BY David Barrett in Reviews | 05 SEP 96
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Issue 28


BY David Barrett in Reviews | 05 SEP 96

Generally, most artists' collaborative efforts are marked by the fact that each artist has different ideas about the work. If a pair are working towards some pre-conceived goal, you can be sure that this is actually one individual's goal, which another individual happens to be helping to realise. If the compromise that follows does not suppress one idea, then the resulting work will embody all sorts of internal contradictions and yet, paradoxically, will not necessarily contradict itself. What is highlighted by true collaboration is unco-operativeness: the wrangling between two sets of similar, but distinct, ideas. In this show, interestingly enough, the works that have undergone the least wrangling choose to self-consciously highlight their dualistic origins. Interlocking Chair (1989) by Langlands & Bell springs to mind.

The artist is commonly seen as a loner, a solitary figure following an 'inner vision'. But while this image persists in mass consciousness, artists rarely see themselves in this light. Actually, the 'radical' act of collaborating has not been considered radical for at least 35 years. So why is everybody suddenly doing it again? Well, too many reasons to go into here, and that's the whole point of this show ­ there is no single reason. The 20 artists in this exhibition reflect this and, hence, nothing bonds them as a cohesive group beyond the fact of pairing. This hardly helps the show coalesce into a definitive statement or analysis of the different motives or working methods ­ but then this was never its intention. This opens it to criticism as being overly simple curatorially; after all 'Co-Operators' is hardly a difficult concept. However, how far could one delve with only ten sets of co-operators? But then the curator, Godfrey Worsdale, had to co-operate with his institution and, as we have seen, co-operation entails compromise. Anyway, the show is what the show is, so what exactly is it?

Among the exhibitors are the usual suspects, but at least they show the diverse ways in which artists can collaborate: from single-minded Minimalism (Langlands & Bell), to the artists explicitly presenting themselves as individuals within a schizophrenic partnership ­ Garage (1991) by Jane & Louise Wilson ­ to what was obviously a case of 'we're friends, we like similar things, let's do these similar things together' in the case of Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin. This latter pair's contributions are well known, but have been made intriguing simply by their presentation. The works ­ paraphernalia such as handwritten signs, photos, and other knick-knacks made when they ran their 'Shop' on Bethnal Green Road ­ have already ossified under museum display cases. This display perpetuates another popular myth which I imagine Lucas & Emin would find distasteful: that of the artist-as-genius. This is the sort of thinking which leads to studios being preserved, and to personal artefacts taking on the status of having been 'touched by the hand of God'. Whether this museification of Stuff From the Shop (1993) was (ironic) megalomania on the part of the artists is, happily, unclear.

Other works in this show are also very familiar ­ such as an old piece by Ramsay Bird, who disbanded some years ago ­ but one piece which actually does well in this context is Little Death Machine (Castrated) (1994) by Jake & Dinos Chapman. Shoddily constructed, it mimics the brutal mechanics of sexual intercourse: a plastic brain is bluntly stimulated by a claw hammer, which activates the pumping of milk through a plastic penis so that it squirts out into an upturned brain which collects the liquid so that it can flow back to begin the cycle again, demonstrating a mini-libidinal economy in action. Or at least it would be in action if this weren't the 'Castrated' version. What makes this work interesting now is the fact that it has been sitting in the Chapmans' studio gathering layers of the dust generated by their working practice. Now the model truly looks castrated: a machine whose function is dated ­ surpassed by the growing sophistication of the brothers' other works. It now seems entirely right and appropriate that the bottles of curdling milk are accompanied by another, more assertive sign of the piece's obsolescence.

Then there is Oasis (1996) by Alan Kane and Jeremy Deller, a kind of naff doctor's waiting room constructed in the gallery. That it provides water, quite reasonable coffee, and biscuits to the weary gallery-goer is sufficient reason for the title. The fact that from the outside it looks suspiciously like a conceptual box structure only adds to the blessed relief of comfy chairs and gardening magazines. Obviously mocking the white cube space ­ disrupting it with the not-quite homely elements of small-scale urban institutional waiting rooms ­ the work begs the question: is this a simulation of a waiting room á la Fischli & Weiss? Or is it just a waiting room?

In the other room, in amongst the cool works of Critical Decor, Langlands & Bell, and Henry Bond and Liam Gillick's documentary press photographs, stands a small spaceship. Well, no, actually Capricorn One (1995-6) may be shaped like a spaceship, but in fact it is a booth for selling tourist tat. It's green, and it's made of corrugated steel. It's a bit crappy but it still looks really good. However, it's actually the tourist tat that deserves our attention. You see, Andrea & Philippe like to drive around the country looking for old military pillboxes. Upon finding them, they do something quite peculiar: they glaze their narrow windows. For this show, they've hunted down the nearest pillbox to the gallery and glazed it too. Of course, few people are aware of this, so the problem is how to document it. This is where the key rings, lighters and walking-stick badges come in, and hence Capricorn One, which is a kind of mini-museum of cheap reproductions of artificial landmarks.

Because collaboration originally played against the traditional Renaissance view of the artist, it could also be viewed as working against the art establishment. Is this still true for today's co-operators? Critical Decor, whose name even suggests a mutual exclusiveness somehow compromised by their togetherness, have contributed Just Because (1995). It takes the form of a pick-axe, with 'Critical Decor' carved beautifully into its handle, carefully embedded in the gallery's white wall. Does this implement bear their name because it belongs to them or, as in the tradition of political cartoons, because it represents them? If the latter, then this can be seen as a satire on the paradox that this whole generation of artists are promoted as combative anti-establishmentarians by the very institutions and establishments that support them. The point made is that, if these artists are so radical, then how come they can't even fend off galleries with a pointed stick? But then what do you expect from collaborations, save paradoxes?