Arts Project Australia‘s first exhibition for 2014, Knowing Me Knowing You (KMKY), will question the collaborative process and explore the complex nature of collaboration between professional artists.

We invited artist and curator Lindy Judge to work with us to create an in-depth collaborative investigation involving ten of our studio artists and ten external contemporary artists. From 2012 through 2013, cinematographer Shelley Farthing-Dawe has been filming the evolution of the project as a film journal that will later be edited into a documentary.

This post is the fourth in a series of artist interviews, and will focus on the collaboration between Arts Project Australia artist Cathy Staughton and external artist Catherine Bell.

Artists Cathy Staughton and Catherine Bell planning their collaborative KMKY project in the Arts Project Australia studio.
Catherine Bell discusses working with Cathy Staughton in the following interview:

Tell us about your background. Have you studied? What is your practice and have you always been an artist?
CB: I have been making art for over 20 years and have always identified as an artist since leaving high school but have performed a myriad of part time jobs to support my practice including lecturing visual art, lumber jacking, nannying, hospitalities, and aged/palliative care.  I have studied art history and fine art at numerous local, interstate and international universities.  I received my PhD from Monash University in 2007 and I am currently a Senior Lecturer in visual art, ACU Gallery Director and National Course Director (BVAD) at the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne.  My practice is multidisciplinary but I trained as a sculptor and my emerging research in art and health complements my art practice that forefronts art on the margins, art activism, community engagement and feminist perspectives.
Where is your studio based? Describe it. How often do you work there?
CB: I have a home studio that is more like an editing suite and my office at work is quite spacious so I have all my books and images that inspire me on my notice board and Arts Project works on the wall.  I was recently awarded a yearlong St Vincent’s artist residency (2012-2013) and the studio was located at Caritas Christi Hospice in Kew. It was a luxurious, light-filled converted hospital bedroom that had a beautiful view of the garden.  I went three days a week because I have a fulltime job but would try and go seven days a week during non-teaching periods. I prefer short term residencies and working for intense periods of time in conjunction with local art communities in foreign environments.  This situation is compatible with my relational and socially networked practice that forefronts a sense of ownership and self actualised learning.
Exhibitions are a big part of an artist’s life. With that in mind, where have you exhibited your artwork recently? Where would you like to show your work in future?
CB: In 2013 I have exhibited The Gathering and Flower Tower at the Substation, the body of artwork and community art project I facilitated during the residency at Caritas Christi.
I was also invited to show artworks at MONA’s Red Queen Projection Festival, Backflip: Feminism and Humour in contemporary art, VCA Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Melbourne and Artecylce : The Environmental Art Award, Incinerator Gallery, Melbourne. I would love to have my work shown at Brisbane’s GoMA, so I could catch up with my family and show my young nieces and nephew what their Aunty does in Melbourne.
What inspires you?
CB: Taboos, raising awareness to social injustices, feminism and challenging social norms.

Artists Cathy Staughton and Catherine Bell planning their collaborative KMKY project in the Arts Project Australia studio with Brooklyn and Archie. 
How did you first find out about Arts Project Australia?
CB: I stumbled across the gallery by accident in the late 90s when it was at the old digs on Northcote High Street. I was seduced by the exhibition and stayed in the show for over an hour looking at the work and talking to a welcoming staff member invigilating the show.  I was sold!
The KMKY project has been collaborative for all involved. Do you normally work collaboratively? If so, can you talk a bit about they way you approach this process. If not, can you talk a bit about why you have never worked collaboratively before working on KMKY.
CB: I have only collaborated once before with a visiting American performance artist, Martha McDonald in “Womanfolk: songs from the valley below”at theOut of Bounds Conference, Monash University in 2008. That was a rewarding exchange because it was my first live performance in front of an audience.  I think it was successful, because like Cathy, Martha and I have compatible personalities and practices.  A successful collaboration starts from mutual respect and appreciation of your collaborator’s work.  If you are challenged to venture out of your comfort zone it is a bonus. The benefits of this first collaboration encouraged me to work with Cathy in the “Portrait Exchange” in 2010.  This was such a rewarding experience and I was eager to sign up again for KMKY.  You shouldn’t have to force the collaboration it should evolve naturally. Sitting alongside Cathy while she painted my dog was the conclusion to a paced out, series of face-to-face meetings at Arts Project and Cathy’s home over the year.  We have built trust and that is an important part of the collaborative process.  This trust was demonstrated by Cathy’s openness to working on different subject matter, let me film and direct her performance at her home, look through her photo albums, take photos in her domestic space, and willingness to let me observe her painting in her studio and make suggestions when she was painting Archie’s portrait.
What did you hope to get out of this collaboration? What were your expectations?
CB: I was hoping to produce a new artwork that reflected how similar we are, as opposed to how different.  We both love animals, enjoy dressing up, have a wicked sense of humour and like performing.  At the start of this collaboration I had grand ideas of making a silent film. We watched the recent Oscar winning silent film “The Artist” together at Arts Project for inspiration.  At the beginning of the collaboration I had expectations that we could create something similar.  My video work developed organically. The idea had been brewing for some time to do a performance with my dog Archie and this was the perfect opportunity to explore it because I knew Cathy loved animals.  I believe Cathy’s performance with Brooklyn contributes to the videos underlying pathos, perversity and humour, making it a deeper and more successful work.  I had high expectations of Cathy’s performance and paintings and she didn’t let me down.
Were there any highlights along the way that particularly stick out in your mind?
CB: Cathy’s laughter the first time she saw Brooklyn dressed up in baby’s clothes was gold!  She totally got where I was coming from with the performance, she understood the humour and was instinctively maternal and nurturing.  Directing Cathy was also a highlight because she could interpret all my hand gestures behind the camera and was happy to reshoot if there was a mishap.  She is a naturally theatrical and loves to entertain so this medium was perfect for her.  Another highlight was coming to the Arts Project studio with Archie so Cathy could paint him dressed in the baby clothes from life.  She was so gentle and loving with him and was open to my input on his portrait.
Were there any challenges? If so, can you explain?
CB: The biggest challenge for me was coordinating times to meet Cathy as it wasn’t as simple as calling her spontaneously to come over and film at her place.  I knew a demanding filming schedule wasn’t going to work because it involves flexibility and Cathy has her routine and is very particular about keeping to her own schedule and I didn’t want to impose on that.  Fortunately Cathy’s mother Bev is very approachable and accommodating and I could email or ring her any time to arrange a rendezvous and she would meet me at Cathy’s home with the dog.  Working with animals is a well known challenge but Brooklyn and Archie, our canine collaborators, were seasoned professionals.  I did find the documentary interview challenging as Cathy and I did ours together and Lindy was asking questions and Cathy was sitting next to me chattering and it was difficult to respond to the questions and do them justice.  There were so many beautiful examples of collaborative exchange that happened away from the documentary camera that would have been wonderful to capture so I would say documenting the making of the work and the collaborative process while you were doing it was a challenge that I was unable to meet.
How do you feel now that the project is finished and waiting for exhibition? Give an insight into the process? Are you happy with the final artwork(s)?
CB: I don’t see the project as being finished because I want to continue to collaborate with Cathy and I am already thinking of other ways and possibilities to work with her again.  I am eager to get feedback on the performance as a couple of people who have seen it have expressed that they find it disturbing and perverse.  All the Arts Project staff who have seen it so far have been really supportive and complimentary and that means a lot.  I am still reflecting on the work and what it says about motherhood and disability.  I am wrapped with the final artworks. I have already got my sights set on purchasing some of Cathy’s paintings in this series.  I think the works compliment each other.  They reflect our personal styles and the collaborative process. I started with sharing an idea and let Cathy riff off it.  After taking part in the performance she was able to respond to the experience in her paintings working from photographic documentation and the doggy life model in her signature style.
How would you describe the finished artwork?
CB: Portraits that capture an intimate moment that is thought provoking, maternal, uncomfortable, funny, and melancholy at the same time.
What do you hope happens to the work once this exhibition is over?
CB: I hope to purchase some of Cathy’s paintings.  I hope the exhibition tours with NETS around Australia and is then picked up by an International curator and shown at the Tate Modern so we can all go over to the opening.
Would you ever work collaboratively again? Why/why not?
CB: Certainly, I have already been thinking of opportunities to collaborate with Cathy again because I respect her aesthetic, work ethic and genuinely enjoy her company.  I believe we have lots in common, a mutual respect for each other’s artwork and a synergy of practice.
Artists Cathy Staughton and Catherine Bell planning their collaborative KMKY project in the Arts Project Australia studio with Brooklyn and Archie. 
Here is a sneak peak of some stills from Cathy and Catherine’s collaborative film.

© Cathy Staughton and Catherine Bell
Supported by Arts Project Australia


All image credits: Penelope Hunt



Thanks to our Major Supporters Arts Victoria for a Community Partnerships Grant and the Besen Family Foundation:

Thanks also to the following Supporters for their in-kind contributions:

SHELLEY FARTHING-DAWE for giving additional time and resources to the project
 for sponsoring lino for artists Angela Cavalieri & Fiona Taylor




Sim Luttin, Gallery Manager & Curator: [email protected], +61 3 9482 4484
Melissa Petty, Gallery Assistant: [email protected], +61 3 9482 4484
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