A New Understanding of Collaboration

by A. Blair Clemo

As a maker, I haven't had much interest in collaboration with other artists before (at least dedicating my studio output to it, one could argue that objective clay itself is a collaboration). Sure, I have been challenged to glaze other people’s pots or combine my demos with another potters at a workshop. But collaborative exercises have always been just that to me, an assignment the art world throws at you from time to time or sticking some parts together in a hopes of generating a compelling spark.

I have seen successful collaboration many times in recent years. I get a kick out of two potters swapping surfaces or trading thrown parts when they pop up on Instagram, but this is not what I mean. There are those occasions where two artists work together and the result seems natural and inevitable, looking like the next evolution of their regular studio practice and research.  The exhibition by Objective Clay’s own Shawn Spangler and Bryan Czibesz Re/charting seems a fine example of this. My studio practice has simply never asked for collaboration in the same way it demands to go to the museum or pick up a particular book. For this reason, I have never taken collaboration too seriously, always an endeavor on the fringes of my studio. 

Time. Work by Jason Hackett and A. Blair Clemo. Wolpert Gallery, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Gatlinburg, TN. September 11th - November 7th, 2015

Time. Work by Jason Hackett and A. Blair Clemo. Wolpert Gallery, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Gatlinburg, TN. September 11th - November 7th, 2015

Collaboration was not a word that came to mind when proposing a two-person exhibition with my friend and colleague Jason Hackett. Our proposal was hinged on the fact that we were two artists that noticed a kinship in our work and decided to show together. We were showing our own individual work, made in our separate studios without direct input from one another. We called our exhibition Time, which opened at the Wolpert Gallery at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts on September 11th.

Utility Shift by A. Blair Clemo

Utility Shift by A. Blair Clemo

Machine Ravine by Jason Hackett and Utility Shift by A. Blair Clemo

Machine Ravine by Jason Hackett and Utility Shift by A. Blair Clemo

As I began to work up to the install date, the pots I initially planned in my proposal began to get buried in my sketchbook. These first pots were based on the proposal itself, my interpetitation of the Time prompt we had given ourselves. I hadn’t really considered Jason’s work in that initial planning, we each deal with the concept of time in different ways, that was the strength of the exhibition afterall. But as the show date moved closer, drawings began to pepper my sketchbook that seemed foreign to my regular studio production. I began to notice little Hackett-isms peek into my work, wall hanging plates, stacked plates and things being cut and assembled. As the work for Time came out of the kiln, I gained a new definition and appreciation for collaboration.

Commemorative Set (Mesa, Basin, Mitten, Moon) by Jason Hackett

Commemorative Set (Mesa, Basin, Mitten, Moon) by Jason Hackett

Timeline by A. Blair Clemo

Timeline by A. Blair Clemo

Although outside of what I would typically describe as a collaboration, Time was collaborative to me in the truest sense. I was responding to another contemporary artists work, translating some of the tactics they employ to communicate my own thoughts on a shared theme. Through the work of another I saw new possibilities previously unconsidered in my own work, things that I likely would not have seen otherwise. I was given new permission to stretch how I think of pots given the fresh context that my work found in Jason’s sculpture.

This has been one of the most informative bodies of work I have made in recent years. It was aligned with my regular practice, but forced me to engage with another artist’s work on a deep level. It challenged me to plug new approaches into my practice to see how they fit. My definition of collaboration has been stretched by this experience, and Jason and I are searching for that next prompt that will connect our work even deeper.