Quick Draw Artist Interviews are a series of interviews conducted by Otino Corsano using Facebook's IM Chat feature. Spontaneous conversations with international artists are recorded and documented specifically for publication on this blog.
Quick: Approaching. Stepping backwards to frame. Minor clash. The only other media is focusing. I step on her foot and she ribs my stomach. I grab her arm to recover and she pulls me back to balance. Coordination is not the center of our attention. Tonight we have more grave concerns. Like the monuments we are to manufacture; then present; before dismantling. Our drones are your command. Until further revealed. Draw: art about art.
VSVSVS (pronounced versus versus versus) is a seven-person collective including: Anthony Cooper, James Gardner, Laura Simon, Miles Stemp, Ryan Clayton, Stephen McLeod and Wallis Cheung. It is also an artist-run centre based out of a warehouse in the Portlands of Toronto, Ontario. Formed in 2010, their activities have encompassed collective art making, a residency program, a formal exhibition space, and individual studio practices. VSVSVS’ collective work focuses on the collaborative production of multiples, drawings, video works, sculpture, installations, and performance. An open framework allows each member to play to our their own interests and ends, while contributing to a common goal.
VSVSVS recently created a visual art installation customized for the Carlu to celebrate the 18th annual Canadian Art Gallery Hop Gala held on September 19th, 2013. They are also included in Micah Lexier’s “More Than Two (Let It Make Itself)” curatorial project currently on view at the Power Plant in Toronto till January 5th, 2014.
Chat Conversation Start
2 minutes ago
Hopefully you can gather around a central computer and use your FB account for the interview.
What is VSVSVS’ tel#?
Are we using your Facebook account or Laura's?
Vs has no phone
You really are orthodox.
7 more minutes and I'm ready to roll out this carpet.
Are you all set up?
Hola, We're all sitting around looking at a big screen right now.
We'll all answer from this account and just identify ourselves, if that's alright with you!
My apologies as I was typing to James' FB account earlier.
Happy you are all set and grateful for the Oz-environment.
You are kind hosts to accept my invitation to interview you all as a group.
No problem. We’ve made it comfy in here.
It was nice to find your table at the Canadian Art Gallery Hop Gala the other evening and finally have the opportunity to meet all members of VSVSVS in person.
You sincerely seem to get along quite well as a team.
Yeah, you're pretty lucky too.
We're talking about having stand-ins/impersonators go to all our events for us from now on. Just to be spooky.
I hear it is a popular technique among celebrities so why not?
We're working on masks.
Afterwards, I first had the opportunity to speak with Stephen McLeod in the Carlu’s Round Room where several VSVSVS works were exhibited and integrated into the Canadian Art Gallery Hop Gala event space.
Wondering if Stephen can recap our earlier conversation regarding the headset contraption linked to the topography of graphics projected onto the Judd-like primary plywood structures?
Possibly a fortuitous question since you are all currently viewing my thoughts from a data projector right now.
Basically we were interested in collecting and presenting bio data in direct relationship to the Canadian Art Gallery Hop Gala. We felt it made the most sense to use heart rate and EEG data as they correspond well to social anxiety in the context of a high stress event. (i.e.: a live art auction)
We were always aware and amused with the understanding of just how few people participate in an interactive piece. So we knew we wanted to create a reward for those who put themselves out there.
When was VSVSVS first contacted by the Canadian Art Foundation to discuss creating these artworks for the Gallery Hop Gala and how did you generally manage the project as a group?
Florida is typing...
It felt like a long time ago, it depends on whom you ask.
It definitely was one of the longer lead times we had for a project.
The project changed and mutated over the course of approximately 4 months.
The overall effect was streamlined and textural given the interplay of materials and the incorporation of a full range of media including interactive components, industrial design aesthetics, sound and light installation and signature wood-working forms.
This keyboard is terrible, so it's going to take a bit of time to type replies, sorry.
Disparate ideas were able to congeal into a coherent multi-facetted production.
We sat around our kitchen table a bunch.
It was nice to work at the Carlu and it was a great to have the support of Canadian Art Magazine and the Canadian Art Foundation.
Does the fact you all spend a great deal of time in the studio building affect the type of organizational structure involved in the management and production of VSVSVS art projects?
Florida is typing...
The living environment definitely affects the way we work. As Steve said, most of the planning happens around our kitchen table. Most of the hashing and re-hashing of ideas happens there or in other little units throughout the production process.
Since we're all around most of the time, there's a lot of mutation happening just because we're sort of always working, albeit pretty casually a lot of the time...
Do some individual members take on more supervisory roles to delegate responsibilities to ensure timelines are met or are you reconsidering these types of power relationships as a group?
Yeah, at first a lot of the ideas get laid down, yet once we get to work a certain amount of changes take place to accommodate the problems arising while making the work. It can be hard to make those executive decisions and be sure that everyone is on board; still, we try to keep everyone up to speed...
James, to a degree and possibly reluctantly, you seem to be considered the face of the group - at least in a public relations perspective and even possibly historically given the original plan to establish and organize a Toronto studio space for artists. True? Or is this one of the perspectives VSVSVS is trying to dispel?
I’m not sure how you got that impression. In fact it was more Ryan and Miles who found the space and took the lead to lock this place down, even if I had always wanted to have a place like VSVSVS.
We are really enjoying the process of working on these larger scale projects. There are so many individual voices and interests that it is difficult for everyone to be heard without this kind of scale. That being said, whatever project we work on, there is no leader and all decisions are made collectively.
Yes, we are pretty vehemently against the idea of any sort of leader.
This returns to the principles of our collective work and we are very, very, interested in not having a ‘boss’. All of our ideas are discussed amongst ourselves equally and we take great care to ensure everyone has an equal voice.
What key factors have contributed to VSVSVS' quick rise on the Canadian art scene? Is it the inherent "competitive" nature found in your collective's title?
Is this triplicate ‘versus’ notion ironic or not?
The ‘versus’ in our name doesn't refer to any outside competition. I always imagined it as an internal motivator. Any successes we achieve are only possible because we work together to drive each other forward.
But it has been joked/discussed the VSVSVS title refers to the micro/macro analogy of the larger art world, where artists are supportive of art production and development, but competitive and sometimes nasty about direction and details.
In my view, this collective strategy has been and is still a traditionally Canadian approach. It seems native to our country’s art production and dissemination.
Do you agree these group efforts involve our national and slightly socialistic sense of artistic equity?
Florida is typing...
In terms of whether artist collectives are a traditionally Canadian, we actually think of our organization in closer terms to Wu Tang's approach to collective vs. independent careering...
Are you being serious?
General Idea, Group of Seven, Les Automatistes, Painters Eleven, ChromaZone, Cold City Gallery, Persona Volare, Loop, WhipperSnapper, and the White House have pioneered or at least share your structure to a degree.
Red Head Gallery is twenty-three years strong with current shows by Elaine Whittaker, Margie Kelk's upcoming exhibition "SWARF" and participation at this year’s Toronto International Art Fair.
What distinguishes your collective from these precedents?
A lot of people keep trying to place us. There are certainly people organizing and producing art like us, and yes, there are tons of artists who have done this before; however, it’s not so much we just found this model and adopted it. More accurately, we were just a few people who wanted an artistic space to make things.
We have been lucky to have recently received significant opportunities and so Toronto has been really supportive. It is pretty cool being in Toronto right now as there are lots of people holding it down.
Does VSVSVS still draw academic links back to its origins developing from the University of Guelph's acclaimed Fine Arts program or are you trying to establish a new autonomy?
We are still connected to Guelph. We have been affiliated with G gallery and some of our members are still there on the board. We just recently connected with the FASTWURMS DMS lab as off site researchers.
Are you committed to developing as a collective entity? How do you see this collective progressing concurrently with your individual art practices?
We admire the collectives you previously mentioned, yet distinguish ourselves as an artist collective who create collaborative artwork. This work is in addition to our studio project housing our individual studios and also a curated front space playing home to our residency program. We just want to do a lot of everything all the time. We want to push ourselves.
I find that living and working together helps to create a balance between the personal and collective practices. While working in my own studio ideas for collective projects can be brought up and worked on and I can still somewhat cross-pollinate the idea. With so many of us involved, I find myself being pushed outside my comfort zone on collective projects.
Last time I visited your studio it was specifically to view The Whidden and René de Cotret VSVSVS Residency. It really was surprisingly spectacular.
And I'm not being sarcastic in the least.
Florida is typing...
Elinor and Julie are great people to have around, in addition to building a great couch-bull.
We really are proud of our residency program and that last show was amazing.
I truly find it remarkable as a group you are able to orchestrate these types of programs outside of trying to find food for yourselves.
It's a lot of work, and we all work other jobs.
A lot of people we talk to about our work presume we create art exclusively and I usually have to explain we also have day jobs.
Though we really do try to work as little as possible.
I've been conducting ongoing research on Warhol and I can't help draw comparisons to the Factory and how it did not evolve as first anticipated.
Does VSVSVS have an end game scenario planned out? Corporate visioning?
No real end game in mind. There are always short-term goals for VSVSVS to stay fun and keep us going. And of course, we always have daydreams about what we could do with new possibilities: new spaces, maybe a farm, even boat studios tied together floating around a lake somewhere.
Our endgame is perhaps just a little romantic: to just keep working together at least until we are old and grumpy. We would all probably stop collaborating if it was not fun or engaging; so as long as it is still happening for us I suppose we could work together indefinitely.
I think what has kept things interesting for us is the fact we are always changing. This lack of a clear self-definition helps us to respond to our changing circumstances and not get bored.
Do you have higher expectation of the art market to support the development of your phenomenal artistic growth as a creative team?
This whole art market thing seems rather irrelevant right now. We have always been interested in finding other ways of getting to do what we want to do.
There is a ton of really good people in the commercial scene in Toronto who we are getting to know. It’s not like we are against being able to make a bit of cash; nevertheless we will manage to keep making stuff regardless.
Is there a political undercurrent to the VSVSVS dialogue and collective vision akin to Tiravanija's "The Land"?
Your installation at the Carlu for the Canadian Art Gallery Hop Gala really accentuated subtle experiments with perception utilizing gem structures as soundboards. For example, the low drone tone at the elevator entrance was the perfect soundtrack to accompany the two arching obelisks structures guarding this zone. Were there collective objectives set for these site-specific works prior to the onset of production?
A lot of our planning emerged through working directly with the space of the Carlu and having our work be inspired and creatively compliment the incredible art deco designs of the unique event location.
The design of the obelisks came from this, but looking at art deco and seeing their influences and parallels to occultism and science fiction.
We were very interested in creating the subtle experiences and having these things act as an entrance to actually create a new environment, and hopefully set an initial state for the experience of the evening.
Historically obelisks were used to demarcate that sort of space.
The obelisks emitted a low delta wave frequency reducing anxiety and are even great for healing back pains.
Raising interest from sacred monuments?
Also the data taken by the two booths fed data on the central large plywood facades. These structures were based on the forms of a historical Pylon - the entrance to a temple - yet made of plywood. Mostly these structures are permanent, but we are working transitionally like nomads.
A couple of the parts from the show tap into some weird YouTube subcultures. i.e. Solffegio frequencies and the wonderful world of ASMR
Well I think you all delivered at the Carlu almost as well as Jay-Z dispatched at Pace. And staying with the aforementioned hip-hop metaphors I hope VSVSVS rises even further to find Laura Owens-like success.
Thanks so much for this great opportunity to speak with all of you.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss our practice.
And for the record, we aren't toooo sure about Jay-Z recent art performance.
Chat Conversation End