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 Artists in Conversation

 
 

How did this work differ from the work you have previously made?

LH:   Jane and I have collaborated in the past but this project had a distinctively different dynamic in the sense that the eighteen people who took part were at the heart of our collaborative concerns. Each participant, their object and contexts, informed all of our decisions. In effect this meant there were eighteen people to respond to, as well as the collaborative process between the two of us. The domestic environment also created a new situation and different focus, as it was both the site for, and content of, the work. In the past I've made work that references "home" but this was the first time to install an entire body of three-dimensional work in domestic spaces. The Object Project was also different with its emphasis on the participatory and dialogic processes being equally as important as the end product artwork. For many years I've been acutely aware of the gap that exists between those who produce contemporary art and the wider public. This project allowed us to make transparent some of the methodologies that artists use, demystifying the process of art-making. At the same time it offered insights into the way objects become meaningfully integrated with life on a daily basis and it was these two things happening simultaneously that created a genuine and mutually informative exchange.

JP:   It was the people and the location that made the process so different. West Everton is a place that many people who are born there choose to stay, and this has resulted in a deeply-rooted community with a shared history. It was important that we, as strangers entering into this close-knit environment, would be accepted; in fact, we were welcomed with unreserved warmth and generosity and we built real relationships with the participants. Many of the histories we collected were loaded with emotional impact and we had to respond in an equally open-hearted way. We knew that, whilst our artworks would relate to the participants' chosen objects, they would be "processed" outcomes, inevitably (and necessarily) distanced from their origins. As the project progressed, we began to test our ideas against how each piece might be received and whether the participant would recognise something of their story within it. It was an emotional response in us and not something we had anticipated; it felt as if we had to do justice to the narratives we had been given. This makes the project sound very serious - it was - but it was balanced with joy, love and laughter, and that was, perhaps, what made this project so special and so different.

Could you say something about your collaborative process?

LH:   Collaboration has been part of my practice since 2000, however working with Jane is unlike other collaborative relationships. Our friendship of thirty-two years has created strong foundations for us to be able to freely speak our minds, to make suggestions, express doubts, challenge opinions and genuinely present arguments to each other in order to make the best possible work. I hold a deep respect for Jane, as a person as well as an artist, and trust her implicitly. However, as individuals and artists we are inevitably different, thank goodness, and it is from these differences that the work is honed. There is no space for an artistic ego or singular authorship within our collaborations: we have willingly forfeited these in favour of a process that challenges and extends the work we make. Our collaborations stimulate and enrich my practice, even after more than three decades of art-making, and that is a remarkable and rejuvenating gift.

JP:   We pool our skills and knowledge of materials; the resulting mix opens up creative possibilities. Our guiding principle is; "What is best for the work?" Sometimes this involves putting aside a strong personal idea or inclination if the other person comes up with a better one. I can't think of an instance where we haven't reached an agreement about how to resolve a piece of work; in most cases the outcome is better than either of us could have imagined and we stand by each piece as an equal collaboration. Our temperaments complement each other and we have different approaches and responses. That's a good thing; people see us as a team. The most important ingredients in a collaborative relationship are respect for the other person's ideas, and trust. We have those, with the addition of a solid, unwavering friendship; I think that comes through in the work we make.

And could you say something about the participatory aspect of the project?

LH:   One of the greatest aspects of the work has been getting to know the people of West Everton, and particularly the eighteen participants who worked with us for the whole year. Every one of them was generous in welcoming us into their homes to share their treasured object, meet their families, drink tea and on many occasions, hear their powerfully moving histories. The strength of the West Everton community, and the genuine friendships we made, proved to be far greater than imagined. This generosity and warm community spirit meant that we felt a huge sense of responsibility to deliver our absolute best, ensuring that each individual artwork was conceptually relevant, visually resolved and manufactured to the best of our abilities.

JP:   The project simply couldn't have happened without the goodwill of the participants; by sharing with us their treasured objects and wider lives, they provided the stimulus for the artworks. The group embraced the project with genuine enthusiasm; they had a spirit of adventure, a keenness to learn. Some people had more experience of contemporary art than others and taking part in the project was a challenge for some, but any inhibitions were shed with the mutual support and encouragement of the group. It was wonderful to see confidence blossoming, and to hear people relating art, contemporary and historical, to their own experience.

Has "The Object Project" influenced the way you might approach work in the future?

LH:  The project was the most intense, rewarding and exhausting experience and, after seeing the work installed in the houses, I felt it was the closest I was ever likely to come to making work with meaning for an audience beyond that offered by the gallery system; for that reason, for a while at least, I felt ready to hang up my creative boots but some of the pieces have already suggested new directions for future work. I'm not sure how that will manifest itself, but that's part of the reason to carry on. The Object Project has changed the way I think about the role of contemporary art and how "it can be part of your life", to quote participant Adam Byrne.

JP:   This was one of the most personally fulfilling projects I have ever undertaken. I particularly enjoyed talking with the participants about their chosen objects, drawing out the histories behind them; this was the point at which trust was first built and from which all else followed. It was an honour to be entrusted with these precious narratives; we sensed we were involved in something of real value. I know it would be impossible to recreate the magic again elsewhere, but The Object Project has encouraged me to develop further ideas for community-located work. Creating opportunities for people to express themselves and have their voices heard seems relevant for the times in which we live.