So now we’re on the last leg of our residency. We started off very speculatively, playing and examining different ways of working together. Aside from this we had hoped to be very thorough with research, looking broadly at what constitutes a collaboration in different contexts, all the theory, some first hand research; documenting other people's experiences of collaborating - potentially imitating different working methods.
I personally wanted to be able to say something quite profound about the benefits of collaboration - dig deep and unearth a statement, say something meaningful enough to motivate others to consider the benefits of working together.
Three months into the residency it became evident that the six months allocated wasn’t going to be enough time to thoroughly explore in the manner we had imagined: not enough time to formulate that ‘big meaningful statement’ as well as having something tangible to show for it. The residency does culminate in an exhibition and we didn’t want to be standing in a room full of half finished ideas, experiments, pictorial postulations, visual speculations and a large amount of impenetrable information along with a bunch of bemused visitors scratching their heads. Illustration is communication after all and it should be able to stand on it’s own, apart from the illustrator(s), and do its job.
I feel we’ve explored lots of different ways of working together, but only dipped a couple of toes into the proverbial pool. It felt as if it would be an easy task. We’ve been collaborating for ten years now and we all assumed we would have something relatively informed to say about the subject. The freedom a residency offers, with a focus on research allows, you to appreciate the amount of time and effort that understanding something takes - the discipline of forming an opinion. It's impressive the amount of work that goes into journalism, story-telling, film-making - all the art and work that aims to inform as well as entertain. Especially in the cold hard reality of the ‘fake news’ / ‘post fact’ political climate, it's impressive that some can truly keep communicating.
We reverted to what we know best: doing something practical, making work with the hope that through this we might inadvertently say something. Albeit with a modicum more research than usual.
We developed our drawing machine, drew plans, ordered parts, built, tested and tweaked. A three person drawing device. We decided to use this device to illustrate a novel ‘Three Men in A Boat’ by Jerome. K. Jerome. To do something relatively straightforward hoping that the way in which we have approached this, drawing together, would bring something nuanced and informative about the process of working together. To illustrate a story that amusingly mirrors ourselves and our endeavours. That articulates the nature of attempting to do something together, working as a three (To Say Nothing Of The Dog). The book serves as a way of describing certain aspects of collaboration, being silly, having fun, getting frustrated, trying new things and failing - just a sample of the things that happen when you try to work together.
Quite honestly; I am never proud of anything I produce. My brain, for some reason, thinks there’s something sycophantic about pride in personal work. So, frustratingly, it won’t allow me to indulge in it. But with these illustrations I can openly say ‘I’m proud’, there’s something about not being the sole author, sharing work and doing something together that makes it permissible to be proud. Even though I consider the majority of the drawings very ugly, crude and unrefined. The Illustrations truly convey in their scale and in their jittery, uncertain line, a collaborative visual conversation. My criticism of the aesthetic quality doesn’t really do the drawings justice, they do serve their purpose, they illustrate in a way I individually wouldn’t have been able to achieve, they’re bold in their coarseness. And every illustration has been carefully thought out, discussed and rendered with freedom, infused with fun.
I seriously doubt that any one of us individually would have the courage and conviction to create a suite of works that are as aesthetically unpleasant as this and stand by them with a belly full of confidence, a smile on our face and the expectation that you too as a spectator might also share in our joy.
Nous Vous Collective is House of Illustration's 2016 Illustrator in Residence. See the results of six months spent exploring the nature of collaborative work at our South Gallery exhibition. Nous Vous: Three Men in a Boat opens on 18 March 2017. Our residency programme is generously supported by the Barbara and Philip Denny Trust.
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