Two's Company: Celebrating Connection Through Creativity | Curated by Millie Norman

In romantic, familial, platonic and explicitly artistic spaces, creativity helps us to foster and strengthen our relationships. Speaking to a host of creatives and the yang to their yin, we celebrate and honour the mulitiplicity of ways connectivity nourishes art.



DANNY BIRCHNALL AND HESTIA LINFORD-ALLEN

Fashion designer Danny Birchnall and writer Hestia Linford-Allen are best friends from Norwich.


Danny and Hestia, 2019

WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?


DB: I’m Danny Birchnall and I’m a designer, working mainly with womenswear. My work is centered around themes of sexuality, fetish, and satanic imagery.

HLA: I'm Hestia Linford-Allen (I know it's a mouthful, Danny constantly feels the need to remind me). At the moment, I'm working on developing my writing as a creative outlet and I model for Danny's fashion collections.


WHEN DID YOU MEET?

HLA: We met the same way every wannabe-edgy couple in 2010s does...in Berghain.


DB: I met Hestia in Year 10 art class in high school. I remember we bonded during a trip to the Tate, in which we spent the day together. I left my assigned group to climb to the top with her to the viewing gallery, which she would later embroider for me as a gift of our first meeting.


Hestia, in clothes designed and made by Danny, 2019


WHAT INSPIRES YOU ABOUT THE OTHER PERSON?

  DB: Her knowledge. I could, and frequently do, sit and talk with Hestia for long stretches of time about everything, soaking up her vast information on politics, religion, history, literature, astrology - you name it, she knows something about it. Her irreverence - she could happily be alone with herself all day. And that she’s not afraid to just do it. Whatever it may be.


HLA: Danny has that rare personality trait where everyone either likes him or hates him straightaway, whereas I am always too scared to actually say anything at all. His confidence and determination is the thing that inspires me most about him. He's never afraid to speak his mind, which sometimes can be a problem - I live to argue - but I do admire that hugely in him.


Hestia, in clothes designed and made by Danny. Collection: 'The Devil Gave Birth in a Corset', 2020


HOW DO YOU COLLABORATE? WHAT DOES A CREATIVE RELATIONSHIP MEAN TO YOU?


HLA: It's always an ego boost to be labelled a 'muse' for Danny, even if from time to time a muse's requirements include treading through broken glass in Primark stilettos. To be a source of artistic inspiration for a person so talented is sometimes intimidating. The first time we shot together, I felt like I was in the presence of one of the greats, though I don't know who the greats are, exactly. It seems silly now that I was ever scared of someone who has impacted my life in ways I will never be able to repay.


DB: As well as being an incredible writer, to the point where I have her work tattooed on my body, Hestia is my muse. She is the muse for everything I do in fashion, every sketch is her, every dress is for her, I think of her when I design and she becomes the clothes. She also models the clothing when it is photographed. I remember our last shoot fondly - an hour drive to her father's house, 2 days, 6 hour shoots, 20 looks, freezing cold, the day before New Years. We drove home with the radio on and the heater on full whack. She fell asleep on the passenger-side. I feel warm when I think of this.


A creative relationship to me is one in which both counterparts are equal - she gets from me, I hope, as much as I get from her (in other ways obviously). There is genuinely no one I would rather be with than her. I mean that.


HOW HAS THE OTHER PERSON CHANGED HOW YOU CREATE INDIVIDUALLY?


HLA: As a writer, my work often centers around personal experience and documentation of the things that seem the most mundane about adolescence. Danny's influence has been that I am so much more open minded to things that I never thought were available to me. It's not as if we're having crazy nights in Vegas or anything, but his perspective has given me a hunger for life. He has made me exist in every moment.


DB: I’m no longer afraid. She has a way of talking in which your head could be on fire, and suddenly she makes everything okay again. I can see her and it all kinda just makes sense. Don’t get me wrong, I hate her guts sometimes, but she is genuinely my favourite person in the whole world, besides my mother, of course.


She just makes you think you can do it - not just think, know you can.



SUSAN MERRICK AND BARBARA TOUATI-EVANS


Multidisciplinary artist Susan Merrick and freelance artist and educator Barbara Touati-Evans are collaborators.


Collaborative performance 'Touch Cells' by Barbara and Susan as part of ACE funded project 'Detangling the Knots', 2019


WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?

SM: My name is Susan Merrick, I live in Aldershot in Hampshire but grew up in the North, near Hull. I'm a multi-disciplinary artist who does a lot of socially engaged work as research (conversation spaces). I then respond with performance and work to camera, making photos, film, considering spaces.


My main themes are language, power and access, and being a feminist, feminism underpins much of my work, constantly challenging me to try different approaches to my work. In 2019 I co-created the podcast Woman Up! with Desperate Artwives (Amy Dignam) in association with the Womens Art Library at Goldsmiths. I present and edit this podcast and, as such, get to talk to the most amazing women artists, writers, art historians and campaigners from across the globe! I have also spent the past few years running a socially engaged project called 'Statements in Semaphore', considering the hidden voices of women, how to access these and then make the voices more visible through my work. The work was kicked off by my frustration at realising the national archives had so many 'missing' voices of women. I initially did a performance on the external roof balcony of the National Archives building, using semaphore to signal out some of the words I had found written about suffragette women in prison, by male prison officers. The project grew from there.

BTE: I am Barbara Touati-Evans, a visual artist whose main practice is wool and crochet. I am interested in using crochet, a traditionally domestic craft, to make installations and sculptures that explore and collide with a variety of contexts, such as meditation, feminism and neuroscience. I like to engage audiences in tactile and surprising experiences. 


I live in a area of the country in Farnborough, Hampshire, part of Rushmoor Borough Council, where there is a rich craft culture at a private level, but where contemporary visual arts are not really represented publicly, so a lot of my work has been been about reaching out to the community through workshops and projects as well as developing connections with local partners.


This year, I have worked on a dance project called The Imagination Museum run by Made By Katie Green, where I made an installation following dancers. I have also done a yarn bombing (where you cover urban furniture with knitted/crocheted pieces) with local artist Gemma MacLennan in the main shopping Street in Farnborough and have run creative workshops for people recovering from mental health difficulties with the Recovery College NHS Trust. Of course, now that we are in lockdown, a lot of my projects have either been stopped or transformed. It really feels like a new completely new way of doing things, a new dimension.


WHEN DID YOU MEET?


BTE: A few years ago. Maybe a bit more. When Susan was in the middle of her MA in Fine Art and I was trying to connect with other contemporary artists in my area. I heard about her project 'Statements In Semaphore' through the Rushmoor Arts Hub. Since then, we have collaborated through a number of projects, her own and my own, particularly my current project 'Detangling The Knots'.


SM: Barbara contacted me and we met up at UCA in Farnham while I was doing my MA in 2017. We mainly came together as we wanted to challenge one-another's practice. Barbara's large scale wool sculptures were static installations and she wanted to introduce more performance and film work within them. So she invited me to interfere with them, with my live actions. My work felt a little lost at times, and I wanted very much to respond to someone else's practice so it felt like the ideal opportunity. Together we create these multi-faceted sculptural performances, sometimes to live audiences, sometimes in hidden or more private places. Sometimes recorded. Sometimes with footage and sound projected into the space too. We create and immerse ourselves in each others space, gently, softly, considerately, in response to the context of the space, environment or project that we are working on.


LEFT: ''Touch Cells'; RIGHT: 'Two Women', performance by Barbara and Susan, 2018


WHAT INSPIRES YOU ABOUT THE OTHER PERSON?


SM: Barbara has more patience than me. She considers things and is more gentle with her work. She makes things that can last, as well as things that can disappear or be taken away. My own work is often not as tactile, it's more digital or ephemeral. I love how when we work together it often becomes both tactile and ephemeral. Intimate spaces that can invite audiences to watch or even become immersed in. I am inspired by Barbara during the performances that we do too. As we move around the space, we are always aware of one another, in our peripheral vision, or simply just aware of the presence of the other person. The speed we work, the pace, the rhythm, where we go in the space, when we start, when we stop - it is all through our connection in that moment. So we are constantly inspiring or challenging each other.

BTE: I love Susan's energy and boldness. She is always up for trying something new, like spending time with neuroscientists at the University of Southampton for 'Detangling The Knots', or responding to live indie rock music for an experimental day festival organised by Forward4WizTrust. She is really good at reaching and communicating with people from all sorts of backgrounds, particularly in her commitment to making art accessible to people who are not from the art world. I have also been really inspired by her bravery to engage with emotionally strong subjects such as domestic violence. At a practical level, Susan has been really successful at attracting national funding from the Arts Council and I have been inspired to try that out. She is also very optimistic and resilient!

HOW DO YOU COLLABORATE? WHAT DOES A CREATIVE RELATIONSHIP MEAN TO YOU?


BTE: Our collaborations have mainly taken the form of exploring the merging and extending of our artistic practices, large scale crochet installations for me and performance/video for Susan.  Our collaborations have evolved over time.  The first time we collaborated was in an empty office space Susan was having a residency in. I wanted to respond to the space by making a 3 dimensional web and attach the pieces to the available surface. This was in the old post room and it had a sort of cage like structure. I showed Susan how to crochet using just the hands and she very spontaneously joined in the installation. It has been an organic process. Over the years, we have evolved our collaboration to different contexts and places: art galleries, a shopping centre, a rock gig, university labs.


'Detangling The Knots' is about dementia, where the knots are both the wool we use and the protein tangles observed by neuroscientists in the brain of people with dementia. We have both been very inspired by the idea of connections/disconnections between brain cells and connections/disconnections that can be made in perfomance and in installation. In November 2019, we performed Touch Cells at the John Hansard Gallery Southampton as part of the Human Worlds Festival. This was probably our most ambitious piece so far, in lots of respects - it was two hourS long, the space was quite large for us, we also used video and sound. We won the Creative Activity Prize for it.


The reason why  I am an artist is so can I choose the people who I work with. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. It 's about having the confidence to try but also to walk away if it's not right. A creative relationship is a place and space where you are both challenged and supported, where individual  energies can be harnessed to make something much bigger than the individual sum of its part. Different creative relationships have different energies.


SM: As well as the performances that we do together, we also run projects together. Barbara has collaborated on two of my projects in the past couple of years, running workshops for the Women's refuge groups that I worked with on 'Statements in Semaphore' and testing playful practice with me in 'Practicing to share' where we tested using rave music and florescent face paint and wool! As part of 'Detangling the Knots' we have also been running workshops with community groups for those who live with dementia.


I think, for me, a creative relationship is one of trust, where you feel safe to share your thoughts (respectfully), and test things out with each other. In all the collaborations I am involved with respect is key, respect for each others work, process, family life (other life) and most especially as a human being. Being able to say, 'I'm not sure about that', or 'that doesn't feel right' or even 'what the hell was that?' but also having someone who can say -  'you can do it', or 'that was awesome!' My collaborators are my friends, they mean a lot to me. I guess because you invest so much into each other and the work that you do together, and that is a really precious thing. 


'Touch Cells', 2019


HOW HAS THE OTHER PERSON CHANGED HOW YOU CREATE INDIVIDUALLY?


BTE: Some of it is quite subtle and unconscious, some of it a bit more obvious. I definitely think a lot more about the performative elements of making my installations, of the movements I make to make different pieces. My pieces can be quite abstract and, as such, a bit distanced. Susan's performance work has shown me how putting the human body in the art work can give them a more relatable dimension.  I have also started thinking about increasing the emotional engagement of the audience and I have started making electronic music both in itself and as a soundtrack for performance/installation.


SM: Working with Barbara has done a few things to my practice. Firstly she has taught me to slow down a bit, take off the pressure at times, and focus more. But practically, too, I have watched how she has run this recent project and her overall view has really influenced me. She has had a keen eye on keeping all the partners and collaborators together, on having a lot of conversations and ensuring smooth relationships. This has been key, especially considering the turbulent time we are now in, trying to maneuver into a new digital and socially distanced phase of the project.



ISOBEL AYRES AND POPPY VINCIGUERRA


Girlfriends Isobel Ayres and Poppy Vinciguerra are visual artists studying in Brighton.


LEFT: Self-Portrait by Poppy Vinciguerra, 2019; RIGHT: Still from GOBLIN GIRL Animation 2 by Isobel Ayres, 2020


WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?


IA: I’m Izzy, I’m an artist in my first year doing sculpture at Brighton.


PV: My Name is Poppy Vinciguerra, I’m an artist currently studying fine art painting at Brighton. I think in a painterly way, but this doesn’t mean I only make paintings. For example, my work can become three-dimensional and sculptural, but I’m always thinking about composition and colour.


WHEN DID YOU MEET?


IA: We met just over a year ago, doing a foundation year in Art and Design at UCA Farnham.


WHAT INSPIRES YOU ABOUT THE OTHER PERSON?


IA: I think Poppy’s really talented and also super driven. She sets herself a high standard to live up to artistically. She’s not satisfied unless she feels she’s doing the best she can.


PV: I take inspiration from the way she outwardly expresses herself. Isobel inspires me to be myself unapologetically. She has taught me to not contain myself for anyone.


Portrait of Izzy by Poppy Vinciguerra, 2020


HOW DO YOU COLLABORATE? WHAT DOES A CREATIVE RELATIONSHIP MEAN TO YOU?


IA: We do a lot of casual collaborations when we’re just hanging out I guess. One of us will start a lil drawing and then give it to the other to work on, which is fun. It’s interesting to see what direction she takes the drawing into. I think there are loads of different ways to be in a creative relationship, but I guess for us it’s really a matter of us just both being two creatives and existing in each others spaces, and the ways that our interactions with each other can consciously or unconsciously influence each other.


PV: I find it hard to collaborate with anyone, not just Izzy. I think this is because I tend to be stubborn when it comes to my art. Collaboration is something I need to get better at. That being said, I value Isobel’s artistic opinion above most people's. Most times that I complete an art work, I ask her what she thinks of it. She is always brutally honest, and it helps me to see where I’m going wrong.  I trust her opinion because I know we share a similar taste in what we like in art. The only way we’ve collaborated before is to do so playfully.

Being in a relationship with someone who is equally as creative as I am and sees as much value in creating as I do is important to me.


Installation by Isobel Ayres, 2019