Several academics and practitioners position friendship as a positive and radical way of working together, in ‘Too Close to See: Notes on Friendship’, Céline Condorelli defines friendship as “an essentially political relationship of allegiance and responsibility” which acts as “both a set-up for working and a dimension of production”. However, the turn towards collaborative practices often comes from a position of precarity, lack of funding and institutional support. Collaborating offers a way to pool resources, skill sets and provide a system of support and care.
For ‘Jerwood Collaborate!’ Jerwood Arts commissioned four emerging and early career collectives and collaborative practitioners, Array, Languid Hands, Shy Bairns and Keiken + George Jasper Stone, enabling the groups to create new work and build on their existing practices. The variety in the practices exhibited demonstrate the different modes and outcomes of working together, encompassing everything from protest banners and marches, zine making and friendship quizzes and video and CGI work.
‘As Others See Us’, an installation by Array, a collective from Northern Ireland, draws on the mythology and folklore, as well as socio-political issues, from Northern Ireland. Using a variety of media to their disposal, banners, sound pieces, videos and images from protest marches surround a resource and learning area. Languid Hands’ video ‘Towards a Black Testimony: Prayer/ Protest/ Peace’, prefixed with a content warning specifically for audiences of colour, shows a great level of detail and care as it often falls down to people of colour or other marginalised groups to do the work of activism. Allowing for spaces of rest and refusal for these publics is important work, something that the video itself draws upon, as the voiceover announces “now I am tired of being sick and tired” over footage from the Brixton riots. Shy Bairns, a collective based in Manchester, created the zine ‘Shy Bairns Fill the Void: Developing Our Creative Practice’, which makes public the unseen methods of working together. Copies of the zines are scattered around a large multipurpose wooden unit. The zine mixes pop culture, using the format of magazine friendship quizzes and The Sims, with workshops, group crits and mental health and wellbeing. Keiken + George Jasper Stone’s CGI video installation ‘Feel My Metaverse’ feels akin to entering into the video itself. Islands floating over a mirrored floor invite you to sit and watch the three characters as they transform and embody different people throughout the video. The video is not only multi-authored in the creation of the work but also in narrative of the shapeshifting characters within it.
Jerwood Confessions is a series of events that run alongside the exhibition programme, offering a safe space to confess to insecurities and issues within creative practices which aren’t often given space to discuss and build dialogue around. For Jerwood Confessions: Considering Collaboration, Jerwood Arts’ Head of Visual Arts Harriet Cooper and artist duo Wood & Harrison, the artists John Wood and Paul Harrison who have been working together since 1993, presented their practices and offered their own confessions to the audience. This was followed by the audience’s anonymous confessions and a moment to reflect and respond to these. This allowed for an unflinchingly honest safe space, as confessions from the speakers as well as the audience created a levelling effect and allowed for a generative moment of discussion as well as complaint.
In her presentation, Harriet Cooper suggested that institutions could offer more support to collaborative practices, something that seemed radical but really shouldn’t be, such as offering individual fees for collective members rather than budgeting for an individual artist and sharing this fee between x many collective members. She even confessed to some oversights made in the organisation and deliverance of Jerwood Collaborate! which was refreshingly honest and generous, taking ownership of curatorial errors and afterthoughts. Wood & Harrison’s presentation was equally confessional, with the slapstick humour in their shown early video works bleeding into their talk and, as they termed them, potentially “career ending confessions”. Their videos and talk were soundtracked by constant laughter from the audience, with the confessions giving an insight into their working relationship and how this has been sustained for so long. From the talk and ensuing discussion it felt that more could be done to facilitate collaboration, from more considered budgets in galleries, and questioning whether this can be incorporated into arts education, where the modular grading system and increasing tuition fees combine to privilege the individual artist.
‘Jerwood Collaborate!’ questions how to curate collaborative practices and offer institutional support and care for emerging collectives, whilst the Confessions series creates the space needed to find support and affirmation that others have the same anxieties and issues within creative practices. Collectives and modes of self-organising are offering models for support and care, yet more needs to be done at higher levels to tackle precarious labour within the arts.