I have a close friend and collaborator who lives in another city. A constant stream of emails, WhatsApp messages and long phone calls go back and forth, in which we apply the same critical thinking to each other’s love-lives, emotions and worries about the future as we do each other’s scripts, projects and funding applications. Intimate, supportive and occasionally difficult, our friendship is a product of our gender and sexuality, our social and economic positions and our interests, attitudes and mutual experiences. This exhibition asks whether this type of productive female friendship can be manufactured by a curator or institution, and if so, utilised as a method of production.
Artists Rebecca Ounstead and Paloma Proudfoot were invited by The Royal Standard Director Emma Curd to work together over a four-month period on this exhibition. Having never previously met, a long conversation ensued over Skype and email, the artists attempting to find common ground in their work and form a collaborative practice. Whilst there is no gallery map, most of the work is clearly distinguishable as being by separate artists. This is not a collaboration as such, but a dialogue between the facilitators research and interests and the practices of the two artists.
Triangular plinths are placed around the gallery, spread with sheets of purple rubber and topped with giant slabs of homemade fudge along with Paloma Proudfoot’s beautifully crafted ceramic objects. These objects include bowling pins, an egg and a double-ended piece of asparagus, referencing surrealism and the subconscious. Tactile and extremely physical, touch is ever present; you can see the marks in the fudge where it has been flattened into shape. There is a strong Freudian charge and tension between the beauty of the ceramic objects and the grossness of the fudge and rubber. The bowling pins relate to one of Proudfoot’s previous performances Made to be Broken in which performers smashed bowling pins, and the objects seem to be waiting for bodies to come and activate the work.
Dotted between the plinths, Ounstead’s black metal bars hang from the ceiling from black metal chains, evoking both gym equipment and BDSM gear. Draped from the bars are sheets of Lycra printed with close up images of the sculpted muscles of body builders. The gallery walls are painted tan, corresponding with the Lycra prints, and the overall effect is that of a set for a photo shoot awaiting the arrival of the models.
A sense of anticipation pervades the whole exhibition, not only in terms of the absent bodies but also in the relationship between the works, as though the two practices are about to interact but haven’t quite got there yet. Four months isn’t a very long time to forge either a friendship or a collaborative practice, and this show feels like a starting point rather than a resolution.
The exhibition is beautifully executed, but with the gallery walls painted tan, the artist, who is also a fashion designer and the collection of small ceramic objects, I get a strong sense of déja vu. These artists are peers, operating within the same insular art scene and producing work and research exploring similar ideas, meaning they have a professional interest in befriending one another. This experiment might have been more challenging between two artists from differing backgrounds or with differing practices.
To suggest real productive friendships can be produced by an institution or curator might be an underestimation of their complexity and power. However, partnerships between artists which prove to be fruitful and beneficial can evidently be fostered, and the potential of this particular partnerships feels as though it is yet to be realised, and the most interesting work is yet to come.
The “thinking-business”, The Royal Standard, 28 April – 28 May
Laura Rushton is an artist based in Liverpool.