There is no ‘i’ in team and correspondingly there is no ‘i’ in Eames, the surname of famous modernist husband and wife designers Charles and Ray Eames. Collaborative art practices between art-making partners is the underlying agenda behind this exhibition. Counterparthighlights three renowned collective art and object makers from across Aotearoa New Zealand. It features the work of Auckland-based contemporary ceramic and glass artists Stephen Bradbourne and Emily Siddell; Dunedin-based sculptors Madeleine Child and Philip Jarvis with the Antarctic Riviera Collective; and Martinbourgh-based glass artists Jim Dennison and Leanne Williams, a.k.a. the Crystal Chain Gang.

Evidently, collaboration styles vary from each artistic alliance.  The Crystal Chain Gang are far from conventional and although monogamous, they solely make art together in an endeavour to gangup on the hierarchical idea of individual authorship. Madeleine Child and Philip Jarvis work independently or jointly and more recently formed The Antarctic Riviera Collective with a wider group of makers.  In this non–exclusive collective they swap and share artistic partners with each artwork, or art project. Emily Siddell and Stephen Bradbourne are the self-reliant couple who are established in their individual practices in the shared domain of glass and clay. When they choose to collaborate they work independently utilising their individual skill sets and then combine their pieces together.

Collaborative glass artists Jim Dennison and Leanne Williams established the Crystal Chain Gang in 2003. They adopted their self-titled nickname, Crystal Chain Gang, as it honours both the alluring lead crystal and the labour intensive cast glass making process that is their trademark medium. Their clever and conceptual glass works combine popular objects, flora and fauna and remnants from New Zealand’s colonial history and multicultural society.

From a treasure trove of knick-knacks, kitsch icons and semi to precious objects, they concoct sculptural mock cocktails that appear to be recognisable yet are cunningly deceiving. In their infamous chandelier, ornate crystal droplets are replaced with individual translucent glass feathers. Meanwhile a galah cockatoo perches on a crystalline decanter glass stopper to reassess the aesthetic and tradition of crystal glassware. Suitably displayed in what would have been the parlour room in the Corban Family’s 1926 Homestead, are these crossbreed heritage luxury items. Fools Gold (2014) is a visual paradox whereby lead crystal glass is transmuted into complex crystal formations to test the perception of worth. These earlier works are set alongside newly developed pieces that continue to explore the material qualities of glass, yet are more ambiguous. New works Heist, Prodigy, Nightclubbing (2015) are both transparent and densely black, they give less away, shifting further away from recognisable forms in a step to remove literal narrative or translation.

Collaborating as the Crystal Chain Gang allows the pair to extend their individual practices while also enabling them to present their work in a non-hierarchical manner.[1] Working as a gang challenges the cultural construct of the individual artist with singular authorship.[2] Operating this way fits them both like a “favourite glove”, all the while it is a collaborative practice that endures and is strengthened by artistic differences. [3]“Being able to work and live with someone who you disagree with for conceptual and aesthetic choices means you grow personality in aspects of acceptance, embracing contradictions, and difference,” say the Crystal Chain Gang.

Stephen Bradbourne and Emily Siddell are acclaimed contemporary glass and ceramic artists in their own right. Together they collectively hold a balance between the two mediums. Clay was once the secondary medium within Siddell’s renowned glass works, and now it has become her favoured and primary medium. Meanwhile, clay for Bradbourne has gone in the opposite direction and gradually taken a backseat to his glass practice. Their shared backgrounds and existing practices in these time-honoured mediums inform the specialist methods behind their latest collaboration which involves; glass blowing, wheel thrown pottery, press moulded and hand formed ceramics, crochet and weaving.

In a fitting collaboration for a couple, Bradbourne and Siddell’s new combined collection consists of domestic ware, as well as a series of large-scale necklaces, which previously feature as a recurrent form in Siddell’s personal practice. Evident in the collaboration is a mutual interest in pattern and surface decoration, and both artists find that texture and pattern are better emphasised when working within a limited colour range. This monochrome palette distinguishes the collection, and highlights these common crossovers between their work.

Practically, Bradbourne and Siddell both describe their process of collaboration as quite fluid, having few differences of opinion. This supportive approach to creating is reflected in the considered forms and compositions they co-produce. In previous collaborations, and in the current show, the pair firstly discuss concepts for the objects they will make, before working on these separately and then bringing them back to collate and combine their made objects and see how everything might work as a collection together. From this point, any changes are made and the collaboration evolves from there.[4] “Generally if we have differences of opinion, they are not fixed ideas, so we can discuss and work through it to a point where we are both happy,” explains Siddell. Although candidly, Bradbourne does admit sometimes to being told what to make and doing just that.
Madeleine Child and Philip Jarvis are Dunedin-based sculptors and partners who are known for their witty collaborations. The pair are individually established artists who began to work in tandem in 1996, initially out of necessity to juggle studio time with family life. For these artists, the meaning of collaboration is simply the agreement between different people to share ideas.[5] Their inclusive collaboration extends beyond their partnership and includes a wider group of makers known as The Antarctic Riviera Collective.

Members in this art collective share a belief with the Dada art movement which flourished in the early twentieth century after World War I. Their view is that the value of art lies not in the work produced, but in the act of making and collaborating with others, to create new visions of the world. Those involved with The Antarctic Riviera Collective share a common manifesto, to create objects by hand using non-precious materials, and to make things large.

Together this troupe of makers tango with shared ideas, skills and common materials. Adorning the gallery are the collective’s oversized accessories, what they term Monster Jewellery and describe as being showy, bespoke, short run and short-lived. In this collection of collaborative works the artist’s work improvises with whatever comes to hand from items taken from the stationary cupboard to the cupboard under the kitchen sink or in the fishing kit.

Kathryn Tsui (Curator)
Corban Estate Arts Centre
September 2015

[1] Email correspondence with the artists 3 September 2015

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Email correspondence with the artists 26 August 2015

[5] Artists statement  August 2015