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Partner Art pt 2

Making art is more than a job and it’s more than a life-style choice—for many, it’s an all-encompassing way of being. This can make living with an artist a difficult feat, unless both are of like constitution. So it’s not surprising that in the art world there are many couples who share both their lives and their art.

RealTime is run by such a couple, Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter, who, before their foray into publishing, also produced a large number of contemporary performances as Open City, often drawing on personal experiences and their relationship or, as Apartners, working as consultants for other artists.

Of course it’s not all smooth sailing—one’s partner is often one’s harshest critic, but perhaps this is a key to the conceptual rigor often illustrated in the creative manifestations of couples. To get to the bottom of this, in Profiler 6 and 7, we asked a number of art couples about their collaborative practices. We thank them for their generosity and their honesty.
Gail Priest, Online Producer

Clare Britton & Matt Prest | Vincent Crowley & Ingrid Weisfelt (Torque Show) | Sonia Leber & David Chesworth

Clare Britton Clare Britton
photo Lucy Parakhina
Clare Britton & Matt Prest

Clare: Matt has supported my practice in so many ways—with humour, intelligence and kindness. So many projects I have worked on were made possible by Matt caring for our little boy and having the generosity, at the end of a long day, to still be interested.

We have made a lot of work together but it still feels like we are only just starting. Every now and then I see him out of the corner of my eye and it really makes me laugh. We had a pretty crappy winter—the wheels were just falling off.. Our car stopped working and it was the one we brought our son home from hospital in. Matt did this work at Alaska Projects. He was dancing with our broken Corolla and our crappy heater in front of a seating bank full of sceptics (he won them over as the performance went on, but this was early days) and he was just—I don’t know—brave and honest. It was so beautiful - the view I had of him. I have no idea where this is all going.

I want to see what Matt’s going to do, what I’m going to do and what we are going to do together. We have a residency next year at the Watermill Centre (Robert Wilson’s performance laboratory in New York) where we are going to work on separate projects side by side—I can’t wait to see what comes out of that.

Matt Prest, Whelping Box Film Shoot Matt Prest, Whelping Box Film Shoot
photo Clare Britton
Matt: Our life and work crosses over in a sort of haphazard, unplanned way. It’s like we do one thing and then another thing that balances the first one out. Our son Les has started to be a bit involved with our work. And he has started to involve us in his. For his school Halloween thing he began designing a costume in January and employed the services of Clare to help make it happen. As it neared completion, Les came forward with a new business proposition, Les and Clare Industries, and he immediately began to talk money (a promising sign for struggling artist parents). A few days later he came back suggesting 80% of profits go to the Siberian Tigers.

Clare makes beautiful things. This feeds our life together and with our son. She seems to be constantly working her butt off and is always in demand for her skill and talent. This year Clare has been studying visual arts and I’m excited to see her follow her ideas and intuition and see where that takes her and us. We are still growing up together, learning more about ourselves and each other. It feels like we’re both very much at the beginning of things.

Ingrid Weisfelt and Vincent Crowley in Malmö, Adelaide Festival 2012 Ingrid Weisfelt and Vincent Crowley in Malmö, Adelaide Festival 2012
photo Rachel Roberts
Vincent Crowley & Ingrid Weisfelt (Torque Show)
Vincent: Ing and I met while we were dancing with Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre. We were colleagues for a year before we became partners.

I think that basically we work together because we’d like to be the other person creatively. We value the skills and talents that the other possesses more than our own. I guess that makes us creatively complementary in a slightly envious way. We also share a long history of performing, making and watching shows that shapes and influences the types of performances we are interested in making ourselves.

We’ve worked together as dancers in other people’s work (in multiple companies and projects), as performers in each other’s and as collaborators creating work together. Each of these configurations has its own dynamic and its own up side and not so upside. By far the easiest working relationship is when we dance together, in our own work or someone else’s. There seems to be a pleasure and ease and lack of complication in this physical conversation that we struggle to achieve in our other creative endeavours together.

We’ve found through trial and error that when we’re creating our own work things seem to work better if one or other of us takes the overall responsibility for the work. Two heads are better than one in our case as long as there’s one head that gets the final say in unsolvable arguments, points of contention and matters of taste.

We don’t work exclusively with each other either. We each have projects that involve other artists. Partly this is because we’re independent artists and we work where we can, but I also think these projects are important to help us maintain our sense of individual identity which in turn allows us to bring new ideas and fresh perspectives to our work together.

We also have the extra complication of adding a third non-partner to our partner-art collaboration. Ross Ganf is the other member of Torque Show. He gets to be the odd man in. He brings another set of skills, talents and energy to the creative process. I suppose this three-way unit dilutes the pure partner-art-ness of much of Ing and my collaborative work. This third voice in the Torque Show creative conversation does make negotiating the difference between our personal and professional relationship much clearer and straightforward. The three-headed relationship we have at work is a different beast to the two-headed one we have at home. There might be times when Ross feels like this is not the case and he’s stuck at home with us. But that would be a different article: “Partner plus one.”

Torque Show’s next work, Madame, will be premiering in April next year as part of the State Theatre Company of South Australia’s 2015 Season.

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth with Olga Kalashnikova Sonia Leber and David Chesworth with Olga Kalashnikova
photo courtesy the artists
Sonia Leber and David Chesworth

Right now we are working on a video project in Melbourne’s western suburb of St Albans, where Maltese immigrants maintain the tradition of Spirtu Pront (or “quick wit”), a singing style that developed in a peculiar way on the Mediterranean island of Malta. Part singing, part public argument, part entertainment and part public psychotherapy, these finely executed song duels emanate from working class bars on the island. Our project presents an anachronistic form where ritualised argument can be a positive social force, providing a public platform for the resolution of conflict.

Many of our works emerge from specific sites or social situations, often involving real world participants and different types of performers. These settings introduce varying degrees of unpredictability into the practice, as we try to negotiate our way towards making an artwork without controlling all the variables.

When we are outside the studio we are often in unfamiliar territory, filming in a particular location or cajoling all types of people to participate in a project. It’s a good thing that our projects are so outwardly social, as our work as a collaborative duo pretty much dominates our lives. We are good travellers and our practice really benefits from the challenge of research-based residencies. Last year we spent three months working intensively in a rarely-visited Russian city for our project Zaum Tractor, where we relied most heavily on each other’s personal resources.

Back home, most of our work revolves around researching and planning, perhaps editing sound and video, and we recognise that we both need long periods of solo focused work each day. We have separate studio spaces at each end of the house, keep in touch via WIFI messages and typically meet up for an hour in the middle of each day for more detailed discussion. We often take a walk to discuss things or visit each other’s spaces; all of our moments of personal contact are opportunities to discuss various aspects of the work-in-progress.

Our projects are built up over time through research, discussion, recording and editing, often in short bursts and often in different sequential order. We like to think that we are ‘makers’ who collaborate as much as possible, and together we try to cover all the skill-sets so we don’t need to pay outside crew. It’s a great thing to have flexibly and confidence in the dialoguing process, it generally serves to lift the spirits rather than create conflict.
Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Zaum Tractor, 2013, 2 channel HD video (Video still) Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Zaum Tractor, 2013, 2 channel HD video (Video still)
photo courtesy the artists and Fehily Contemporary

See part 1 of Partner Art in RT Profiler #6, 17 September 2014

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. online

© ; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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