Over the past eighteen months we have collaborated
on two new installations. The process of collaboration has led us
into blizzards, across rivers, around swans, through forests and
over golf courses as we attempted to discover how our geographical
distance is linked to cultural difference.
The journey began when we were commissioned by The
Gallery, Stratford-upon-Avon to make a new work that linked Stratford-upon-Avon
with its sister city Stratford in Canada. In Canada there were three
Shakespeare theatres, a river Avon, a gallery called The Gallery
and even swans that are taken down to the river in spring in a 'Swan
Parade'. That we were both called Jen added to this unfeasible symmetry,
one we've been trying to understand ever since, in the original
exhibition and in a new work for the Dunlop Gallery, Sherwood Forest,
We travelled to Stratford, Canada initially to explore
the place and to find shared ground. There was a three-day blizzard;
we soon realised that walking around a place with our heads down,
eyes scrunched and hands deep in our pockets wasn't getting us very
far. Exploring on foot was important to understanding the place.
When we visited Stratford, England the heritage sites were all so
clearly marked and preserved, the experience so packaged for us
as tourists, that it was difficult to tell the real from the simulated.
It was then that we decided to work with GPS (Global
Positioning Systems) devices that use satellites to pinpoint latitude,
longitude and altitude, and would allegedly tell us where we are
in the world. During a journey GPS data from specific points can
be linked together to create a GPS drawing (see www.gpsdrawing.com).
Using locations that share names in Canada and the
UK, we have explored the identity of places that afford a specific
tourist image through one historical figure. The namesake location
in Canada becomes not just a reflection of its colonial past, but
often serves to reflect on the impossibility of a place in the UK
being authentic or original. Situationist walking practices and
Foucault's idea of Heterotopias were informative and influential
to this work, as was Emma Posey's exhibition catalogue essay 'Memory
We eventually chose to work with people living in
these cities, who revealed the logistics of the towns in a way we
could never achieve as visitors. We asked them to make GPS drawings
of their everyday journeys, in contrast to simultaneous tourist
walks we had made. These drawings, translated into physical installations
created a temporary third space that exploded the myth or idea of
a place that is associated with its name.
We work through expanded online conversations, with
spatial and temporal gaps between replies. Research gets filtered
to a shared 'sketchbook' website with links to other sites, books,
artists and images. We type. A lot. But it is practical experiments
that are central to our practice. We devise tasks, or objects, to
make simultaneously which we then scan, photograph and describe
in order to question our presumptions and processes and to clarify
It is physical distance that prevents us from collaborating
face-to-face but in using email it is often the differences in our
perceptions as individuals that are greater than the geography.
It is precisely these relationships, between geographical and cultural
difference, that we are attempting to explore. Our use of GPS thus
becomes a kind of perverse science, expressed in installations of
quasi-surveying tools and methods, which attempt to understand cultural
location through an essentially dumb technology that only ever gives
us spatial location.
Establishing a shared area of practice in which collaboration
is key has been exciting. When your practice is interrogated and
expanded by a collaborator living about 5,000 miles away it is both
highly productive and very frustrating. What makes up for adjusting
to each other's thought processes and the timelag are the times
when we independently come to the same conclusions or make the same
conceptual leaps – and find a moment of unfeasible symmetry.
'Distance Made Good' at The Gallery, Stratford-upon-Avon, was reviewed
in a-n Magazine, September 2002.