In early summer 2020, during the most stringent period of lockdown in the UK, we decided to offer the artists we work with at Eames Fine Art the chance to embark on a special project: one that would allow them to connect with each other and to encourage them to work in a new way.
We were reminded about a conversation we had with some of the members of the 26 writing group the year before. We worked with 26 in 2017 on a project called 26 Prints, and we have all been keen to work together again. We were looking at ways to pair writers with artists, and to set them a creative challenge to work on together.
We invited a group of artists from amongst those we represent at Eames Fine Art and writers from 26. Normally we would have met up for an evening of drinks at the Eames Studio for everyone to meet and discuss the project. But during lockdown this initial meeting had to be done over a large online Zoom meeting instead.
All 58 creatives who had signed up for the project met for the first time online on a balmy June evening. Names of the participants were pulled from two hats to randomly pair artists with writers. It was a strange but delightful experience; during our own isolation to see so many people joining for a common cause, meeting, even if only virtually, to embark on this new creative journey together.
After the introduction they were given each other’s email addresses and asked to make contact. At their own pace they then began to discuss their experiences of the lockdown and all it meant to them, especially places that had a strong resonance for them. The hope was that by sharing their stories, they would find a place, either specific or general which was common to both of them. Once this ‘common place’ was decided and they had swapped their experiences, memories, descriptions and knowledge about this place, the artist would create an artwork and the writer would write a poem about their shared common place.
The writing was limited to what the 26 group have termed a ‘sestude’. A sestude is 62 words long (26 backwards) and can be poetry or prose. Apart from the word count and a small plea for the artists not to create anything too large due to space constraints in our gallery, we gave everyone pretty much free rein to do what they liked with their response.
These relationships grew in ways that hadn’t been imagined at the beginning of the project. This was an incredible experiment where strangers shared intimate, moving stories about their past, their dreams, frustrations, and longings for more freedom. Friendships formed, creative collaborations were established, and provoking, often poignant artworks and poems resulted.
An exhibition of all 29 pairs of work will be hosted at the Eames Fine Art Print Room in winter 2020. We also asked some of the contributors to keep a brief video diary of their experiences and these have been woven into a film that has been made about the project which is available on the Eames Fine Art website.
Speaking with several artists and writers – I’m delighted to hear about how successful the project was in terms of working in a new way. Many artists are not used to collaborating with someone else at all – let alone with a writer. The idea of collaborating on a project at the very time we were all feeling most isolated was liberating and exciting but also comforting. Some of the most interesting stories we’ve heard are from people who ended up speaking for hours to each other and where real friendships were formed.
What is so thrilling about the results is how differently each couple has interpreted the idea of a Common Place, and yet it’s clear to see how each place holds so much importance for them. We have works based on a wide variety of places: from the specific such as Hackney Marshes, Borough Market, an ancient burial site in Pembrokeshire, Dursey Island… to the less specific such as open air swimming, contemplations on the moon, a favourite place to work, a beach at dusk, walking amongst trees, an idea of home… the list goes on and on. Once we read about each pair’s chosen place it felt as though there had been nothing random about the selection – the common places they found were clearly so perfectly matched. We mused about how this project might have turned out if the pairings had been different, and of course, ultimately I’m sure they would still have worked just as well – this is the beauty of the project – we realise how much we do have in common with each other once we start to share ideas and communicate.
Many people told us how the process was almost therapeutic – discussing something quite personal and intimate with a complete stranger, then finding a common ground together. I think it was an experience that made many people feel less isolated and part of a much larger community where we still have so much in common despite living our lives temporarily apart and in isolation.
This project is about connection and collaboration; about being creative and expanding our world during a time of isolation and constraint. The relationships that formed were intense and meaningful, the experience of working with someone new was inspirational, and the results exciting, poignant and above all uplifting.
Rebecca Eames, November 2020