“A successful collaboration is always the result of a successful relationship. The paintings are the physical proof of the harmony that existed beyond the canvas.” – Keith Haring on Warhol and Basquiat, Oct 4 1988, NYC.
A few days ago I presented an exhibition of Exquisite Corpses at a warehouse in Melbourne. While travelling in Indonesia, my compadre and I passed the time by playing this game. After a few rounds, we decided we’d make 54 and turn them in to a deck of cards as a souvenir. When we arrived in Melbourne, and it was suggested over the fire that we exhibit everything we’d drawn, we didn’t take it very seriously and, besides, we were sure we’d drawn less than forty. Over the next few days we suddenly remembered, with much amusement, that we were supposed to be completing more in time for “The Exhibition”. On the day, we dragged ourselves from very good company in Edinburgh gardens an hour before the show was to open, and blu-tacked the corpses to the wall. The gallery space, which was annexed to a very cool warehouse occupied by the sweetest of couples, G and E, was being cleared by the lease-holder who was hoovering with Freddy Mercury-like enthusiasm. Only two curatorial decisions were made – to put the pieces in rough chronological order and on the far wall without any chairs – and within the hour we were cracking open the beers.
Now, when I say “exhibition”, what I really mean is a show-for-friends. My compadre is from Melbourne, so really it was all her old friends, who were kind enough to have interesting conversations with me. One such conversation was with M (one half of the duo Winter National who played a very good gig later on; so good that there was a noise complaint and it had to be cut short.) We talked about participatory art and the importance of continuity between what you practice and what you preach. The Exquisite Corpse has a long history and remains a popular game because it affirms what I have long suspected: that art’s real value is evident when it is created for your mates. it is not possible to create bullshit if your friends are the recipients, because they won’t buy it. They will look at you weirdly and wonder what is wrong with you. It’s the highest form of criticism. You have to produce something that chimes with the shared philosophy that makes you friends in the first place.
The constant gathering of friends is something I noticed in Melbourne, which I have not experienced much myself. To see the same faces at events more than a few times a week is often cause for complaint in London. It’s obviously partly down to my compadre’s brief return that people were coming so regularly, but it made me think about what it means to be making individual work and to live in a community. Across the top of my notebook, I have very dramatically written that “I have always seen myself as an individual, but now I feel like an only twin.” By extension, I thought about the collaborative nature of the Exquisite Corpse and how the ludic element doesn’t depend on rules, but how well you know the other person. The main comment made by people who visited the gallery was that my compadre and I had indistinguishable styles, which resulted in some of the corpses having an uncanny unity. Sometimes, we drew the same thing. There’s no mystery in that since we were travelling together and looking at the same things, but it was a refreshing that everyone who viewed the work saw our sameness – our attempts to amuse each other – as the main quality of the work.
Things would have been very different had we been thinking about doing an exhibition. My compadre made the point that she wasn’t sure she could do something as spontaneous and fun again because she’d be too aware that someone might want to exhibit it. But it’s the not the exhibiting that is important: the freedom that came from doing something for pleasure led to the realisation that there’s a lot to be said for creating awesome stuff that your friends will enjoy. If that’s the principle of your work, then whether it is exhibited is not the point. More importantly, everything becomes part of a continuous collaboration, barely noticeable because it’s a part of life.