Visual Thinking, Tracy Mackenna

On Growth, & Forms of Meaning

Public studio in curated environment for presentation, exchange and production

Visual Research Centre, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design,

University of Dundee, Scotland, February 2011

Thinking through collaboration, conversation and publication: On the growth of our practice, & new forms of meaning that learn from the old.

This project was intense, immersive and exhilarating. Considering the Visual Research Centre’s particular emphasis on visual thinking, conversations between Edwin and myself focused on how taking up this invitation could develop our approach to the collaboration we share, our individual areas of interest and the roles of (visual) publishing and dialogue within our practice.

We have collaborated since 1997, using what we consider to be a discursive association as a vehicle through which to explore reflections on individuality/collaboration, cultural identity, notions of place, museum culture, and the status of the work of art. Up to the point that I started to collaborate with Edwin, my work took the forms of storytelling, (visual) publishing and in-situ making to question the role of the artist, and the artwork. The visual, non-verbal and the experiential combined to inhabit different levels simultaneously - intellectual, visual, emotional, sensory.

And now Edwin and I are each other’s sounding board and sparring partner, testing, contradicting and refining each other’s ideas, whilst constantly scrutinising the quality of thought, particularly when it’s communicated through dialogue, either verbal, textual or as images. Participating in this project enabled us to introduce an element that would further test our collaboration, and so I invited Marco Stout of the Dutch designers Stout/Kramer who have produced many of our publications. Marco became a collaborator, primarily by working closely with me on the making of the publication in Centrespace, but also by being for Edwin and me, another ‘public’ as were the contributors to and participants in the conversations, and the Masters students for whom we did a session on visual publishing as part of Edwin’s Going Public module. Marco’s participation enabled us to further redefine the conventional distinction between artist, artwork and audience, stretching the participant/visitor’s role as one who enters into a dialogue with the artists, their contribution informing the work directly.

As ever, we considered very carefully the type of environment in which the ‘expert conversations’ should be placed, and so sited them within our ongoing series of temporary public studios that sets the social context for an interactive process with a range of publics through staged encounters.

The on-site generation of a visual publication that stemmed from me ‘listening-in’ to these conversations involved tampering with the conventions of another discipline, in this case, science. And that is where art’s role as a lateral thinking skill comes into its own – the stuff of the conversations was sifted, filtered, passed between Marco and myself until it became a new story in image and text, and further altered through discussion with Edwin.

By working in the public studio the site continued to reveal the context through a process of making that developed day by day, long after the participants had left but whilst visitors continued to come and go. These performative installations are intended to cross boundaries, through art that enters into a dialogue with theatre, language, design and craft with the aim of developing communication between the artists, the work of art and the public.

On Growth, & Forms of Meaning

Digital publication On Growth, & Forms of Meaning

Claire Doherty Tracy Mackenna & Edwin Janssen: Naming a practice

Centre for Artists’ Books

D’Arcy Thompson 150

Many Stuff