The Showroom, 63 Penfold Street, London NW8 8PQ

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Ciara Phillips: Workshop (2010 - ongoing)
The Showroom, London
2 October - 30 November 2013
Rachel Guthrie

Collaboration has become a significant part of contemporary art culture: a significant about-turn on centuries of increasingly individualistic art making that runs parallel to the craft revival of recent years. Collaboration and craft have been picking up pace at all the same places, and the two are unquestionably related. Ciara Phillips’ piece ‘Workshop’ is a show-piece of collaboration today, and the name is both deliberate and defining of the show as a whole.

The opening text speaks of Ciara’s practice and collaboration when it says, ‘Phillips will explore the potential of ‘making together’ as a way of negotiating ideas.’ It’s an eye-opening thought. Through ‘Workshop’, Phillips showcases the potential of teamwork, not to muddle but to multiply creativity. This she does by inviting members of the community, fellow artists and designers, including some who have had contact with The Showroom before, to treat the gallery as a communal printing studio throughout the months of October and November, while the exhibition continues to run. The artist, who acts as a director for the project, predicts the outcomes will be a varied concoction of appearances and purposes: advertising and design, community action and communication, and activism and propaganda.

For now, however, ‘Workshop’ consists mainly of the thoughts of its initiator. Screenprints made between 2010 and 2013 line the walls of the downstairs open-plan gallery space. From floor to ceiling, Philips’ prints are reproduced as wallpaper. Strips of the work NO/OK - which is presented framed and in its original singular form upstairs - are stacked down and across the walls. This graphic work is a play on words, playing on the transformation from denial to tempered agreement through the switching of an N for a K. Hung in front are four cotton screenprints. The two on the left hand wall are emblazoned with letters spelling T-o D-i-s-c-u-s-s (as it is called) and N-e-w T-h-i-n-g-s (likewise) in a similar fashion to the NO/OK papering. These two pieces, both from 2013, anticipate the arrival of the wholly collaborative part of ‘Workshop’. What Ciara does in part one of the project, is visualise the potential of the project in its second part.

The character of the exhibition is such that if any chance was involved, it seems to have fallen more than a little bit fortuitously into the lap of those at the gallery. The Showroom is a space that is framed by its commercial features. With its wide drive-in door and exuberant yellow walls, its appearance is not far from a car garage. It’s a spacious site for exhibiting art, but it also screams ‘I’m a studio.’ And in equal measure this show exists as an exhibition (showroom), and a workshop.

The space is laid out in a manner that enables the artistic collaboration. The work is distanced from the plush furnishings of fine art exhibiting: plinths are pushed aside in favour of untreated wooden and industrial plastic tables with trestle legs, as one finds in a traditional workshop. In the alcove to the left hand side of the ground floor gallery you can find a table shamelessly laid out with printmakers’ paints and all the tools of the trade.

Likewise, the workshop ethos underpins the work, from factory-line productivity to art that is conscious of its source. We see both these characteristics in prints framed beneath a glass-topped table in the upstairs (studio) space. Presented is the opening page of ‘Irregular Bulletin 53 (July 2012)’ - a newsletter that was published alongside Ciara Phillips and Corita Kent’s show ‘Pull Everything Out’ at Spike Island, Bristol. It reads, ‘Often we may not realise we are building on the ideas of others but when we do know it, it is good to take responsibility to say thank you for the use of the material. Acknowledge that this work has gotten into you and been changed by you and has changed you.’

Quite clearly the artists are advocating selfless collaboration and self-conscious idea sourcing. Walking about the table, an unlabelled print reads like a rally-cry for war, ‘Rise Early Jesse. Pull Everything Out Olivia. Ciara, Be Industrious.’ Anti-competitive, it’s an address to the creative community to keep making, and to do some in tandem.

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