Edwards + Johann
Interviewed by Philip Auslander
Edwards + Johann are Dr. Victoria Edwards, a New Zealand-born artist, and Ina Johann, who emigrated from Germany to New Zealand. They have worked together in Christchurch, NZ since 2007. Dr. Warren Feeney, Director, Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand commented in 2009:“The work is conceptually rigorous and resolute in its integration of ideas, processes and materials. In particular the work of both artists gives primacy to the exploration and testing of ideologies about the making of art, in practices that are grounded in the detail and activities of the environment in which they work, socialize and live.”
Tell us a bit about how you came together, since each of you also has an established career on her own?
We met in the 90’s in an arts education environment just after Ina and her husband immigrated to New Zealand. We shared many senior student critique sessions and engaged in collaborative institutional exchange/exhibition projects both nationally and internationally.
We both left teaching around the same time to work full time in our practice. Responding to the isolation artists invariably feel in studio bound practice; we decided to support each other with discussion and feedback sessions on the work we produced as individuals. We were also interested to extend our sphere of activity, as we had both previously collaborated with artists, writers, musicians and poets.
What is the relationship between your collaborative works to each of your individual practices? What do you get from working together that you don’t get from individual projects?
Edwards + Johann is a sub brand, related but separate. We also operate as individuals and have done so for many years. The creative collaborative overlap formed from the aggregate of our individual practices, creates a new energized space of potential. 1+ 1=3. Collaborative energy and activity raises interesting questions around sole authorship and the ‘singular creative genius’.
Our collaboration allows us to each work to our strengths and is based on ‘ludic’ play and process. Humor is an essential aspect of our engagement. All-inclusive critical discussion is embedded in the development and production of our work together. Cut through is spontaneous and direct enabling us to compact the work development time and free us to give attention to the per formative, interactivity and residency aspects of the collaboration. We challenge and inspire each other.
Could you say a bit more about the specific imagery and motifs that arise in your collaborative graphic work, and perhaps a bit more about how two people go about creating graphic works together?
Our collaborative practice is like a research laboratory. We do site/subject related research, share experiences, throw ideas around, and immerse ourselves in the diversity of the material. We assess our visual note taking and start making stuff.
These layers of activity and engagement feed into processes like drawing and printmaking. Imagery is drawn from a diverse range of sources (including our performative activities, found materials and other graphic mark-making from our individual mark-making repertoires). We both have a background in printmaking from way back, which we believe, for us, translates into a like minded approach to visual activity.
What is the relationship of the performance and installation work to your collaborative work in other media? Are they all aspects of a single general project or do you use different media to get at different things?
Performative activity is one of the methodologies we use to explore, define and activate a site/space. Our interventions mark it (as a dog spots), record it, engage with it and personalize it. We harness the tension created in and around our body dynamics and the site as we perform. We bring in other elements (e.g. string/tape/objects) and engage with them so they become part of the action creating an inter-active drawing in space. In a public performance, these devices draw the audience in and blur the boundaries between the observer and the observed, work and life.
Yes, we agree different media do deliver different things. We fluently work between media and our diverse work processes feed into each other. It is a fluid process of investigation and always includes drawing in its broadest sense, yet we often start with performance activities and still photography. The project framework influences the process, but the work directs its outcome.
As a fan and scholar of popular music I find your use of song titles from the 60’s intriguing. In part because they speak of certain aspects of the work you do together (in part, of the tension of collaboration) but also in part because of the cultural associations they evoke. Please comment.
Our titles can be an eclectic mixing and matching, re-takes, much like dj-ing.
References in them allude to the breadth of our research and often touch on a particular aspect of the project.
For example the title for a show in Auckland/NZ in August 2009: I’ll be your mirror – one of us cannot be wrong [the first phrase is the title of a song by the Velvet Underground, the second of one by Leonard Cohen—ed.] (Gilles Bouquillon referred to it in his video piece), links us to individual as well as collaborative enterprises past and present. The series of photographic parings are like duets, where we both play an individual part, yet the visual language in each diptych creates a third space.
I’d like to ask another question about this. Anyone who knows popular music recognizes these titles as references to rather iconic figures: Nico, the Velvet Underground (and, by extension, Andy Warhol and Lou Reed), and Leonard Cohen, as well as the North American music scene of the mid-1960s. What do these cultural evocations mean to you, or are you primarily attracted to the implications of the phrases themselves?
We are aware of all these references. They of course potentially open up another framework and cultural context. In this particular body of work it’s the implications of the phrases themselves (and their historical reference to forms of collaborative practice.
Since our readers can see your online performance at Château de Padiès please tell us something about it, its themes, imagery and genesis. It seems closely related to other work you’ve done. Is it a performance you have done before or is it site specific or portable? What specific meanings did it take on in that specific performance context?
The Padiès performance was a unique, site-specific piece and was a culmination of our month long residency at Château Padiès. It could be viewed as a summing up of the day’s energies and focus. It was a thank you to all present; homage to Denis Piel and Elaine Merkus for the fantastic time we spent together sharing ideas, intense work related discussions, rich and elaborate meal times and much laughter.
Our materials to construct costuming for the two characters were sourced from local Emmaus outlets and various Vide Greniers [similar to garage sales or flea markets—ed.] in the area, which we pillaged. The elements for the performance were all there: the audience, the performers E+J and the installation Notations on a visit: Ghost and Hydrangeas in the attic. Vintage historic postcards were dealt interventions and gifted to audience participants during the performance. Brushes and other anthropomorphic objects were crafted from local materials harvested during our residency and became part of the installation. For example, the materials for the sack characters on the floor in the space we retrieved form the attic, were printed with the name Lilly Fabre (the second of only three owners of the Château since 1209). This performance facilitated connectivity. It linked us all in a very human way and gave us all a collective, lived experience.
Given that your collaboration is relatively new, where do you see it going? What projects do you plan to undertake in the near future and what are your aspirations for the work you do together?
In 2010 our focus is on international residency and exhibitions opportunities secured to date. We will return to Padies in May 2010 for an exhibition and continue on to Scotland where we have been invited by the Scottish council to be the International artists in residence for the month of June. We will also present a workshop and talk about our collaborative work. New work will be generated from these experiences, which in turn will generate further engagement. After all it is the fundamental nature of our practice and the potential for engagement is huge.
Curiosity and interest in our collaborative work continues to grow. No doubt this will lead to all sorts of opportunities we cannot imagine at this point in time. Our work raises more questions than it does answers. Edwards + Johann is about being human and living in this world. We celebrate and explore difference. We engage – expose - connect.
Philip Auslander is the Editor of The Art Section.