Conversations / A Year In Collaboration

A Year In Collaboration

1st Google Hangout, 1st Exhibition, 1st Publication, 1st Derbyshire Pyklet 

Initiated in 2017, FORM Collective collaborated to create a new body of work that looked to move beyond the artist's intended meaning and open up alternative ways of seeing and interpreting photographic works. Here, four founding members discuss the ups and downs.

What have you learned from being part of FORM Collective?

Rachael Burns: For me this whole process has been a steep learning curve, and I think what I’ve taken away from working as a collective is that I’ve learnt different things from every member of the group and hopefully vice versa - skills in project management, application and creative writing, social media, working with people and project partners. I think as a photographer it’s easy to get far too comfortable working individually and this project has reminded me of the importance of reaching out to other creatives.

Cath Stanley:  I think that just the supportive nature of working in a collective, the freedom to discuss ideas with other members, who understand what your work is about, allowed me to grow as an individual.  FORM have pushed my boundaries, opened my mind to alternative approaches and always given feedback in a constructive and respectful way thats sympathetic to the story I'm trying to tell. For the first project within the collective I wanted to create something I felt quite passionate about and something I felt I had experience of. I wanted to keep the essence of this in my work, but I was keen to develop it further, which the collective allowed me to do.

Liz Tobin: One aspect of the collective that's really educational  is the bouncing around of ideas. It’s really gratifying to be able to exchange ideas, inspirations, philosophies, histories and individual styles. It’s not something that’s easy to tap into when so many of us work on our own. So for me, I think having a group of peers to consult with has  made me question my own practice more. I wasn’t entirely sure to what extent we would overlap in our output. I think the style we’ve found, to work together but discreetly was a positive revelation - that negotiation between your goals and the groups can be tricky and why communication is key. 

Becky Warnock:   For me this experience has been a huge learning process, and I love that we have set up a space in which we are collectively invested in our individual development. I hope we keep taking this forward, and in new projects take on challenges for ourselves, in an environment that is mutually supportive and encouraging. I love that on our calls someone will be on a residency in a lighthouse in remote Scotland, while another is working in Barcelona, and another is putting their kids to bed. I think the multiplicity of our experiences really adds to our collective identity and our work is stronger as a result of it.

What are the main challenges of working collaboratively?

Rachael Burns: I think the struggle with working as a group instead of individually is always going to revolve around communication. In our case we were spread geographically which meant that most our contact time as a group happened over video calls, and there was a huge improvement in our productivity when we met up in person instead of online which could be frustrating at times. Having said that, being based across the country has also proved to be an asset.

Becky Warnock: Working as part of a collective is such a challenge. In some ways more people means more distribution of work, more ideas and contributions; but at the same time, it’s also more visions, more compromise and less autonomy. I think there were times during this process where we were working really effectively together, where we communicated really well, and (I think) were really valuing each others contributions. I think the times we felt most cohesive were when we were together in person – our session at Output was great, as were our times in Manchester. The fact that we are scattered across the UK makes an additional challenge for us as a collective in my opinion. Having said that, it’s also one of my favourite things about what we do. 

How has FORM challenged your creative practice?

Cath Stanley: I loved working with in a more multi-disciplinary approach, I feel that this exploration of layers and textures is something I would like to continue. My background is from a creative arts degree and bringing in collage and mixed media feels a really natural way of working. Before BPF I had never used narrative within any of my projects, I feel I have shied away from this in the past as it’s something I didn’t feel confident with. Producing the written work felt like a bit of an achievement for me, it was certainly cathartic and once complete it was quite emotional, going back and looking at a period of time in my life with many ups and downs, trying to put this across for an audience was a challenge but so very worth it. I have lots of plans to use narrative in future work, maybe in a different approach, but something with meaning and definitely a more positive storytelling tale with a happy ending.

Rachael Burns: I tried to go into FORM without any expectations, mainly just that we would exhibit new work of some kind and learn through working together - both of which I think we would all say we’ve done. However, what’s been interesting for me personally is that my interest has shifted from making my own work to working more on the project management and curation side; working with FORM on this project has redirected my practice completely.

Liz Tobin : For me, exposing myself to feeback during my workflow has made me realising everything is process, rather than waiting for things to be 'ready'. I've come to think along these lines more and more and find affinity in movements like Fluxus and Dadaism, whereby you experiment across mediums and don't endeavor to be opaque about how you got to the point of presentation.  I think the Brighton Fringe show and our approach to presenting the work has given me more confidence to question conceived wisdom regarding photographic art.To me there's something intrinsically selfish and capitalist about hiding the means of production. Even if it's unintentional. Also, that imitation, remixes and re-looking at something is totally valid, if not necessary.

Becky Warnock: Its hard to be critically reflective of your own work – personally I can always see the things that weren’t quite right, or that I would do differently with the benefit of hindsight. However, I really enjoyed the conversations and reactions of audiences to our installation. There were a few on the opening night which were a bit defensive, one visitor finding it really challenging to understand our decision not to author our work, and having a very emotional (negative) reaction to it. Its these kind of interactions that I really enjoy – the really passionate and heartfelt ones – even if they are negative. I think they are an indication that we disrupted the space, we didn’t do what people expect from a festival installation, and that excites me. I was really proud of what we achieved, and I’m excited to see what we take moving forward and how that influences our future projects.

FORM will be exhibiting their 2nd collective exhibition at FORM @ Derby Fringe from March 2019

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