Chanelle Collier and Joe Wilson

Some months before their announcement as finalists in the NSW Visual Arts Emerging Fellowship, presented by Artspace and the National Art School with Create NSW, Joe Wilson and Chanelle Collier shared an email exchange on their practice in Artist Profile 55. Here, the collaborators and 'love duo' reflect on working outside of institutions, creative intimacy, and their 'do it anyway' approach to artmaking.

Joe: For our AP piece let’s try an email exchange. It has to be about our process. I think failure has been instrumental in shaping where we are at in our practice and career, so let’s talk about that. Also, we should address the themes in our work and some of the projects.

Chanelle: Thanks for being so supportive, I’m not sure why I’m having such a weird mental block with this, just too stressed right at the moment I guess.

I’m just going to go for it, and edit later. 

Failure is an interesting starting point, and I agree that our own limitations, and limitation in the systems in which we work, have necessitated the development of a ‘do it anyway’ approach, that is often the basis of our most disruptive, humorous and absurd responses – which, in my opinion, has produced the best and most dynamic work. 

In regard to themes, there is a lot that I feel is important to mention, and I would love you to help narrow it down to a few that are manageable in such a short article. I would like to mention creative intimacy and how we are able to think together; the themes of freedom, resistance, labour and care as underlying forces with some examples; and how these ideas are building language that can be applied to broader social/cultural systems. Because it’s not just about us trying to change our own small circumstances, but also producing a poetic perspective on larger ones. 

Joe: I guess stress and breakdown is an important barrier in our career, one we share. It’s a failure to function that we have to push through. Care as a theme is intrinsically linked to being able to go on against reason. It makes us highly critical of the niche art world we’re trying to work in. Criticality comes from our dogged interest in tuning our craft to something of value that contributes to worldly discourse. Resistance is about creating change, and freedom is the expression of doing it. Let’s discuss a couple of the projects, taking it in turns.

Chanelle: It’s also partly why collaboration, with each other, and other artists from various disciplines, has become important to our practice. Leaning into this has offered us an opportunity to develop supportive networks and uncommon strategies in our field. And though, as you suggest, this has grown from necessity, it has also allowed our work to flourish in unanticipated ways. How about you start on the project intro and I’ll add to each one? 

Joe: Sure. Play Something Else Cowboy, 2020-ongoing, is a cocktail bar we built at home to host conversations with artists. It consists of a bar, a hand printed backdrop, two plants and a phone. It has run for five months, every Friday night, with two guests. You should add something poetic.

Chanelle: We failed to get it over the line with the gallery which offered up a serendipitous moment to work independently. The space created by the participating voices was one of respite, the need for which has echoed over again with such resonance. Through this strangely semi-performative artwork; sending invitations, mixing drinks and having conversations; we have somehow managed to capture hold of something intangible. From a process stand-point, talking and listening is a beautiful kind of ‘work,’ and equal exchange, bringing agency into the voice.

Joe: Next, our TwentyOne, 2020, 

collaboration responded to the closure of AGNSW. We draped the iconic Andre Jamet tent pieces over the steps and rails in a gentle gesture, soft painting. It was a caring touch that meets the institution, one that aestheticises the whole building by bringing attention to its function, or lack thereof. It showed our relationship to it as artists, being on the outside. Actually, With All Our Love, 2020, was pretty much the same thing, when we washed the windows of Mils Gallery.

Chanelle: At the AGNSW, the use of the tent pieces as geometric colour forms, as well as territorial markers, seemed to appear as a commemoration of the space, a homage to art in a difficult time, when most of the museums around the world had suddenly closed, including our own Biennale. 

I think being ‘outside’ in this particular instance allowed us, and others in similar ways, to take agency, which seemed like a nice reminder that the system is built by the actions of artists, not institutions. Even when the gallery doors shut, art and cultural practices don’t just stop. The caring gesture becomes indicative of power. x 

This conversation was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 55, 2021.

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