DIS MAGAZINE | September 2013

On the occasion of their show Open for Business at Neumeister Bar-Am, Rachel de Joode and Kate Steciw have been interviewed by Marvin Jordan about their collaboration.


Steciw and de Joode | Open for Business

By Marvin Jordan

For Gallery Weekend Berlin, Kate Steciw and Rachel de Joode came together to produce Open for Business at gallery Neumeister Bar-Am, an exhibition that straddles the divide between performance and installation while displaying the artists’ collaborative photography. Having exhibited Open for Business and other projects in the past, Steciw and de Joode’s relationship alludes to a promising future. Marvin Jordan reached out to the duo via email.

Can you tell us about the history of your collaborative relationship? Do you approach your exhibitions as part of a cohesive or cumulative body of work?

Kate Steciw We’d both admired each other’s work online for some time so when Rachel approached me about participating in an auction she was organizing I was excited to be in touch. Emails and chats ensued. I remember exchanging a lot of images (we still do) just for fun and as conversation starters. I think it was Rachel who formally introduced the idea of collaborating in some way but it was so hard to decide what exactly that meant and what we’d produce being that we live in different countries most of the time. Ultimately Rachel was going to be in NYC for her solo show with Interstate Projects and we’d secured a venue for the weekend at Stadium Gallery yet were still “brainstorming.” It was then that we realized that we should make our collaborative work about the work of collaboration and furthermore about the performance of artistic labor.

Rachel de Joode So true! I think it had a lot to do with chance as well, for the first one in New York, we realized that we only had a few days to ‘do something’ and so the ‘doing something’ also got to be the thing. And let’s not forget the performance evening ‘Important Things’ that I curated at Interstate gallery in the summer of 2012. Kate participated with a great performance together with her dog, both were dressed up as ‘each other’ – this was pretty amazing and opened a dialog between us about the notion of the contemporary artist, openings, networks, being (acting as) an artist in the existing art-market, capitalism.

As far as the media that people traditionally expect to see in an exhibition, you employed photography as a central feature of Open for Business. However, there were many more factors at play beyond a simple photo exhibition, such as your performative immersion in the art space. Did you ever think strategically in terms of the relationship between your photography and the other, ‘unexpected’ factors of the event? Was the photography an instrumental pretext for other possibilities, or was it just as important?

KS Photography or images were a logical starting point for us as they are central to both of our training, individual practices and/or day jobs. Also they were a primary form of communication with on another. We’ve always though of the photographic element as a kind of catalyst for the physical work in that aside from some very basic “art” supplies, the actual output exhibited begins with a photograph. That initial photograph or photographs is then manipulated, composited and printed only to find its way into further photographs, sculptures or other interventions. In this sense, the photograph or act of photographing is the essential practice, generative of all of the other final works in some form or another.

RdJ True, we use photography as on-the-spot documentation, then, we work with this ‘documentation’ as material (as an ‘art-supply’) we rework it and document that process: back-forth, back-forth, till we stop. The photograph and the physical work are fluid, like a dance.

On a basic semantic level, “performance” connotes dynamism and fluidity whereas “installation” implies construction and fixity. The fact that Open for Business intersects these two art forms raises interesting questions. Would you characterize your collaboration as an installation performance or a performance installation? To what extent did you intend to deconstruct or problematize these notions?

KS My gut response is to call it a performance of exhibition rather than installation per se. I am hesitant to call the final product an installation because, there is a concerted effort to transform the site of making to a site of display implying an exhibition of discrete but related works rather than a display the environment of making. Deconstruction is less of a motivation in general but the idea of “problematizing” resonates. I think the concept “problematizing” is an inspiration for both of us on a personal and an artistic level.

RdJ I agree with the notion of ‘performance of exhibition’. Concerning deconstruction, there’s actually something to it I believe, in a sense that we work a lot with fragments; we point to objects, things, situations, maybe deconstruction is not the right word, perhaps a ‘problematic reconstruction’.

There is a stock-like quality to your photos but also a deep-seated disturbance of the concept of stock photography, in addition to self-referential representations of artistic production. Do the both of you share a consistent aesthetic vision prior to your actual collaborations, or is your collaborative process more spontaneous than it is calculated in advance?

KS Our collaborative process is definitely spontaneous at its core. I think whatever aesthetic overlap we share is informed by our participation in the world of commercial photography on some level or another. As for the resultant works, its not so much a sublimation of our individual aesthetics for the sake of a collaborative aesthetic as it is a kind of exquisite corpse or call and response in which Rachel’s distinctive palette will mix with my digital compositing which will then be intervened with again by Rachel either digitally or physically and onward until we call it ‘done.’

RdJ So true! I think we both agree that the truly fun part about our collaboration is that for us it’s like playing, like acting. We have different solo-practices and that’s the beauty of this project; for one day only we have a public, high speed dialog out-loud , which results in a solid body of work in only a few hours, blending both our practices into one. It’s spontaneous within this one-day border that we set. The only thing we decide upon in advance is a table full of art-supplies and our ‘opening hours’. The way it’s photographed might remind of Stock-Photo, but, I think it’s more somewhere between stock-photo and the present-day internet-art-documentation aesthetics. Which are two topics we both work with in our own practices; Kate more with stock-photography and I work more with the notion and aesthetics of the art-documentation.

You livestreamed your activities in the art space as the day unfolded, making Open for Business accessible to anyone with an internet connection. What were your goals in integrating digital broadcasting into your exhibition? In general, does the internet inform how you work as artists, both individually and collectively?

KS The internet is integral to the collaboration as it is integral to our contemporary lives. We likely wouldn’t have even seen each other’s work or as much of it had it not been for the Internet. Furthermore, we’d certainly never have been able to move forward as rapidly as we have given our physical distance from one another had it not been for Skype and chat. There is also the fact that the internet facilitates a more image-based exchange which has definitely played a role in our collaboration. As for broadcasting, it was initially an impulse to expand our audience which is an essential part of the idea. The idea that an audience could access the secret realm of the artist’s studio has always been interesting to us as a way of demystifying the creative process — making the studio more like a “shop” than a site of secretive and/or magical production of highly valuable art objects.

RdJ I believe that streaming Open For Business really finishes the work. This time we had more visitors online (over 100) than IRL. How incredibly interesting is that! It’s funny cause on the one side we try to ‘de-romanticize’ the art-making process, but then through the stream I feel there’s something extremely warm and romantic happening, people watching us make mistakes: glueing our fingers together, dropping things, printing the paper upside down etc, from their beds, sofas, workspace (with a ‘romantic art-making process’ I mean it in a Vincent van Gogh solitary artist kind of way).

There seems to be a conceptual interplay occurring between the materials depicted in your photos and the processing entailed in their portrayal — the fact that artisanal craft resources are being extensively photoshopped. Moreover, a tension between process and product is also spotlighted: we see that something is being produced with clay, we don’t know what it is, but nonetheless that itself is the product. Is there a deeper critique of artistic process taking place here?

KS We are definitely interested in the aesthetics of art supplies. For us, incorporating things like blocks of clay, a daub of paint or an unused brush call to attention to the pre-aestheticized nature of the tools of art making. In this way, these objects act as an extension of the performative element of our collaboration. They too are performing a part in the mythology of the studio so to introduce them as sculpture or a layer in a digital composition reinforces their own formal an aesthetic attributes. We also like to aestheticize the process of making (dirty hands/clothes, fingerprints on prints, splashes and splotches of all kinds). Unfinished works have a greater set of potential outcomes and by photographing works in progress, fragments or discarded materials, we generate more materials for future works. The process is kind of fractal in that way. Furthermore, by photographing a cast in progress or wet paint, we are able to access a moment of flux that is traditionally excluded from the final art object. The potential to introduce an image of a liquid state and have that image act as material for a three dimensional within minutes of its capture speaks to the speed of contemporary art/image/content production.

RdJ I believe we work from an ‘alien perspective’, we observe clay, using it maybe without knowing how- to properly, but knowing it’s an important asset when you make a sculpture. Most of the materials we use fragmented, we point them out, we ‘handle’ them, partly. Our shopping list contains mainly art-supplies, we use them as products and we use the images of those products (sometimes ‘handled’ by with hands) as material. This again has to do with the de-mystification. By using these art-materials, that have a strong aura, as products we definitely engage in a critique concerning worth of art: What is art? What is artistic labour?

What does the future hold for Steciw/de Joode, both short-term and long-term?

KS In the short term, Rachel is going to have a baby who we hope will be a willing and enthusiastic assistant to our collaboration at some point. We are always really excited to produce/perform in new locations (the more disparate the better) because the way that artwork is produced (the speed of production, the materials available and the pre existing aesthetics of those materials) always varies so much from location to location and the more opportunities we have to work in different places around the world, the more we are able to call attention to those differences and discrepancies we find so interesting. In fact, the more widely disparate those experiences are, the better. For example, the differences between producing in Mexico City and producing in Berlin are vast and extremely interesting. We’d like to work in China for instance. Language barriers and miscommunication are interesting as there are often sub-collaborations that are essential to our practice that we also like to have play an active role in the final outcome (galleries, assistants, printers, etc…).

RdJ True, I am days before exploding! And yes, we need to do the next OFB on a different continent. I think locality versus globally is part of the work as well, as it is about internet-culture and art-production, art-value, the artist as producer. The project benefits from changing environments. China, Africa, Antarctica; here we come!

Link to the interview →