Call & Response: the Joy of Collaboration

I’ve long been interested in artistic collaborations, and indulge in daily call and response play by typing out 2 poems each of 5 poets, and then writing a poem of my own. This is an extension of an exercise I’ve been doing on and off for a few years, whereby, in a notebook, I write out a randomly chosen poem (from a book), and then write one of my own in response on the facing page. I also often, though not regularly, write in response to a work of visual art, or to The Mr. playing his guitar in the next room. For a while I tried both writing and drawing in response to his band’s gigs and pub music sessions, but that didn’t work at all. And, of course, recently I travelled round Assynt making photographs (still being developed) in response to Norman MacCaig’s poetry. All this is great, and helps me create new work, but it’s a one way conversation. What I’d really like is a dialogue with another artist, but until now that opportunity hasn’t arisen.*


Last Friday (July 14) Upland, the ‘visual art and craft development organisation based in Dumfries & Galloway,’ responsible for Spring Fling (an open studios event that brings around £1.5m into the region each year) held a collaborative art workshop. In the Shadow of the Hand artists, Sarah Forrest and Virginia Hutchison came to talk about their collaborations and invited us (we were 7) to help make a piece in an ongoing series.

We didn’t need to be asked a second time.

The series involves each responding to an object made and given by the other, it really is a conversation; this is object 6, and was made by all of us in response to the story so far.


We painted the words: ‘Object 6, the conductor’ with liquid graphite (powdered and suspended in gum arabic). Graphite is magical stuff, it’s a lubricant, it conducts electricity and sound, and has a host of other charms. For this we needed its sound conductivity. After the painting I was asked to lead a vocal warming exercise (thanks to Tony Bonnington for teaching me how to do this in a storytelling workshop 10 years ago) which sounded so interesting we did it again to record it. We then recorded ourselves responding to the letters by sounding them out and calling out words that began with them:

O O O Odin; Oberon; obliterate; odious; ostentation; occupy; octopus…

B B B Boo; bolero; boisterous; belligerent; biodiversity; bingo; blot…

And so on.

And then the fun: I’m not quite sure how this worked exactly, but we were given wires (earth and ?) and had to press one of each onto a single letter, the sound of our voices then came through a huge speaker. However it worked, it was electric: we seemed to become one, with each other and the work. It was over all too soon but I feel I’ve returned a better and more knowledgeable person (and artist, I hope), and would very much like to try a more sustained collaboration.

So this is a call for an artist to communicate with through making and swapping. If you think you might like to have a go leave a comment or, if you prefer more privacy, use my contact form, and we’ll take it from there. I don’t think discipline, or age/level of experience matters a jot, all I’m looking for is willingness to engage in something the outcome of which cannot be predetermined, or conventionally owned. So, anyone who wants to experiment, explore, and play with a view to making art, do get in touch.


*I have collaborated to stage events, and to run workshops that help others make work, but not to make art with no thought for the outcome.

8 thoughts on “Call & Response: the Joy of Collaboration

    1. I suppose it is, but they are sitting in Lightroom waiting for me to finish faffing about with the raw data. I have a short video with sound but need to put it on YouTube to share it on here. It’s all so complicated!


  1. I’m in, if you want me…. I did Critical Fine Art Practice at college…. one of my favourite ever pieces I made was in response to a piece of text written by a fellow student. How it worked was that she wrote a text about a favourite object – describing it; saying how it made her feel; relating memories associated with it, but never saying what the object was. It was great fun and I made an installation from it.


    1. That sounds great, and the more people the better I’d say. I shall write about a favourite object and put it on a blog post, that way I do two things in one. You can then make a piece in response, if you still want to, and blog about that. X


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