Collaborations are strange beasts. Two independent people, with independent practices, come together to shape a common idea, with a unified will to participate in a shared process that encapsulates the essence of their own individual workings and separate outputs. And through this process they desire to create collectively something wholly new, wholly unique, that could not have been produced without the involvement of the two together.
Frequently, these collaborations focus on the process itself. How the two came together; when the two first started talking, and then perhaps tentatively put a toe – or two – into the water of negotiation and collaboration; working out a methodology for action, a process of constructive debate, suggestion of ideas; and the final and practical realisation of a process culminating in the completed work. Often, the process is analysed, discussed, and dissected to the point of total exhaustion, and beyond. Is it to easy to place too much emphasis on this part of the project? Is there a point of clarity, of purity, and distillation that is arrived at through the process of critical mutual examination, which would not be reached without this intense scrutiny? Or can the talking overwhelm the finished work? And what, if any, does the impact of this process have on the final exhibition and its ongoing evolution? How much is all of this reflected in the work?
I reflect on these topics as we wait in anticipation for the 16th Sydney Biennale, curated this year by Artistic Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev under the banner Revolutions – Forms that Turn. Christov-Bakargiev suggests that, as with many things, this Biennale is about changing perspectives, turning things on their head, seeing things from a different point of view. In the societies worldwide and the times in which we now live, this is not always so easy to do. Media, time, place and technology all conspire with speed, offering us bite-size comestibles on a plate, ensuring that a subject’s complexity is unlikely to be appreciated in the limited time that it is flashed before our eyes. So, she suggests, you have to de-functionalise the object as an aesthetic strategy, removing the use value of something to help us see it afresh, allowing new avenues and new possibilities to appear.
This, I feel, is at the nub of the collaborative process and outcome of Susan Jacobs and Andrew Hazewinkel. This project is revolutionary in a personal sense as well as the phenomenological sense. Many believe that change – particularly political change - can only occur at the meeting point of psychoanalysis, the psychology of perception, and public politics – where the “personal becomes political”. If this is true, then it is necessary to look first at the personal and singular to understand the shifts of broader change. Central to this endeavour are issues of phenomenology - the structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view – the body moving in space, and the construction of form and experience through movement. The evolution of a process, and the final elements of a work both require displaced perception, and therefore, change – or revolution.
It is rather wilful to ascribe the term ‘sensibility’ to an organization, but I have always seen Conical as an entity imbued with an emotional capacity. Appearing as a type of soft machine, with its internal organs and nervous system not particularly well concealed, sensitivity is instrumental to its operation. As an apparatus that is part machine and part organism it requires both manhandling and quiet cultivation to mould itself around specific situations.
In 2001 the space consisted of a single expanse made up of two distinct interiors, each with its own history – one Victorian and one light industrial/modern. A partial white cube was constructed encroaching on a decaying Victorian room beyond, evoking themes of memory and erasure.
The readymade narrative inherent in the meeting of these two distinct architectural languages was emphasized – a framing that was prescribed by interests relating to my own practice. A particularly sensitized and personal site resulted.
In the ensuing development of Conical, a response to the notion of ‘publicness’ was required. An anxiety towards exposure, towards opening out (with its attendant structural systems) was experienced in this response. The potential of overwriting a personal sensibility – subsuming the individual into the egalitarian and the singular practice into the multifarious organization – became Conical’s fulcrum. Early projects such as Wayfinder (Cate Consandine and Nicholas Murray) and Pointform (Natasha Johns Messenger and Leslie Eastman) were acutely aware of Conical as both a prior artwork and a traditional system of public display. A sense of transference between artist and organization was evident in the occupation and expansion of an existing sensibility.
Andrew Hazewinkel, Susan Jacobs and I studied together at Victorian College of the Arts, beginning in 1999. Since then, we have maintained a close dialogue, finding parallels in our practices. Gordon Matta-Clark’s 1975 work Conical Intersect has been of ongoing interest to us, particularly in relation to repetitive cycles of progress and destruction. The work consisted of a circular cut that spiralled upwards, boring through the façade and interior of two condemned seventeenth century houses, becoming smaller in diameter as it torqued it’s way through. The construction site of the new Centre Pompidou immediately behind was visible through the hole. Pamela Lee has described this cone-like cut as akin to a telescope from the outside and a periscope from within. Lee refers to Walter Benjamin’s philosophical inquiry into juxtaposed images of past and present where “the then and the now come into a constellation like a flash of lightning”..
 Exhausted Nature is a collaborative project between Hazewinkel and Jacobs, yet it is very much an inside job, at one with the apparatus. Conical’s original premise – a pre-conceived set of conditions requiring response – is neither accepted nor rejected, rather, in Benjamin’s words, “the pastness of things is treated as a way to interrogate the foundations of progress.” Flip the cone and view from the large end or squint into an eye-size lens, either way, neither action is necessary here.