Collectively Speaking

Collectively Speaking Analogue Web Portal

Alicia discusses some of the artist collectives working in Wales at the moment


Is it just me or does there seem to be an abundance of artist collectives and collective artist activity in Wales at the moment? From Ointment and the Real Institute to Blaengar, Cerbyd, Supersaurous and the more recently initiated Red Door 44 in Swansea, working together widens both the possibilities of practice and the practicalities of surviving as an artist.

Red Door 44, who came out of Swansea Met includes Philip Cheater, Elyse Alexandra Gwynn, Natasha Tresadern-Hill and others. They've got a disused space over the Labour Club on Wind Street and are using it to work in and to put on small exhibitions showing emerging Swansea based artists. Such spaces are critical in the ecosystem of an art community, offering un-established artists a chance to show work and participate in valuable critical exchange with a wider public. If these ground-level opportunities aren’t there, a place can feel closed off even if it has a host of established art institutions.

Working collectively can generate some terrifically interesting and creative work. The social exchange of working with other artists perhaps allows artists to think in directions that maybe they wouldn’t in their own individual practice. What is produced collectively is often very different from the work artists make on their own.

American photographer Larry Sultan, best known for his deeply personal photographs of his parents, Pictures from Home, worked with artist Mike Mandel for years producing, among other work, Evidence, a seminal work of American photography based around found and re-contextualised images. It explored a whole different set of ontological questions about photography that were a world away from the Sultan’s own work. I heard Sultan talk once and it was evident that he didn’t really get along with Mandel, but he recognized the value of what they did together and what he garnered from the relationship as an artist. There was something in the tensions between them that made for some great work.

Social exchange lies at the root of all artwork—it is in essence a form of communication. Does working as a group extend the social nature of art? With the rise of participatory and socially-engaged practice, the social is an increasingly explicit and important element of artistic practice. Could this be feeding collective working? It’s interesting to think about. Are we more social the more we are together?

So for your next collective encounter, come along to Oriel Davies on Friday 22 June and Saturday 23 June for the Real Institute’s Analogue Web Portal, which will take place as part of the Oriel Davies Open. Axisweb and Oriel Davies have commissioned the event from the Real Institute. It marries the real to the virtual in a ‘groundbreaking’ new web service. True to their name, Real Institute will make anything you desire from the web real (well maybe not anything…), giving it material form. The digital will return to analogue as a team of ‘experts’ provide the information you need. It’s a nice twist on our over-engagement with the immaterial world of the web, grounding us back in time and space and reminding us that social exchange is best in the flesh.

Contributed by Alicia Miller

Alicia is the Axisweb Associate in Wales. She is based in Ceredigion and is currently working on a doctorate about the history of SPACE Studios in London.

Alicia Miller's staff profile on Axisweb