Opening shortly after the unveiling of Elmgreen and Dragset’s Powerless Structures Fig 101on the Fourth Plinth, and Gilbert & George’s mega-show across London, Simon Linington and William Mackrell’s first “solo” exhibition Take Two, opened at Arts Gallery, exhibiting works which are created collaboratively but in competition.
While the production of collaborative artworks by artist duos has existed for over half a century, and has roots going back throughout art history, the past decades have seen an exponential rise in this practice. Commenting on Linington and Mackrell’s joint practice, Turner Prize nominee Angela de la Cruz notes “There are many contemporary artists currently working as a two-some: Gilbert & George, Fischli and Weiss, Jane and Louise Wilson, Elmgreen and Dragset… But the element of competition they are trying to achieve with their work is something very daring and exciting indeed.”
Scandinavian duo Elmgreen and Dragset met in 1995 and have been working collaboratively since then from their base in Berlin. The pair are famed for their enigmatic, teasing, cheeky and charming works, including their staging of “Drama Queens” at the Old Vic for Frieze, featuring a six remote-controlled fiberglass versions of iconic sculpture, with actors’ providing tounge in cheek voice overs pastiching contemporary art legends including Koons and Hepworth. Their piece “The Collectors” for the Danish and Nordic Pavilions at Venice saw visitors invited to view the work of 24 international artists in the guise of the private collection of a fictional family residing in the Danish pavilion and their neighbour “Mr. B”, resident of the Nordic pavilion. Making Venice Biennale history, the duo’s work represented the first time national pavillions have ever been presented collaboratively.
Sibling artists Jane and Louise Wilson studied for their BAFAs at separate institutions but submitted identical work for their final assessment, before studying together at Goldsmiths for their MA. They continue to work together across photography and film.
Perhaps the most famous artist duo, Gilbert & George, met at St. Martin’s School of Art, now Central Saint Martins, as students on the Sculpture course. As students they began to develop a collaborative practice, creating films and ‘living sculpture’ in which they appeared as figures. Partners and collaborators, the pair state “Our subject matter is the world. It is pain. Pain. Just to hear the world turning is pain, isn’t it? Totally, every day, every second. Our inspiration is all those people alive today on the planet, the desert, the jungle, the cities. We are interested in the human person, the complexity of life.”
Collaborative artist brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman enrolled at the Royal College together before becoming assistants to Gilbert & George at the beginning of their joint career.
Simon Linington and William Mackrell met on the Fine Art BA at Chelsea College of Art and Design and began to develop work in which they devise and deploy abstract rules as a conceit to provoke their individual interpretations of their practice and as a means to introduce a sense of chance and constraint. Key to Linington and Mackrell’s work is the introduction of competition within the boundaries of collaborative practice and the absurdist humour that their work ultimately realises. Their “solo” exhibition Take Two presents a series of performance works through video shown alongside props as relics of the acts. These include the steel bar the duo attempt to hold aloft in a performance of tragicomic endurance, ‘Propping up a Bar’. Preceding the exhibition they will perform ‘Take Two’, leaving marks on the wall as the memory of the action.
In the foreword to the limited edition book which accompanies the exhibition Take Two, Angela de la Cruz explains: “What interests me about the collaborative work of Simon Linington and William Mackrell is the curiosity of how far an idea can be pushed.”
Chelsea College of Art and Design Fine Art Researcher Jo Melvin explains, ‘They are realists who begin as idealists dreaming impossible schemes that sound like jokes, but are actually the means which make the artworks. These schemes test experience. They are simple, low cost and involve low-tech support. A characteristic thread consistently is to tread a thin line between the plausible and the absurd. They celebrate clumsy and at times crazy hands-on experience. It is a forum in which the so-called rules and generalized structures of day-to-day ‘facts’ are subjected to tangible empirical testing.’
The phenomenon of creatives working as pairs or groups is not only confined to art, with examples in design including brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana. University of the Arts London is currently leading the arts higher education sector in how the rise in the number of creatives working collaboratively can be accommodated in assessment.
Take Two runs 22 March – 4 May 2012, private view 21 March, 6-8pm, at Arts Gallery, University of the Arts London, 272 High Holborn, WC1V 7EY. Open Monday – Friday 11am – 6pm.
Elmgreen & Dragset’s Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 is currently on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Gilbert and George London Pictures runs until 12 May at White Cube London.