1. What are 3 key words that would describe your collaborative practice?
2. Who has had an influence on each of you, and have these influences informed your collaborative work? Is there a favourite quote that has impacted your work?
To me it’s all laddering up to one thing, and that’s optimization of self – Gwyneth Paltrow
This work is about ‘self-help’ culture and its relationship to consumerism. We had quite a few different influences and departure points. We’re interested in tensions between private behaviours, and how we interact with the world. Our conversations began around how self ‘improvement’ techniques had a lot in common with tools of improvisation and performance… these methods for tapping into dormant parts of yourself, finding new ways of imagining and presenting yourself… aspiring to alternative ways of being or functioning. How are we expected to ‘optimise’ ourselves, and ‘ladder up’? To what end, and for whose benefit?
In terms of how we produce the work, structures of conversation and improvisation – basically, how we might communicate in new or unexpected ways- has been an ongoing exploration in how we work together. Every ‘scene’ in All You Need To Do Is Take It operates as a kind of duet, whether that was through our literal voices, or through how each of us were in dialogue through the imagery, writing or sound design. There’s something musical about how we like to work together, and that kind of fugue structure is the way we form and combine our shared ideas and individual thoughts.
3. What ideas do you want viewers to engage with through your artwork?
We’re happy for people to take whatever they might take from it. We care about how people access and encounter the work, and the ideas in it. The captions [of the spoken voices] in the film are both an access and stylistic consideration; they’re reminiscent of lyric videos, and also the positive affirmations and infographics which congest our Instagram feeds.
The work’s 55 minute length references that of the average therapy session – this was something someone pointed out to us after a testbed performance we did of this work at WITTA at Arnolfini. We enjoyed that observation, so we maintained that natural length and pace in the film. That’s also maybe an example of the benefit we find in reading things aloud, and testing work-in-progress in different formats; performance as a way of editing is something we do individually and together.
The work is structured in chapters: 12 short narratives occur across separate, undefined times and spaces, but they thematically interweave. The two principal narrators describe experiences of their (real or fictionalised) soft interior worlds in friction with abrasive, exterior pressures. What will the thin salves of a posh moisturiser, or a Yoga with Adrienne session, or the impulse purchase of a supermarket cardigan help, or exasperate? In the work we talk about the ways we both knowingly and unwillingly participate in a culture that promotes individualised solutions for internal problems- problems which are often caused by the structural failings of neoliberalism. Instead of accessible and meaningful support, we are sold ways to fulfil the invented needs we never knew we had.
We’re interested in how our own soft interiors rub up against hard surfaces, and the blisters that creates. There are themes around where we look to for help: themes of money, therapy, religion, value… voices of authority, and the helpful and unhelpful mechanisms of support we might seek. There’s something confessional about compliance: we read the books, burn the candles, do the yoga, don’t do the yoga, buy the supplements, suppress the anger, waste the money.
4. What practical problems do you have as a collaboration, for example availability for meeting with each other, and how do you overcome this?
We’ve been collaborating for 10 years but have been making things individually for the last few. So a lot of the development of the work was exploring how we collaborate, testing out half-baked, embarrassing ideas out loud to think together about what preoccupies us privately.
Looking after ourselves and each other in the process was important and became the undercurrent of the work. Having a nice time together is an important part of our practice. We are always in pursuit of some kind of balance, especially when efforts to maintain a creative practice might not sit that easily with other priorities and responsibilities in our lives. Those chats about what feels difficult became what drove the writing.
Balancing a creative practice with life stuff and money worries is perpetually difficult for almost everyone we know, for a myriad of reasons which differ from person to person, and circumstance to circumstance. Our commitments have evolved over the time we’ve been working together, and so we mutually accommodate this reality within our shared practice.
More broadly, there are also a lot of things about the culture of how the art sector operates, and how artists are expected to operate within it, that we are (both together and separately) trying to navigate, reassess and reject. We respect each other’s time and capacity when we are working together and it means our process can have a pace which eb and flows, with varied times of space and momentum. We live close to each other and socialise together often – our friendship has perpetual momentum (!) but in terms of our creative process, long and short forms of written correspondence have always been an important part of how we communicate – emails, googledocs, notebooks, postcards, voicenotes. Over the last year we’ve found spending dedicated pockets of time together productive and nourishing, because the time spent chatting and hanging out is as creatively fruitful as the writing, editing, etc. Weekends by the sea are our favourite version of this. It’s always important to us that we’re enjoying ourselves, and working in a way that values each other and the different forms of contribution to a shared practice. When it comes to the labour of organising the practical or administrative stuff, we’re mindful of what we each have capacity for.
5. Does the collaborative process make it easier to find solutions to practical problems such as funding, finding creative opportunities etc.?
We support each other and in general have found that working collaboratively and/or collectively brings support in the precarious and potentially isolating practise of being an artist. Our work together has often managed to free us from ruts, habits, and sticking points which we might be experiencing in our individual practices. We’re also able to talk things through and find support through transparency and trust.
6. Apart from being an artist what other jobs have each of you done? Have these jobs helped your approach to creating art?
F – I’ve done a lot of jobs, a mix of things. Alongside my practice I’ve worked for and with multiple arts organisations over the last ten years. I’ve also always juggled non-art-related jobs and side-gigs to keep afloat too. Working in art spaces has meant I’ve had some really formative creative experiences over the years, and met collaborators this way. Teaching and running workshops has opened up new ways of thinking about my practice and collaborations. It has also helped keep my thoughts (and reference points) expanded… I’m now an Associate Tutor in Fine Art at Cardiff Met and do some ad-hoc teaching at other universities too. The HE system doesn’t offer any stability though, as we know from the ongoing industrial action, which I fully support.
Recently I’ve been focusing my creative energy on my practice while pursuing different types of work that feed other parts of my life, interests and thinking outside of the art sector. I work part-time for a further education organisation which exists for accessible life-long learning, particularly for adults who have experienced financial or practical barriers to other educational routes. Over the last year I’ve also been involved in a training programme with my union (Unite) and that influences my practice in many ways, including how I work with others, both within and outside of institutions. I’m currently sitting a three-year term on the a-n Artist Council, and learning a lot from the other artists in the group who are based across the UK regions.
C – In the past 22 years I’ve been employed full or part time in arts organisations. In the noughties worked for Cywaith Cymru, which was at the time the national agency for public art in Wales. It was my first employed job in the arts, and its Director, Tamara Krikorian, liked to say that she ran it with the ethos of a studio. It was a flexible environment where people worked creatively and supportively. Tamara cared for the people she worked with and, despite running the organisation for around 25 years (which, of course, had its downsides) she resisted some other institutionalised approaches. Having said all that, Cywaith employed very organised and capable people and I learned a lot about the administrative and organisational processes required to make art projects happen.
Since January 2011 I’ve worked part time at g39. When I arrived there, I hadn’t been able to have an artistic practice for several years. Being immersed in an artist-run space, working, talking with, listening to and getting to know so many artists, allowed me to start making and showing work again. Working part time also helped that happen.
7. What new skills have you needed to learn for the collaborative process?
In this work the writing, performing and editing is shared, but we worked individually on the sound design (led by Freya) and the visuals (led by Cinzia), each mutually feeding into these elements through ongoing conversations and ideas. A research and development [Create] grant from Arts Council of Wales has provided a lot of opportunity over the last year for us to explore research and new skills in our shared collaboration. Some things, like equipment and workshops, impacted this work very directly, and other things, like Audio Description training, have created some foundations for long-term ways of working.
C- I’ve been learning animation through Adobe After Effects. I recently completed a Wales Venice 10 Fellowship, which gave me the opportunity for a huge amount of personal and professional development that I wouldn’t have achieved in such a short time without its support. One of the skills I focussed on and have been able to use in this work was animation using Adobe After Effects. I’ve been wanting to use animation for years and I had tried this in limited ways with the software I had access to, but was never satisfied with the results. I was excited to get the chance to be playful with the animation software for this project. I think working collaboratively meant that I had feedback and dialogue on the imagery I was making that would have been less available if I’d been working individually. Having this feedback in the first work I’d made using these techniques was really useful to me and, I feel, will support similar future work.
F – In terms of the sonic aspect of the work, some of the soundtracking I enjoyed working on the most was riffing off of Cinzia’s writing, and finding these new forms of back-and-forth between us. One of the ‘scenes’ in the work began this new way of collaborating, and was a starting point for the film, where I designed the sound for an edited text which Cinzia had written and performed before, but in a totally different context.
Sound is an important part of my practice and I’m currently studying a part-time MA in Sound Design at Bath Spa, so the skills and tools I’m learning there had practical and conceptual influence on the approach I took with this work. A lot of the manipulated sonic material in the soundscape originates from spaces referenced in the text, e.g. retail environments, foley of objects discussed in the piece like toiletry bottles, medication blister packs, clothes; and field recordings of corner shops and supermarkets, etc. Throughout the piece there are recurring manipulated samples of Candy Crush Saga themes and The Sims ‘Buy Mode’ music, which are stretched and modulated beyond recognition, but still retain some recognisable remnants of the source material.
A lot of my installations and performances recently have encompassed this exploration of the narrative potential of soundscape with and alongside the voice. Together, we were interested in how the voice was situated in the work, and how the mix might reflect this – for example, how the central voiceovers could sit close and intimate; but the artificial voice of Gwyneth Platrow or the sibilant instructions of Adriene Mishler might intercept them. Or, how the manipulated voice of the imagined exchange with the priest might rest gently in the edge of your ear. We were thinking about how the voices in the work interact and represent different positions of authority which interrupt one another, and contrast in tone.
8. In your creative process, do you look into research outside of the art world?
for example, sociology, politics, and technology
Yes, some books that influenced the work were also in the exhibition space, particularly Sara Ahmed’s writing on happiness and cultural politics of emotion, and Shani Orgad and Rosalind Gill’s writing on confidence culture. Most of our research, reading and conversation is informed by people and subjects which function outside of the art world. We’re both interested in psychotherapy, and tensions between individual interests and collective politics. Freya makes a playlist for every project and draws influence from electronic music and cinema.
C-I would say I research much more outside of the art world than inside it. Over the years I’ve extensively read in psychology, particularly Carl Jung’s writing. I’ve studied an Introduction to Psychology course with the Open University and a counselling course. I’ve also researched eastern philosophies including the writing and talks of Krishnamurti and Osho as well as buddhist thinking. More recently, I’ve read work by the sleep scientist, Matthew Walker and a lot of Gabor Maté’s work. I’ve been to see him speak and taken a pre-recorded online personal development course led by him.
9. In what disciplines outside of the art world would you like to work with in the future, either collaboratively or individually to expand your art practice?
C – Sometimes I think about pursuing a different shaped career that includes retraining in a therapy of some kind and becoming a writer. It might still happen.
F- In terms of creative work outside of and alongside my own practice, I’d like to continue to pursue sound design for film and/or audio broadcast.
We haven’t given up on the idea that brought us together as a collaborative duo: starting a band together and writing a No.1 hit single.
10. Could you describe the role of art in the future in 3 words or phrases?
Probably not, sorry!