Magic was in the air when twelve students and OCA tutors, Dr Carla Rees, Music Programme Leader and Caroline Wright, Fine Art Programme Leader convened at Toynbee Studios, London – the culmination – of a fascinating and inspiring process of collaboration.
In January 2019, Caroline and Carla offered an open invitation to twelve students to participate in an extra-curricular, cross-disciplinary project with a focus on music-making and visual exploration. Over the course of six months, working in assigned pairs we were encouraged to explore and share creative ideas developing a piece of work with a view to performing live. Regular Zoom group meetings were set up to enable us to exchange and discuss work-in-progress.
Early on, the benefits of collaboration were clear – particularly for distance learners who often can feel they work in a vacuum. It was enlightening and stimulating to connect with students from different subject areas and to see the amazingly diverse approaches to the work gradually emerging – a hands-on, direct experience of the practice of collaboration of which many studies have been made. (For those interested, a recommended book on the subject is: Experiment: Conversations in Art and Science (Ed. Arends B and Thackara D, pub. Welcome Trusts, London 2003). Engaging and co-operating with a ‘stranger’ can seem daunting and challenging; it requires patience, empathy and awareness that everyone is an individual with their own set of skills and experience.
Fortunately, my project partner, Jason Kenny and I hit it off from the start. We were a good balance: Jason, a music student, is calm and measured – a necessary foil to my ‘painting-student-sometimes all-guns-blazing’ approach! Inspired by the work of composer and theorist John Cage, whom Jason was studying, and with reference to the excellent Everything we do is music: cross-curricular experiments in sound based on the music of John Cage (Russell, B. pub. Henmar Press Inc., New York 2016), we decided to incorporate the element of chance into our work. We quickly established a ‘call and respond’ format which allowed for a natural work rhythm of flow and exchange. Jason would compose music and I would paint my response then Jason would respond with another piece of music etc. As our work progressed, developing and discarding ideas along the way, we evolved the framework of an idea, a detailed outline/plan – but with a crucial wild card which meant that anything could happen for the live event!
Adrenaline was high on the big day! Each of the five partnerships had forty-five minutes to set-up, rehearse and perform – thankfully leaving no time for stage-nerves! Our workspace at Toynbee Studios was wonderfully spacious and the atmosphere was informal. On arrival everyone got busy setting up their stuff – ranging from pots of paint and dust-sheets to digi-tech cameras and audio equipment. From 10a.m. until 5p.m. (with a lunchbreak!), we presented our work in pairs to a delightfully ‘up-for-anything’ audience of family and friends. The range of approaches and media was amazing. Stefan and Vicki presented a life-affirming meld of sound and visuals (Vicki’s ‘virtual’ presence via laptop was testimony to the power of collaboration!). For Sarah-Jane and Emma’s film/music piece students were invited to participate in vocalisation which was unexpected and fun. Anne (and her husband) and Naomi had created a room-stilling ethereal singing and visual. Anna and Deborah’s presentation, based on a real-life prisoner’s experience, was profoundly touching. Tutors Carla and Caroline’s art and music collaboration was spellbinding and viscerally affecting.
Jason and I had a blast! Whilst we had worked out our prison/freedom theme, designed costumes, made props, recorded music the outcome of our performance depended on our Wild Card – the roll of a dice thrown several times by an unsuspecting member of the audience. This chance element was totally liberating. It was one of the vital things I learned from the collaboration – that crucial to the creative process is the unknown, is allowing for the unexpected – an outcome that I have now carried through to my current studies.
The 20 July was memorable – so too the months of engaging and sharing in this creatively inspiring project. We had all challenged and extended ourselves. A little bit of magic, yes – and a shedload of enthusiasm, commitment and creativity of the tutors and students involved.