With collaborative work there is always an element of risk, says Trystan Hawkins. Part of my role, as Artistic Director at Wysing Arts, is to assess the ‘risk factor’ of a project and ensure that the potential for an original, energetic and ingenious outcome outweighs any uncertainty. However, cutting edge work does not get created by playing safe.
Wysing Arts is a rural arts centre based 9 miles south west of Cambridge. It occupies the site of a former farm and offers studios for 26 artists, a year round programme of residencies, exhibitions, events and workshops. Since 1999 I have focused this programme on combining the arts with ecology, horticulture, science and technology. This programme has resulted in joint projects with world class scientists and research institutions including Cambridge University, Human Genome Mapping Project, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Papworth Hospital to name but a few.
The approach I have taken is to develop a relationship with a range of venues, identifying individuals who are involved in cutting edge work and who are open to working with an artist over a period of time. This has then been used as a resource for our artists in residence. I facilitate the relationship of the artist and scientist working together.
A current project, now almost completed, is with digital artist Jane Prophet. This is the second residency Wysing Arts has devised and co-ordinated with Papworth Hospital, which pioneered the first heart transplants and continues to lead this field. The project has seen collaboration with world-class surgeons investigating the technological and human aspects of transplant surgery.
The residency has resulted in an exhibition with a number of strands. Jane has combined digital data with artificial forms sculpted on a computer to produce objects that “embody or express elements of the stories or sensations surrounding transplantation”. In the second and parallel strand, Jane talks with medical staff, recipients of donor organs and the families of deceased donors and explores the intense and complex feelings surrounding organ transplant. This investigation is presented though a series of photographic pieces. The exhibition opens during SET week (science, engineering and technology week). As part of this opening we have programmed a series of talks by three of our artists in residence looking at industrial technology, studying the social behaviour of animals and the use of advanced technology. There is also an accompanying programme of workshops for children/families.
Wysing Arts is unusual in that the majority of the exhibitions programme is originated from our own residency programme. In order to maximise the potential from our residencies we agree opportunities for audiences to engage with relevant parts of the process of creating the work with each artist. Each residency is different, but as a general rule access to process takes the form of open studio periods, when informal conversation can take place with the artist about their work. We also offer workshops, talks, displays and interactive web pages. All of this activity is aimed at a broad audience, although there are many opportunities to reach new audiences.
Programming when the outcome of collaboration is not known and there is uncertainly as to what will result and whether it will be appropriate for showing as a finished exhibition, can be challenging. But to date it has always worked and has been very rewarding.