Interview by Melanie Letore
Published May 2016
YAKA Collective work in Glasgow and have a practice which balances curating and art making. Through collective contribution they create exciting exhibitions across the city of Glasgow.
In 2014, for your first project as a collective, you curated a show featuring 30 recently graduated artists. In 2015, your second project was a member’s show, and your third project a collaborative show involving all YAKA members creating a singular exhibition. Was this progression anticipated or did it happen naturally?
It happened naturally. Our first show SO IT IS came about through a strange order of getting venues, realising we needed more people to organise the show, and then forming a collective - it was a chain of events.
When we got the venues, we decided to do a group show by inviting artists and having an open call. Our intention was to have a broad spectrum of artists who had graduated from Fine Art, Architecture, BAs, MAs… We chose to make it an emerging artists show and invited artists who graduated between 2010 and 2014.
White Mountain, Installation Shot with Cablecar, Intermedia Gallery, CCA, Dec-Jan 2015/16 (Pavel De)
Going through applications started our collective consciousness, as we realised we had strong similar interests. The selection and curation process set the kind of work we were interested in and a path ahead for the work we wanted to make as a collective. For example, when curating SO IT IS, we became very conscious of the space and how pieces worked with the architecture or with one another, rather than focusing on the more theoretical side of each work. We were so focused on inviting other artists and trying to incorporate other people in the exhibition that after the show, we wanted to reflect on our collective, to ask how we would move forward with it, and to think about how our own practices could work in relation to each other. We hadn’t worked as a group before that, but it did show us that we were really good at working together. We are lucky that we share these similar interests and have created a strong bond, which we want to continue.
It’s interesting that you use the word “luck” and that you keep saying that none of this would have happened if it had not been for early logistical difficulties. Do you think it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t had that exhibition, that you wouldn’t have naturally started being interested in each others’ practices a bit more?
It is unlikely. We wouldn’t have had a reason to start a collective. We didn't think we needed one, and we would never have wanted to curate. Obviously, we know of other artists forming collectives, but we didn’t see that we could form a collective or that we could collaborate in that sense. At school there was a mutual respect, but we hadn’t specifically worked together. And a lot of us were focused on Degree Show.
When having initial conversations with WaveParticle, a Glasgow-based arts organisation that facilitated the venues for SO IT IS (the Briggait, Laurieston Arches, Laurieston Church and The Arena), a few of us went together. We had a gut feeling that we liked each other’s work, and that was the initial pull.
When did you decide to get a studio together and do you think it changed your practice?
We got a studio around the same time as the SO IT IS show. Again, things progressed naturally. We were already meeting every week to organise the upcoming exhibition, so getting a studio together was as important as the show for us. There’s only so much you can do when you meet at one table and discuss for a few hours here or there. That unique opportunity of the Phoenix Bursary allowed us to be there often and be more acquainted with one another as artists and also as organisers. The studio became a really professional, active environment where we could give each other feedback on individual works and its progress. From that grew mutual respect and support, and we developed the confidence and comfort to ask: “What do you think of this? Can we discuss this? Can you read over this?”
I guess it also adds continuity because you’re not always there all at once, your practices start overlapping a little bit as you see each other’s work develop. It also takes the formality out of the meetings.
We definitely feed from each other’s suggestions and ideas, aspects one wouldn’t necessarily have thought about previously. But it happened almost in stages as we moved out of the Whisky Bond and hunted out our own place. Our new studio became entirely our own space where we felt we could do what we wanted and have the space to make it.
Do you see the acquisition of a studio space and the generation of collaborative work as directly correlated? Would you have anything to add to your previous answers?
We don’t know how we would be able to do it without a shared studio, especially with the scale of our projects - they would have been impossible to make and develop if we hadn’t been in the studio together. Also, the way our conversations naturally progress definitely correlates with how we work; we don’t organise first and then manufacture. Conversations make the studio very important, as much as the presentation in the exhibition space.
For Black Hole, we each made different works towards the encompassing theme, but we were aware of each other curatorially - this ultimately fed into the developments of our individual works and how they would correlate with one another in the space. If we hadn’t had a studio, perhaps we would have needed a curator to tie it all together, otherwise the show would have lacked continuity and would have seemed slightly ‘bitty’.
For White Mountain, we migrated our studio with the following attitudes towards making into the Intermedia gallery for two weeks, this proves the importance of such a space for us. We definitely treated that gallery as a space of working - we moved half the studio and all our tools in there!
It was nice to continue our activity and energy that developed in studios into the gallery space, rather than delivering and presenting an already finished object in a sanitised space. It takes a good step back from SO IT IS, where all the participating artists brought their works and we curated them accordingly. On reflection, we feel that there’s a detachment to that process, a sort of delivery process from artist to curator. Blurring those lines and roles for Black Hole and even further for White Mountain seemed like a much more natural and comfortable progression.
You said that you brought the whole studio into Intermedia to work on White Mountain, did you feel that was more adequate to your practice as a collective? Did you prefer or did you see it as natural to progress away from working on your own in your studio to working all together on one project, how different did you feel that process was, and what did you gain from it?
We addressed Black Hole as a transitional show. It was a testing ground for more research-based work, and we also used it to assess and investigate what YAKA is and what it can potentially become. We couldn’t have gone straight from SO IT IS to White Mountain because we hadn’t explored merging our practices yet; we needed to have done Black Hole in order to make White Mountain. Black Hole was a way of going back to our individual practices and bringing them into the collective - sharing ideas, techniques and learning how to make work together. From the beginning, we were working towards the same theme, discussing our individual ideas and how they would correlate with one another. We decided to work together on the presentation and practicalities, for example, curating and making all the tables together. This served as continuity throughout the show; the individual works were brought together by our careful considerations in the presentation.
White Mountain, Installation Shot, Intermedia Gallery, CCA, Dec-Jan 2015/16 (Pavel De)
And I guess it was the first time that you were actually making objects together. For SO IT IS you worked together on the brochure, and website, but this is the first time you were all hands-on.
That’s the moment we set more trust in each other as makers. It made us realise we all had the same idea and were striving towards it. Black Hole was more theoretical than practical, whereas for White Mountain, we developed a practical “hive mentality”. As individual artists, we all have quite ambitious ideas that are heavy on the making side of things. These ideas tend to grow into large-scale, expensive and time-consuming projects, and after Black Hole, we realised that if we put all of this energy and dedication towards making something together, it could be amazing. Finally, it made so much sense to collaborate. We’re surprised it took so long for us to realise that, but in the end, it’s only three shows!
I am going to read you a quote: “art collectives do away with the one-artist-one-object model. […] undermine the cult of the artist as media star, dislodge the supremacy of the precious object” (Holland Cotter, “Collective Conscious”, NY Times, 2006). How do you see your individual practice compared to your YAKA work? It doesn’t seem like you have got an agenda.
We made a conscious decision not to have an agenda. There was a point ages ago where we thought, should we sit down and write some sort of manifesto? We felt that was the thing we had to do; there was a pressure to give reason for our actions. But we make work by exploring, so why would we try and make the collective something else when we, as in our own practices, remain open to what an artwork will become? We were just discussing that the idea of doing a solo show doesn’t really interest us, maybe because we’re not ready to do it. Having just graduated, we’re still finding our feet. We want to continue this exploration for as long as possible, and we think the collective is a great support for that.
So it’s something that you actually enjoy, the fact that you don’t actually know. You want to keep this as long as possible, and ideally never pinpoint exactly what it is you do.
As a collective or as artists, we don’t think we ever really want to know where we’re going, because to have that freedom is quite fundamental, isn't it? It’s so important to remain open to possibility and to not lay down rules. In our proposals and statements, we keep taking out more and more words because if we write something specific, we have to stick to it, and we want to be able to change constantly. In a way, we try to avoid words, because they linger…
We’re probably not going to come out with some conceptual work that’s very minimal, because it's just not us. Our process is making, and we’re open to whatever that exploration will entail. Referring to your quote, “dislodging the supremacy of the precious object” rings true, it simply doesn’t appeal to us. It’s the progression in making and working together in a democratic manner that’s most interesting. How seven individual voices can come together to create something that wouldn’t have been possible if we worked individually.
Black Hole, Project Room, October 2015 (Pavel De)
I remember going to see Black Hole and finding it difficult to identify who made each work. Do you like the fact that people don’t necessarily know who produced what?
That is something we wanted; even though we presented individual works, the show was a step towards thinking about ourselves as one. That's why we removed all the nametags, although perhaps we went too far – with Richard’s work, for example, the audience needed to know it was a time capsule, and a lot of people didn’t. We realised afterwards that the context should have been there for each work, but then again, we needed to do it to realise that. It was probably a reflection of how we felt as a collective, that each artist’s ego wasn’t important in such a context. The works stood for themselves and therefore it became a natural move towards collaboration. We were in the process of broadening the gap between us as artists and us as a collective – we wanted to show our works under one umbrella rather than a group show of seven artists.
How do you feel about your own individual practices now that you have YAKA as such a strong part of your practice?
We feel like we are letting our individual practices take a step back. We’re very excited about doing another project together and we don’t feel like we sacrificed anything in order to do White Mountain. The learning process with YAKA is invaluable. We have learnt from each other in terms of ideas, materials, applications… What we learn can only feed back into our individual practices later. Progressing in the early stages of an artistic career can be quite an insular process what with the continual sourcing of opportunities, writing of applications and of course, that sense of competition with all the other emerging artists who are striving towards the goal! Working as YAKA, more things seem possible, where ideas and their developments can progress quite fluidly, even in practical terms. YAKA is too good an opportunity not to make the most of it while the majority of us are in Glasgow.
It’s striking how you all resolutely describe yourselves very much as makers rather than writers. Do you think YAKA can function as a split entity?
We have already done so: Rachel was away in Iceland and Sam was away in Canada for their Phoenix Bursary that coincided with SO IT IS, and Richard is away right now. Those were still the early days when we had individual works. If we want to continue down the collaborative route, the balance of no agenda and our strong commitment towards YAKA will hopefully allow it to transform into something else which works with us being in different places.
We’ve been having discussions since White Mountain about what we want to do next. We want to work outside the gallery context, in more non-art environments. What we enjoyed the most about White Mountain was the process of making, and we had a strong impulse to transform the space. It made us realise that our interests lie in creating these constructed spaces and the objects that occupy it to form some sort of loose narrative or vision. Rather than viewing these objects as ‘precious’ we viewed them more as props with the potential to do something or be used in some way. That has led us to thinking about making a film.
Film is all about process: from initial ideas to storyboarding, making, filming, producing, editing. A film allows the work we make to be impermanent; things can be taken down and made into something else. White Mountain was a physically static work. Tactility in materials and spacial awareness were huge considerations in the installation, therefore the qualities of time and movement were brought through by people touching, investigating and exploring the space anew. But this sense of exploration from the audience can be either limited or contrived when working in a gallery space, your work will automatically be regarded as artwork and something of value - there is an overshadowing ‘respect’ from the audience and you need to indicate or give permission as to what can or cannot be handled. Making a film will let us jump past this confusing interaction with the audience and allow us to focus more on our interests in material quality, space and play through making, experimenting, props, movement, performance etc… The viewer can then explore these elements with us through the medium of film.
We’ve sort of decided that the film will take us a year or so to make, but in a collective you are more free as an artist to take on long-term projects with an unclear outcome.
As the interviewer, do you see that as fitting into the natural progression of things?
In a way yes, because of two reasons. The first one is that, as Tess said in your Deutschland Funk interview: “when you have finished an object, you let it go”. It’s almost as if you have very little attachment to what you produce. Once it's there, you seem to move on to something else, and in a way a film is insubstantial, it can travel to places without having to be dismantled.
There’s a certain preciousness around the object, which a film wouldn’t have. We have talked a lot about our interest in illusion and creating spaces. Through the camera, we could control what is seen and transport the viewer to another environment. We would also be keen to maintain our hand-made feel, which has been important since the beginning.
The second reason is: yes, it goes in the progression because it’s completely unexpected!
It was unexpected to all of us. Everyone got excited about the same thing. Apart from Sam, none of us have ever made a film. There’s a real honesty and naivety to how we work. Looking at the quote you brought, makes us realise that we have never felt the need to research any theory about collectives. It could be down to lack of time. But we enjoy that as well: discovering things almost by accident and learning by doing. It’s what draws us to the film, the fact that we don’t know anything about how to do it.
It's amazing that out of a group of seven, you’ve got seven amazing makers, you’ve got one member with experience in filmmaking, and a film is what you choose to make!
It has been like that the whole way, though. For White Mountain, we said: “let’s build a cable car! Life size, out of metal!” None of us knew how to do it.
We have a very childish excitement, which shouldn’t be brushed aside. Delving into theory and research can sometimes battle with that excitement. With YAKA there is a real opportunity to create something large-scale and difficult to make, and we’re all really motivated for it. When you tell someone else what you’re doing, they might think it's completely ridiculous. We’re very stubborn, so we persevere, but the few weeks before the exhibition opening we start thinking we should have listened to them.
At one point we’re going to feel like it’s a disaster, but that’s kind of the fun of it. We made all of White Mountain in three or four weeks. We don’t really know how we did it. It’s astonishing what you can create through panic and adrenalin; but you can’t sustain it.
Opening Preview at The Briggait, SO IT IS, November 2014.
The filming process is addressing that as well, because for this project, we’ll set our own deadlines. We know now that we are quite ambitious, so we’ll need to work on our project with a practical head in terms of funding and time. A film is an opportunity to show work outside of Glasgow in an affordable way. It’s quite exciting to think that it could be accessible on all sorts of platforms, and that it could be shown somewhere that really suits the work.
YAKA Collective are based in Glasgow. Recent exhibitions include White Mountain, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, Black Hole, Glasgow Project Room and SO IT IS, The Briggait/Laurieston Arena/Laurieston Arches/ Caledonia Road Church, Glasgow.
If you like this why not read our interview with Roos Dijkhuizen
© 2013 - 2018 YAC | Young Artists in Conversation ALL RIGHTS RESERVED