Construction & Collaboration

in conversation with Miriam Mallalieu

PS first met Liam J McLaughlin and Miriam Mallalieu while they were building their separate installations for the Hidden Door Festival 2014, Edinburgh. Though installing in spaces situated on opposite ends of the site, their construction heavy work would often see the couple walking back and forth between spaces to lend a hand on the others’ project. Especially demanding being Liam’s life-size maze of blackened corridors built inside the festival’s largest artist space.

We cross paths again this month after somehow managing to convince them to work together on a project for the launch of our new monthly event, PARADIGM. Travelling up from their current base in Herefordshire where they’re renovating a family home, Miriam jokes that the project ‘has been fraught’ (it is the first time they’ve worked together on a project).

Although the smaller scale project of making temporary work will inevitably require a somewhat less ambitious approach to previous projects, their high level of creative consideration, and the craftsmanship of their processes will no doubt lead to an exciting and encompassing interpretation of space. Giving us little more than the promise of a ‘collaborative video installation’ piece to go by, we can’t wait to see what they’ll be bringing on Saturday for install.

We asked Miriam a couple of questions about their work and how they have been finding the process…

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So, do you guys have much experience in collaborative work in the past? How do you find the process, and how have you got along working together for this project?

We have not really collaborated before. I think that people assume that we’re collaborating when they see us setting up shows together because we work really closely together. We share a studio and discuss our work throughout our creative practice, so when it comes to actually setting up we both have a very clear idea of what the other person is trying to do and we end up making a lot of the last decisions together. I think that because of this, we had thought that it would be quite easy to make a piece fully collaboratively. It was, however, surprisingly difficult. There is a really big difference between questioning each other’s ideas and negotiating a collective practice. Our work has always been quite different and it was strange to suddenly look objectively at the other person’s work and decide where our practices overlap.

How do you think working in collaboration with other artists helps you to understand more about your own creative practice?

I think that we both felt like our awareness of our own practice was increased during the process. We both feel as we work through projects that each one is almost self-contained, individual. Both of us worry that there is little distinct style that links one project, or body of work, with another. Collaborating made us both make decisions that were unusual or that felt slightly unnatural, which led us to identify patterns that we use sort of unconsciously when we are making work. These patterns made me feel like my work isn’t anywhere near as disparate as I sometimes feel it is and that there are definite perimeters that I set myself. I think that this collaboration has made me more confident about my work to date, but also has opened up possibilities in my creative process.

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What impact does the exhibition space have on the work that you eventually produce?

I think that the exhibition space has always held much more relevance for Liam’s work than for mine. He likes to play with space – alter it so it is surprising or disorientating for the viewer, and this is a vital part of Liam’s work. He tends to collect information through photography and film, but it is only once he has decided on a floor plan or a mode of presentation, that he actually formalises his media into finished films and images. He creates the space, and then creates the work specifically to fit the space.

My working method tends to be a lot less organised. I like to work towards an idea of what a show will like look, and I use that idea as a sort-of goal but it changes constantly, and I don’t think I ever really take it seriously. While I might pretend to myself that I know what I am making, I rarely have a clue until very near the end when I start to really think about the work in the space and how I want it to be seen. Unlike Liam, I don’t usually change the exhibition space. I tend to change my work to fit the space, to slide my work quite unobtrusively into an exhibition. It is always in the final step when I am considering my work within the space that my work changes, almost beyond recognition a lot of the time, so I suppose in that way the exhibition space is hugely influential in my work. I just don’t really think about it for eighty percent of the process.

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Has the ‘night-club’ setting of PARADIGM informed your decision making at all?

The night-club setting of PARADIGM has been really influential in the way that we have made this project. The artwork might be secondary for a lot of people (unlike those visiting an art gallery for instance) so we felt pressure to make work that was perhaps more immediately striking or engaging. Liam was also keen to continue his theme of work that is somewhat uncomfortable or uneasy for the viewer, but when we looked at the techniques he usually uses- darkness, loud noises or strobe lighting for instance- we saw that these are commonplace in night-clubs and would not have any of the same effects as when placed in an art gallery. Another big consideration was the install time. In the past, especially for Liam’s work, we have installed over a few days, making structures that are semi-permanent. For this show, we will have only a couple of hours, and are making something that will only be shown for one night. It will be really refreshing to make something so transient for a change.

What can we expect for Saturday night?

It is hard to say really, neither of us have made anything like this before so how it will turn out will be a bit of a surprise for us as well!

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