Braziers International Artists’ Workshop
In August 2008, Ellie was invited to participate in Braziers International Artists’ Workshop (BIAW) at Braziers Park in Oxfordshire. As a development from previous years, this workshop had a specific emphasis on collaboration and exchange - encouraging artists to abandon their established practices and experiment with working together. This year, for perhaps the first time, the workshop attempted to directly explore and develop the founding principles of its host venue, Braziers Park.
Braziers Park was founded in 1950 by Norman Glaister as the site for a continuing real-life experiment about the advantages and problems of communal living. For over fifty years, a changing community of residents have, through discussion, attempted to resolve many of the ongoing and reoccurring issues of this way of life, with the hope of developing a potential model for sustainable communities of the future. From 3rd - 19th August 2008, sixteen artists from all around the globe were thrown together as an intensive reworking of the Braziers experiment - to see what impact this method of living, discussing ideas and working together could have on the process of art making.
As a way of introducing the artists to the community and allowing them a glimpse of what it may be like working with one another, Braziers Park put forward a number of manual labour tasks around the grounds. These tasks were presented to the group by their treasurer John Sewell using the ‘Open Space’ methodology, which insists that everything is entirely optional and reassures participants with rules such as: ‘whatever you do will be the right thing to do’, ‘whatever time you start will be the right time to start’ and ‘if you are not happy just move on and try something else’. With such apparent freedom from the outset, it was an initial surprise that nearly all the artists followed suit, selected a project and worked diligently on it for 2-5 days until it was completed. Ellie worked alongside Katy Beinart, Julia Defferary, Steven Eastwood, Evgenia Golant, Uraline Hager, Isabelle Krieg and Pauline Thomas excavating the site of a recently unearthed well and building a protective wall around its perimeter.
After the completion of the manual labour tasks, the working teams disbanded and the crux of the social experiment emerged - the sub-division of the larger group, through negotiation and conversation, into smaller, workable sub-groups (or ‘sub-herds’ as Norman Glaister would term them), from which new creative projects could arise. Individual egos had to battle against each other for acceptance, recognition and dominance. At this point, Ellie began to question the whole notion of collaboration and wonder whether a ‘pure collaboration’, in which an idea is jointly conceived and owned by two people, is actually possible. Do all collaborations have an inherently dominant side - the side from which the idea emerges? She also began to question whether the utopian ideals of Braziers Park were even ideologically compatible with the ego-centred individualist mentality of the art world. Could artists learn to abandon their egos, to be taught selflessness (like the residents of Braziers Park) for the greater good of the artwork, and was there time for any of these radical changes in just two weeks?
Ellie’s initial response to these questions was to stage an ‘ego wrestling’ contest amongst the artists, in which their supposed desire for success and dominance could be fought out literally, in the ring. A metaphor for the negotiation involved in the collaborative process. Ellie staged a small-scale wrestling tournament in the drawing room of the Braziers house on 13th August. She then toyed with the idea of holding a larger ‘Royal Rumble’ event in which all sixteen artists would partake in a survival-of-the-fittest wrestling challenge in front of a live audience at the Open Day on 17th August 2008. In the end this idea was not realised as, ironically, a consensus of participation from the artists was too much of a battle to achieve.
Despite this ongoing debate, Ellie was involved in several creative collaborations with other artists. With Isabelle Krieg, she carried out a number of mini performance experiments around the Braziers grounds - climbing trees, vaulting gates, rolling down hills and spending time in the pig pen with the newly christened pigs ‘Tobias’ and ‘Carsten’. This allowed them time to discuss the objectives of the workshop, their own outlooks on art and to what degree it may be possible for them, as individual artists, to collaborate. On Isabelle’s suggestion, they then worked together to create a monument in the old barn to the somewhat ambiguous Norman Glaister term ‘super-normal’ (which in his mind describes a person who is nearing human perfection).
Ellie, Evgenia Golant and Isabelle Krieg explored the differences between their three languages by learning phonetically and performing the Russian song Am I Guilty? - the documentation of which formed an interactive installation for the Open Day in which visitors could sing along and help themselves to ‘Kalashnikov’ vodka shots. Then, the team of eight artists who first worked together on the well project imagined what it would be like to be trapped at its bottom, by spending an hour together in the pitch darkness of the Braziers cellar and recording the ensuing conversation. This later formed Sending Our Love Down the Well - a sound installation for the Open Day in which the recorded discussion emanated up from the 11 metre depths of the well.
But finally, Ellie worked alone. Perhaps a result of the frustration of being unable to overcome the issues with collaboration she had identified and of being unable to fully understand the workings of other artists’ minds as well as her own, Ellie spent the final two days of the workshop working on her own project. For 5960 Photos, she compiled an unedited, chronological slideshow of all the digital photos taken by all the participants at BIAW from 3rd - 15th August. This slideshow was screened over the four-hour duration of the Open Day, with each of the images appearing on screen for just 2.4 seconds. Although perhaps considered a collaborative project by some, 5960 Photos was not the sort of ‘pure collaboration’, Ellie had first dreamed might be possible.
Click on the links to the right under ‘Further Reference’ to view images of all the projects mentioned above and to download the Sending Our Love Down the Well recording and the Am I Guilty? phonetic song sheet.
- Images from Braziers International Artists’ Workshop
- More images from Braziers International Artists’ Workshop on Flickr
- Download Sending Our Love Down the Well recording
- Download Am I Guilty? phonetic song sheet