkkDSfIU

Here you all were thinking that this post was the first interview of the year? Alas no, this is our heartwarming introduction for 2012! Our first interview with the fascinating scientist/ biomedical animator/ artist Drew Berry will launch next Monday 5th of March.

2012 is shaping up to be a big year for Arts Interview. After the fantastic response that we had in 2011- including a nomination for an Arts Hub award and over ten thousand views, things are only getting bigger and better. We will be continuing our weekly interviews across monthly themes and we may be be adding a couple of surprise events throughout the year.

Our first theme of 2012 will be Collaboration: The Intersection of Art & Others. Many of Australia’s most well known and fruitful artistic practices have been born out of the fusing of creative minds. Collaboration is not just the playground of artists, many organizations have used collaboration to strengthen community bonds, create a stronger organization or present something unprecedented. The four interviews throughout March will give you some deeper insight and hopefully a small buzz of inspiration.

For now, though, sit back, drink the last gin, soak in the final ray of Summer and enjoy the final re run of Arts Interview 2011 with Russell Storer.

Eliza Muldoon & Alex Bellemore

Russell Storer, alumni of COFA, UNSW, is a Curator of Contemporary Asian Art at Queensland Art Gallery (QAG). He has been working collaboratively to curate exhibitions such as the QAG’s Asia Pacific Triennial (APT) and the ongoing  Singapore Biennale 2011. He was also a visiting curator at Documenta 2, Kasel and Curatorial Comrade for the 2006 Biennale of Sydney. In his previous role with the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, Russell curated a number of exhibitions among which was the Situation: Collaborations, collectives and artist networks from Sydney.

Interview by Shivangi Ambani

What was the experience of working across a geographically dispersed curatorial team for the Singapore Biennale 2011?

Working long-distance is a common situation for biennales today, with curators working from a home base as well as in the host city often in tandem with others. It offers the possibility for new connections and to draw in different networks of knowledge, experience and information. It does of course also present major challenges in terms of time and communication. Fortunately Matthew (Ngui), Trevor (Smith) and I all knew each other and had worked with each other before, so we had an established understanding of each other’s approaches, and we shared points of reference. We communicated regularly via Skype and email and every few months would come together in Singapore or Australia for intensive meetings. We also had a wonderful exhibition manager, Michelle Tan, who could co-ordinate with us and centralise information in Singapore, and we also had an online ‘cloud’ where we could share materials and documents.

For the APT you work with your curatorial team at the QAG as well as external curators. What were the challenges and benefits of working in this kind of collaborative environment?

The benefit of working collaboratively is that you expand your knowledge base and shift the dynamic into a more discursive mode rather than as a singular statement. There are benefits in that approach, but I love the dialogue that takes place and appreciate the multiple perspectives that collaborative curating offers. In some instances, as in APT, external curators are essential if you are working in areas that are unfamiliar or inaccessible to gallery staff, where you cannot proceed without specialised knowledge and on-the-ground contacts. As with any relationship there are negotiations and compromises to be made, which depending on the spirit in which this is done can be very productive or very difficult, but fortunately I’ve only really had positive experiences so far!

What do you look for in a collaborative curator when embarking on such a project?

I think as with any collaboration, you look for the experience and knowledge that people offer, but what is also important is that they are people you can relate to and there is some kind of shared goal in mind. There may be different views on how to get there, and the goal posts may shift, but there needs to be a desire to develop something together that you can both contribute to and learn from.

The upcoming Sydney Biennale for the first time will have a curatorial team rather than an individual. Do you see collaboration between artists, curators and institutions becoming increasingly important?

That is true, although the 2000 Biennale did use a ‘curatorium’ of advisors/curators from around the world to develop the project. Artists and curators have been collaborating for decades, from early 20th-century avant-garde groups to the activist collectives of the 1970s and 1980s to the participatory projects of the 1990s and 2000s. There has been increased attention and historicising of collaborative activity over the past decade, as well as expanding possibilities enabled by technology and new forms of organisation and production. With the enormous emphasis on the individual in society, and with the increased instrumentalisation of culture, the critical possibilities that collaborative work offers in setting up alternative structures and approaches will definitely continue to be significant into the future.

Any lessons learnt from your past collaborations—would you do anything differently the next time?

I see curatorial work as a constant process of learning, with each project teaching you so many new things. There are always aspects you might like to have done differently in hindsight, but that applies to everything in life I think! It’s important with collaborative projects to always be open and flexible while having a clear sense of what you are trying to do. You can bring your experience to each new project, but there are always situations you have never encountered before which makes it exciting and requires you to think in new ways. Collaboration – with other curators, with artists, with audiences – is a significant way of developing these new ways of thinking.

This week’s interviewee is Mouna Zaylah, the Manager of the Cultural Development Program with Information and Cultural Exchange, (ICE).  ICE’s purpose is to work with communities and creative producers in Western Sydney to create media, art and culture. Mouna has worked on a range of initiatives in Western Sydney producing cultural events, performance and screen based projects with artists, communities and organizations and has over 17 years experience as an arts manager.

As producer of the ultimate collaboration during this year’s Sydney Festival, Mouna Zaylah discusses the process of mixing East London with West Sydney.

Interview by Rebecca Rossmann

What was the inspiration for the collaboration? Whose idea was it?

The inspiration for the project came about from prior discussions between two of the artists involved in East London West Sydney, MC Trey and Jonzi D. MC Trey, a Fijian Australian hip hop artist, travelled to the UK where she met Jonzi D. Together they discussed the hip hop industry and the emerging hip hop scene in West Sydney. They also discussed the connection between West Sydney and East London and the similarities between the people and their experiences. MC Trey was intrigued with Jonzi D as a performer and vice versa. Jonzi D expressed interest in coming out to West Sydney and doing something here – the idea for East London West Sydney formed.

How did you develop the ELWS collaboration?

MC Trey came back from the UK and pitched the idea of West Sydney artists collaborating with East London artists to our organisation, ICE, and we jumped on board immediately.  We then looked at ways we could fund it, what other artists could be involved, and the details of the project.  We (ICE) took the lead and found that we connected well with the British Council in Australia.  We pitched the idea to them and they were also willing to take a risk on the project.

In consultation with the British Council in Sydney, Jonzi D, MC Trey, and ICE we selected a diverse team of artists that we wanted to bring to together to devise a piece of work.

What were some of the challenges from this collaboration?

There were many challenges when it came to getting ELWS off the ground.  In a short period of time we had to figure out how to get the artists together, negotiate contracts, and explain the project to them.  The project depended heavily upon trust as 95% of the crew did not know each other. The artists needed to trust us and each other with their personal stories, and we needed to make sure we were providing enough resources and emotional support to allow the artists to create something powerful.

Funding is always a challenge.  We (ICE) had never worked with Sydney Festival before. It was a big challenge trying to pitch and negotiate the terms with Sydney Festival, as well as trying to secure funds from other bodies. Fortunately the British council was very helpful; they supported this project and trusted us to manage it.

Time was another challenge, as we feel that we didn’t have enough of it.

The only disappointing aspect of this collaboration is that we only had one week of performances, that’s only because we couldn’t afford it to keep it running. It would be really disappointing if we couldn’t put it back together in the future

Were there any surprises that came from this collaboration? Things you didn’t count on in the process of creating ELWS?

There were many surprises in the collaboration. In particular, I think the artists were surprised to find out they had so much in common. All of the artists were open and willing to share their ideas, and work with the other team members on pieces they had written. It surprised me that the artists had included and incorporated so much of their own stories and experience’s into the project. I think it takes a lot of guts to get up and share your stories and then perform them with the other performers.

Interested in further reading on creative collaborations? Links below:

Being a design lover and keen marketer I have watched the development of Art Series Hotels with much interest. A company that embodies the idea of collaboration and seems to whole heartedly embrace their artistic partnerships throughout all aspects of their business, I was keen to chat to CEO Will Deague about their collaborative process.

Interview by Krista Huebner

Your collaboration with contemporary artists is very much an intrinsic part of your hotels’ overall identity and brand experience, and in fact is at the core of your business model. What was your inspiration for collaborating with artists?

Our family business is property development and hotels, with most of our experience in more traditional hotel models. When we were looking to develop the sites that the Art Series Hotels sit on, we knew we had the chance to do something completely different. We set out with that goal in mind, and originally had the idea to incorporate more art into the hotels. We were inspired by the popularity of design-led, boutique hotels overseas, like those of Ian Schrager working with Julian Schnabel. From there, our idea of working with art evolved into working with artists to become a completely artist-led hotel.

What challenges did you face working with visual artists? How did you react to these (i.e. what did you do/change/adapt)?

As all artists are NSW based we suffered sometimes from the tyranny of distance, but it was mostly abated by good planning and ensuring clear communication.

Another thing to consider was the art itself. For example, Adam Cullen’s work is really exciting though at times can be controversial; so we had to think about that and if the artists were perhaps more contentious, where they would be placed and how they would be displayed.

Artists work to a different timeline to businesses, so that was something we needed to be considerate of when developing our timelines for each hotel. They also work very differently as a whole. We found that the most important thing for us in working with each artist was being very clear about what we were trying to achieve and how we wanted to work together.

From the outset we used an art consultant who knew both us and the artists very well. He helped facilitate conversations and kept everyone on the same path, whether representing the interests or concerns of the artist to the business, or those of the business back to the artist. Being upfront about the commercial side of things meant that everyone knew how it would work and what was expected.

The artists you have worked with (Adam Cullen, John Olsen, Charles Blackman) are all well-known artists in Australian contemporary art. How did you decide which artists to collaborate with?

Our family has been involved with artists and the art world for years as collectors and philanthropists through the Deague Family Art Foundation. About 10 years ago we travelled with 10 artists to William Creek at Lake Eyre to experience the saltpans and work in bush studios. It was an incredible experience, and started a relationship with many of the artists who we are working with today.

The actual location of each hotel also helped us decide which artists to approach. For example, the Chapel Street location is a great fit for John Olsen, the elegant older statesman, while Adam Cullen is an edgy artist who is better matched with the Prahran/Windsor location.

Have there been any unexpected benefits to the partnership/collaboration, either to you personally, professionally or to the wider business?

As a family, we’ve always been so passionate about the art. It’s a great thing to connect people to contemporary art in a new way. People might initially book with us because it’s a great boutique hotel and then walk away with not only a great hotel experience but also a cool art experience under their belt. So the art education aspect of this has been fantastic, and that also translates to staff. Staff is trained about the art and artists, and additionally knows a lot about what’s happening in Melbourne at a cultural level. People are responding to that and we’re noticing that potential staff is seeking us out as an employer of choice. That’s something to be proud of.

What are the 3 key things you would advise other business managers looking to follow a similar collaborative model?

  1. Be open and honest from the start with the artists – what the end product is going to be and how you want to work with them.
  2. Treat artists with respect. Don’t try to capitalise on their work or reputation, and respect their craft and expertise.
  3. Stick to your guns. Stay true to your values and vision. We built a new hotel brand from scratch by staying true to our strategic vision.

Further reading on creative collaboration:

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