“Where are we exactly - are we near the island?
The island- is that what you call it?”
JG Ballard - Concrete Island, 1974.
From 11 August to 25 August 2011, the Outlet Project Room will become an occasion for the collective processes of Robyn Nesbitt and Nina Barnett, a collaborative duo from South Africa. The artists began working in a shared studio in Johannesburg six years ago, based on their shared necessity for a competitive and empathetic ‘co-existence’. This existential bond is born from dependence and affirmation, culminating in connections based on a history of dialogues, questioning the relationship’s facets and boundaries. Such parallelisms and dualisms have generated into a shared global identity, outside the boundaries of space and time, documenting the remnants of their intuitive and residual process through dialogue on their blog: www.coexistent.net, where they have combined ideas, communicated events, recalled dreams and memories, and created networked islands.
Since its inception, and continued evolution, the artists have changed their history as well as geography, with Barnett first relocating to New York and currently Chicago, where she is in the process of completing her Masters Degree, and Nesbitt relocating from Cape Town to Johannesburg, after completing her Masters Degree at The Michaelis School of Art. The distances between the duo create a tension based on re-measuring these ‘spaces’, a psychic, performative dialogue inspiring and validating each other’s existence through a subliminal umbilical cord of friendship, security and support, synchronized in moments of significance and permeated by each artists ambitious aspirations.
The blog consists of a virtual performance of thoughts and memories sent in pieces that are mailed back and forth, along with ideas that evolve during residencies where they meet periodically. Loosely based on the exploitation of the now traditional virtual realm, where corporeal concerns fall into secondary critical roles, the artists live out an ‘ideal’ existence, or rather practice, that corresponds to the mundane state of day-to-day life. In a sense, this ensemble of sporadic information is akin to a curiosity box, in which one attempts to somehow open Ali Baba’s cave of treasures by looking at the world from an alternate perspective, much like Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”, in its attempt to speed-up the process of self-reflection, albeit slightly schizophrenic in this context.
And so, Barnett and Nesbitt live and relate to each other at a metaphorical ‘scale’, until they meet once a year to share ideas, establishing connections and pushing projects forward. During the duo’s residency at the Sober and Lonely Institute the artistic pair described their exploration in Johannesburg’s suburbia as:
“A place of collective residential isolation, where the living environment becomes a site for production. The work that has come from this time deals with the act of conversation in an intimate environment and the physical realization of our online relationship on our website. As collaborators, we are interested in the dialogue that occurs between two artists and how this connection manifests – both as a competitive and a supportive force. We find that our work illustrates both of these qualities, and shows the bond that can come from knowing another’s work as well as your own. We approach our individual work in distinctive ways - one subjective and intimate, another cerebral and pragmatic. Together, these traits play off each other, forming a new space in which to create.”
The project will consist of two parts. Firstly, “The First Glimpse” in which a beam of light shines out through the window of Outlet and onto the street below, making a circular island of brightness for passers-by to ponder. This defined form in the midst of the public area relates to their collaborative process, which exists in an isolated field, distinct from other environments. As cars and pedestrians pass by, the light draws attention to the surface of the pavement, which in turn will indicate the window it emanates from. The First Glimpse is a disclosure of the somewhat concealed existence of the duo’s collaboration. Secondly, “Keep in Mind” is an extraction taken from the diverged approach to their collaborative project via the exchange and interpretation of one another’s memories; real and imagined. In combining the stories into one book, they create a single author - a common memory recalled by both artists. This merging of selves resembles their experience at the Sober and Lonely Residency - the joining of daily routines, the sharing of space, the intensity of making work together in a limited time frame - their lives momentarily synced.
The residue of this engagement, and the act of separation, will be distilled in two photocopies of the common book. Each artist will travel back to their home with one photocopy version, and will edit the story from their individual setting. These basic units of assembly and the process of their re-construction are similar to those inherent in Kurt Schwitters’ ‘Merz’, in how they are taken apart and rebuilt, in this instance, under the influence of each artist’s counterpoint in one another. The two versions will be marked, scuffed from travel, underlined to signify importance, corrected in their handwriting to show the artists viewpoint, these will then be posted by the artists back to the residency location in Johannesburg, with the final display of the two versions, including their respective envelopes and travel wear, placed on a table in the Outlet space. Visitors will be invited to read and compare notes from the two worn versions, existing in the same place; an imagined time-share of space, ideas and practice, where another fills the void.
Words by Bronwen Shelwell.
This project was realized at Outlet in collaboration with the Sober & Lonely Institute for Contemporary Art.