Artist Gemma Cossey reflects on her collaboration with poet Jacqueline Saphra, and what working collaboratively means to her.
Following conversation during our initial meeting at my studio on a freezing cold March day in Kilburn, we realised we had a vast number of issues we could pursue, and we both shared an enthusiasm for trying new ways of working and leaving our respective comfort zones. A certain bleakness seemed to prevail from early on, and the interminable winter of that first meeting certainly had a bearing on some of our first ideas. Themes of climate change, the apocalypse, self-destructive human traits, prophecy, and ideas of nets, falling, fences and screens began to stick, and the words ‘cyclone fence’ later became central.
Our work developed via emails containing dialogue, ideas and thoughts illustrated through writing, poems, photos of my sketchbook pages, drawings, objects, paintings and studio wall, Youtube links and website links. We met just once more, on a warmer Spring April day in Limehouse.
A few key things have become particularly apparent through working collaboratively:
When working on my own individual work, I may make a quick drawing, a word, a sentence, a collage, or something might be pasted into my sketchbook. Sometimes thoughts and decisions may remain invisible in the mind until back in the studio room. Working collaboratively meant that these, usually private and sometimes flitting visual symbols, had to be far more clearly and thoroughly visualised or exemplified for my partner in collaboration to see and to understand. Every stage or development of an idea needed to be communicated, I felt this was a responsibility to the person I was working with, and to the project itself, and to not have done this would not to have been working truly collaboratively.
The sharing of every idea and thought in this way made us both feel, especially at the beginning of the project, vulnerable and exposed, but that the more we revealed and communicated, the richer the work and ideas became and the more liberated the process. This sentiment is described well on Jacqueline Saphra’s blog.
Collaborating gave us permission to explore issues and themes that perhaps we would not usually approach in our own art and poetry. And the influences, inspirations and links introduced by two people working in different disciplines were doubled in their variety, and so further enriching the theme. The process has also been a really interesting window into how a poet creates their work and it has been interesting to compare the professional community and life of a poet to that of a visual artist.
Exhibition statement by Jacqueline Saphra:
‘The unseasonably cold March weather set the tone for this piece, both of us magnetised towards the human capacity for self-destruction as perceived through the lens of climate change. We aimed for a truly collaborative piece where art and poetry were working as an integrated whole. We were influenced by the work of many: from Constantine P. Cavafy, to Simon and Garfunkel, from Villagers to Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, from ‘A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance’ at Tate to a piece of site-responsive theatre ‘In the Beginning was the End’ at Somerset House. The audio poem steals freely from many literary and lyrical sources. Ideas of nets, falling, and the term ‘cyclone fence’, taken from Carolyn Forché’s long lament, ‘Ourselves or Nothing’, became central to the development of ideas explored within the sketchbook, canvas and wall drawing.’
Gemma Cossey 2013