"There is no battle of ego. We bring complementary skill-sets to the work, share similar sensibilities, and enjoy the freedom from self-imposed parameters that come with a solo practice."
Could you tell us a bit about yourselves? How long have you been a practicing artist, and where did you both study?
Jeff: I was born and raised in Central Illinois. I’ve been a practicing artist since earning my MFA in Painting from Illinois State University in 2011. Currently, I split my time between Chicago, where I live with my partner, and Springfield, where I work as an educator, curator and artist.
Allison: I received my MFA in Sculpture from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana in 2003. I am originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After Indiana, I lived in Utah and then Minnesota before settling in Springfield, Illinois where I have lived with my husband for the past eleven years. I have been a practicing artist working in sculpture and installation since 2003, and I have been cultivating an independent curatorial practice for about the past five years – since 2012.
What is it like working as an artist duo? How did you two meet and in what way do you feel it effects the work?
Allison: We both work at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) where we were paired together through our respective professional roles at the UIS Visual Arts Gallery. Jeff is the Gallery Director and I am the Exhibitions Manager. It’s funny to look back because when we started working together, I’m sure neither one of us could have imagined a collaborative practice emerging nor the extent to which our collaborative efforts would grow. We both got really excited by the exhibitions we were producing and the artists we were working with at UIS, and we worked very well together. There was a shared investment and enthusiasm. Eventually we grew our administrative and curatorial collaboration beyond UIS when we launched DEMO Project, an artist run space. We were gelling so well as collaborators in that capacity, so from there we decided to experiment with a studio collaboration.
Jeff: Our first collaborative exhibit was very materials-based and abstract. A lot has changed since that first effort. We have cultivated a collaborative portfolio that deviates from our respective independent studio practices and is truly born from collaboration. We rely a lot on digital fabrication and digital imagery, and some recent projects have been experimental, incorporating our administrative and curatorial history by organizing a number of artists to intervene or contribute to our installations in different ways. We have become interested in our own work serving as a venue or outlet for other artists, and how that manifests as a work of art.
Allison: We have found it surprisingly effortless to work collaboratively. And we work together constantly; we still work at UIS, are still heavily involved with steering DEMO Project, and since 2015, we have presented seven collaborative exhibits.
Jeff: The usual hang-ups that might prevent others from collaborating just aren’t issues for us. There is no battle of ego. We bring complementary skill-sets to the work, share similar sensibilities, and enjoy the freedom from self-imposed parameters that come with a solo practice.
You both also run a space called DEMO Project, based in Illinois. Could you tell us a bit about this project and how it started?
Allison: Early on in our working relationship at UIS, it became clear that we both shared a desire to launch an experimental artist-run project space in our community that shed instructional constraints. The Springfield Art Association, the community visual arts center in Springfield, offered us a space: a small bungalow on their campus that had been relegated as storage space. It was perfect. We recruited a team of like-minded partners, transformed the space into a gallery, and started programming in 2013. Artists that have shown with us have come from all over the country, which has been remarkable considering the scale of our operation as well as our location.
The space is an incredible exhibition venue because it offers the sterility of a traditional gallery space but still retains architectural features that identify it as a former domestic space. Artists have responded to the site in vastly different ways.
Jeff: The space has been ours to use completely free of charge, but since its inception, we have known that the space is slated for demolition – hence the name DEMO Project. The demolition of the space is finally coming into focus and will take place in early 2018. Right now we are working through ideas to consider the different ways we might fulfil the project, and to see that the long-anticipated demolition is realized as a project in itself.
DEMO has left an indelible mark on our studio collaboration. The act of organizing exhibits in this space, in a city that had lacked a consistent presence of contemporary art, and seeing our community disarmed by the domestic setting – it has definitely opened up some pathways of thinking for us.
What artwork have you seen that has resonated with you both?
Allison: One of the first shows we worked on together at UIS was a controversial exhibit from the Chicago-based collaborative Industry of the Ordinary. A component of their performance and resultant time-based work, Guns and Butter, led to over 200 lbs. of butter gradually melting onto our gallery floor at UIS. Jeff and I were very new colleagues, and we really had to rally together in defense of the work and to manage the fallout. There were a lot of complaints about the “toxic” butter and butter smell, and we ultimately had to close the show a week early. I have always felt like this project launched our partnership and that the collaborative Industry of the Ordinary inherently pointed us in the direction of our own collaborative work. It was great to bring Guns and Butter to UIS and to spark such a reaction, but the whole ordeal fed into our perspective that Springfield, in addition to an institutional contemporary art gallery, needed an alternative, experimental gallery. One where something like melting butter is not only welcome, but expected. So yes, Industry of the Ordinary launches a thousand ships for us.
Jeff: We continue to find ourselves influenced by the artists we work with through UIS and DEMO Project. Too many names to count. Artist Sage Dawson exhibited at DEMO and her work offered such a thoughtful and poetic response to the fate of DEMO. Her site-responsive work left an impact on us. Also we get really excited about the work of Betsy Odom. She was our first artist at DEMO and she set a high bar for our programming. She offers a very keen sensibility when it comes to craft and material, and her work is really conceptually sophisticated. She will be returning to DEMO on our fourth birthday – and one of our final shows – to show with Rafael E. Vera. They will be exhibiting collaborative works and we are really excited for that show. We really admire both of them.
Tell us a bit about how you both spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
Jeff: There is defiantly a lot of sprawl when it comes to where we work. The nature of each project often steers where and when we work, be it a site-responsive work, large scale installation, or an experimental exhibit that involves other artists. In the initial ideation of works, we head to less typical settings; we remove ourselves from the “formal” studio intentionally and head to coffee shops, restaurants and bars to have preliminary conversations about our ideas in a casual setting. This lends to a fluidity in our exchange as notes and sketches pile up on the table around us. We consider these sessions as taking place at a mobile studio where the trajectory for our work solidifies.
Allison: When it comes the actual production of the work, we retain a kind of mobility. And a flexibility. There isn’t any one site that we exclusively rely on. Sometimes we work at the studio facilities available to us at UIS or we work in a large studio space available to us at my residence. We have, at times, used one of our empty gallery spaces as studio space and Jeff will work anywhere with Wi-Fi and an outlet on digital files. Sometimes, it really feels like we work all over the place. We even consider the installation process as a final stage and vital component of our studio production.
Jeff: And just as organizing experimental programming at DEMO has influenced our work, so has this kind of experimental and flexible studio structure.
How do you go about naming your work?
Jeff: The process of arriving at a title for our work can be as variable as everything else we do. We always ultimately strive to arrive at titles that reinforce the conceptual underpinnings of our projects, but how we arrive at each title exhibits a different approach. There have been times where we begin with a title. There will be something we hear or say in conversations with one another, and we file it away as a title to consider or work with later. In those instances, the work and all of the visual and material decisions grow out from that title.
Allison: Sometimes the work comes first.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
Jeff: We are currently artists in residence at ACRE in Steuben, Wisconsin. It is our first residency together as a collaborative and we will have an exhibition that is a result of this residency at some point in 2018. We are also developing a site-responsive project for the Terrain Biennial in the Oak Park neighborhood of Chicago that will take place in October 2017. The Terrain Biennial is an outdoor exhibit where homes serve as a venue, and artists work with front yards and porches to develop contemporary works.
Allison: We are also working with the Terrain organizers to develop our own community as a site for the Terrain Biennial. Enos Park, the neighborhood where DEMO Project is located, will serve as an ancillary site. We have secured a number of sites in the neighborhood and we are working to secure curators and artists to exhibit works throughout the neighborhood.
All images courtesy of the artist
Publish date 01/08/2017