Sober & Lonely on Robyn and Nina’s collaborative processes

Sober & Lonely on Robyn and Nina’s collaborative processes


The door bell rings, Robyn and Lauren open the door

Robyn: Hey Robyn, I think we should just talk about the Suburban Residency programme and how we chose the artists that we did. We sent out an open call for the residency at the SLICA house, which is where we are right now. Maybe we should take you on a little tour while we explain, ja
Lauren: Ja. First we have some rooms
Robyn: This is the brown room
Lauren: It can be used as a studio space, and this is the one room
Robyn: Here's the bathroom, this was great because the bathroom was being renovated during the residency, nice and new see new titles
Lauren: This is one of the other rooms
Robyn: We are currently using this room to store our archive
Lauren: That is a picture of us at Christmas
Robyn: This is another bedroom
Lauren: We are busy replacing the ceiling and at the moment there are no artists in residence so that is why this is a laundry room and the other our archive room
Robyn: Another bedroom
Lauren: This is the room that Robyn and Nina stayed in
Robyn: We were really busy when Robyn and Nina were here. Dineo Bopape was staying here too and Francis Burger moved in shortly after they left. The two of us also live here so it was really full and Robyn and Nina had to share the main room, it has an awesome sun on the wall. It has got the biggest bathroom
Lauren: There's a nice view of the garden in the day time, and a walk-in closet and bathroom
Robyn: So that is just the living quarters, lets take you to the working space

Lauren: This room is kind of used as a... you can't really work in here because it hasn't got any windows. It was winter when we had the residency, so we'd light a fire and sit at the dining room table. Since then we've also used it as a screening room for other projects we've done. It has an awesome skylight
Robyn: It also has these really great curtains

Lauren: Kitchen, eating space.

Lauren: Robyn and I used this as our studio while the other artists where here.
Robyn: There are a few relics from Failure House. This was Jan Huijben's last work... sorry no, that was the one before
Lauren: This room gets the best morning light

Robyn: And finally, the studio where Robyn and Nina worked for the month they were here. It is a really nice big space, with really nice big spiders too
Lauren: It also gets sunlight for the whole day and in winter it was kind of the warmest room in the house
Robyn: It has a ping pong table

Lauren: Francis used that as her studio, it is a Wendy House
Robyn: So there is quite a lot of space
Lauren: Basically when we started we kind of just wanted to accept one artist and then we realised after receiving the applications that there were quite a few proposals we liked and we figured that we had enough space to invite more than one

Lauren: The first people to arrive were Robyn and Nina
Robyn: We were really surprised by the number of applications we received - there were people from all over that sent us stuff – Thailand, Australia, Mexico, Japan, Pakistan. We were surprised because initially I think we were a bit embarrassed about the house, and inviting people here
Lauren: We set it up as a Suburban Residency, so people wouldn't have too high expectations
Robyn: We were very clear and upfront about what we were offering, because we're nowhere near the city. There are pretty much no landmarks except for Sandton City in the area
Lauren: Yeah we are 20km for the centre of town
Robyn: Unless you want to go shopping during the day, there is not a lot available out here. So we had to be very clear in the open call - this is a Suburban Residency and you are pretty much stuck in the suburbs. We can offer a place to sleep and a place to work. We got some really interesting applications. We landed up accepting three female South African artists. I think partly...
Lauren: Partly because all their proposals related specifically to being in the suburbs, they each had a really specific reason for being in this part of Joburg
Robyn: There were a lot of kind of European ethnographic-type applications that we weren’t keen on - about wanting to come and explore the Ndebele
Lauren: Or the inner city
Robyn: Which was completely inappropriate for the Suburban Residency, so I think the South African artists that we chose were really what we were looking for
Lauren: We did also get some South African artist asking for studio space to make paintings for their next solo show though

Robyn: So the three proposals we selected in the end were Dineo, Robyn and Nina, and Francis and the first people to arrive were Robyn and Nina
Lauren: They got here on the first of July. I think we were both quite surprised, when we got Robyn and Nina’s application. A few months before, I had come across their website, the Coexistent one and I sent it to Robyn, not too sure about them because there were so many similarities between mine and Robyn's collaboration. They were both two young white female South African artists working around this idea of collaboration, from a distance
Robyn: Imaginary space and places and long distance collaboration. In part it was really interesting for us but in part it was also a challenge. It was almost bizarre when we saw it, like oh God there are people exactly like us, almost like a mirror, Ja
Lauren: Without ever having seen or met them, ja, because Robyn and Nina were two years above us at WITS and we had never crossed paths
Robyn: Yeah, so there was a slight awkwardness. But we really enjoyed their proposal and I think it was quite interesting. We both agreed to read through all the proposals and said we'd email each other our favourites
Lauren: We decided over gmail chat [Robyn was still living in Durban] who we wanted. We both typed the same three things at the same time
Robyn: It was exactly the same
Lauren: Serendipitous!
Robyn: Ja, we were really excited to have Robyn and Nina in the house. I think partly to challenge ourselves and our own art practice and I think also what they wanted to do was very specific in terms of Joburg suburbia. Nina was coming from New York [Chicago] and Robyn was living in Cape Town [Johannesburg] and they were kind of needing a neutral ground
Lauren: Like an island
Robyn: An island both here...
Lauren: And because they work a lot with the idea of islands. I often said that where the house is situated in Hurlingham, it is exactly between William Nicol and Jan Smuts, it is literally like an island and when you are here, if you don’t leave the house for a few days it just very isolating
Robyn: It is incredibly isolating, there are big trees if you look around the property, and a big brick wall. This is truly an isolated suburban environment
Lauren: We were also a bit intimidated by hosting Robyn and Nina. What if they are the same as us? What if they're better? We felt quite competitive almost
Robyn: I think pretty much when there is a collaboration there is a sense of comparison - comparing the intimacy of your relationship, um me and Lauren have been working together for…
Lauren: Since 2005
Robyn: Ja, so six years and I think there is almost a jealous guardedness of the intimacy with the relationship you have. It was almost kind of a threat to our connection as artists and to each other. What if Robyn and Nina come and they have this incredible intense connection with each other, which they have and which we don’t have in a lot of ways...
Lauren: Different ways
Robyn: We don’t have that…there was a slight sense of apprehension about a possible jealousy in a sense, which is quite interesting. Ja
Lauren: I think also in terms of trying to create our own work while we were here… Robyn and Nina had a very strict schedule, so they never came to the kitchen in their pyjamas in the morning to make coffee. The first time you saw them in the morning, they were dressed and ready for the day. Robyn and I would be prancing around in our PJs having a cigarette outside, without any clear plan of knowing what we were working on at that specific time. We would see Robyn and Nina and they would have a structure of what they would do everyday - from 8am until the evening. For example we had one project that we had to take some photographs for. We were really embarrassed to be doing it in the same space, so we did it outside
Robyn: I think what I was really impressed about with Robyn and Nina as Coexistent was their ability to work intensely with each other almost exhaustively, to the point where they would literally get up in the morning, spend the entire day working together. They would have a structure, they premeditated they entire plan for the day and they really did work consistently throughout
Lauren: In the evenings it was really nice, they told stories to each other each night, which I think is on display on this exhibition - the two books. Every night when I was in my room, I heard them telling their stories, I would hear Nina’s voice and then Robyn’s voice and some giggling. They were still working late at night, while Robyn and I were watching Mad Men in our separate rooms. It was a nice contrast
Robyn: It is a nice contrast. In a way it we felt a little intimidated in the beginning because they have an incredibly focused way of working, they did their rope drawings every day, their story telling at night
Lauren: Tea talks
Robyn: It was an extremely exhaustive process. I think because Nina was out from New York [Chicago], they felt quite pressured in creating a specific body of work, to use the time productively, which they did do at an amazing level and I think in contrast to the other artists that we had, they generally used all the time they had. Should we go inside?

Robyn: This space was completely theirs, it was covered in drawings, everything that they were working on was spread out all over this room
Lauren: Also in compassion to the way we work, I was a bit shocked at their consistency and dedication, but in the end it was just clear that everybody has a different way of working. In contrast to when we did a residency... well, we were quite focused on working
Robyn: But we slept a lot. But I think it has been very interesting in terms of looking at the way we work together. The whole point of Sober & Lonely is that it is about exploring collaborative participation. We're very interested in collaboration and to be able to (it might sound a bit hectic), but to be able to observe another collaboration in close quarters was very interesting. To be able to observe their intimacy and the intensity in which they work compared to the way Lauren and I work
Lauren: Sporadic
Robyn: Sporadic and very haphazard. Observing their energy was very very interesting for me. Since Coexistent have left we have ended up collaborating with them in a number different ways, so I think despite the differences between them and us...
Lauren: all fitted together quite well
Robyn: Ja
Lauren: What was very interesting for me to see, because I know when Robyn and I have spent time together we obviously get those days after a week, after intense working and spending time together, where you are both a bit on edge... so it was good to see Robyn and Nina, who have an amazing collaborative capacity... sometimes I'd get home and feel it in the air almost, that they'd had a disagreement. And then later over dinner and a glass of wine they would talk about some conflict they were having in terms of how to go further with their project or whatever. That was really important while they were here because every night was almost like having a crit over dinner
Robyn: Looking at Robyn and Nina, I don't think they're scared of conflict. Lauren and I avoid conflict where they kind of embrace it. Unless we get drunk and play wrestle each other I think we are largely conflict avoiders. They are more open to saying that they disagree strongly with each other, so it was incredibly interesting to observe solution to conflict
Lauren: But I think what it also comes down to, if I think about us compared to Robyn and Nina, is that they both have their individual practice and their collaborative work. Like you have your individual practice, but for me personally I feel that Sober & Lonely is more important to develop at this point. I think with them, it seems as if there are three aspects - their individual practices and their collaborative work, and all of them are really strong. With us, Sober & Lonely is the most important and our individual practices kind of take a back seat
Robyn: It was really nice to learn that there isn't a prescribed way to collaborate. There isn't anything wrong with what we're doing and there isn't anything wrong with what they're doing - it is a really nice comparison
Should we go somewhere else to talk about their exhibition?

Lauren: I was also going to say that what has been really nice (obviously Nina had such a short period of time here and has since left) but we have been working with Robyn a lot and she has since moved into the house to live here. Seeing Robyn setting up their exhibition was really interesting too - when you are in a collaboration like theirs or ours, you put in all your time and money and effort to do something that is for both of you, even when the other is not present. Nina was distant (as in a different physical space) and even her art work didn’t arrive on time because the postal service is fucked... but it was so great to see how work translates as a collaborative effort, even coming through one person
Robyn: I think that is why me and Lauren wanted you here in the first place, I think there is something about collaborating and I don’t want to sound...
Lauren: There is something genuine about it. It isn't for attention or for show or to prove something or do something different from everybody. There is a connection in how you work and so you are exploring it
Robyn: Without sounding maybe a bit syrupy, I think there is a genuine love for each other and I think there is a love that Robyn and Nina have for each other that is very respectful and there is a huge degree of trust involved
Lauren: Love, respect and trust
Robyn: That you can let someone run with an idea, like how Nina left and Robyn was basically left to set up the exhibition alone. You correspond a certain amount by email and telephone, you have different ideas and visions of something but I think collaborations are about understanding the other person, and that either one could talk or act on behalf of the other
Lauren: When you are physically in the same space you can compromise or come to some sort of conclusion together of how something should be. If there is one person in control, the other just has to trust their decisions
Robyn: Robyn and Nina's show at Outlet was a really nice event because we timed it with Dineo’s opening at Stevenson across the road. Nina and Robyn had a much smaller space at the Outlet Project Room above Kitcheners in Braamfontien. One of their ideas was to have a big spotlight shining down on the street, which I thought was really really beautiful, it reminded me of a lighthouse. You kind of walk along the street in Braamfontien where there is a whole lot going on and there are all these different yellow street lights and then there is a white spotlight, like an island - which for me was really a lot about what Robyn and Nina were working around - this kind of area where you can be safely seen and heard. I thought it was really beautiful especially coming out of the residency and I loved that before Nina left they tried out the lights in the garden together. Robyn had to set it up on her own and I know it is quite difficult in terms of structurally trying to mount this huge fuck off light
Lauren: But also to make those small decisions, like should we leave the cable here or not? I know that they think differently so maybe Robyn would have left the cables out and if it was Nina setting up she would have had them taped up and neat
Robyn: I suppose when we talk about them now it is quite funny to look back to what we were expecting of them before we met. We were jokingly guessing which of us was Robyn and which was Nina
Lauren: I had met Robyn once at an opening and told Robyn that she was nice and really sweet. And then we wondered if maybe Nina was the scary one
Robyn: Ja before we met them we were joking that Robyn was like Lauren and Nina was like me. I suppose we were thinking it is kind of like this mirror image
Lauren: Today I was looking at our old emails, and we spoke about them being our doppelgängers
Robyn: Because there is that feeling of...
Lauren: ...definitely like this mirror
Robyn: If you look at mine and Lauren's work relationship, I don’t know I think it is quite weird, Lauren is really controlled in some ways and I'm also overly controlled I guess. Lauren knocks that our of me - that nitpicking. But I think sometimes it evens it out and there is a nice balance and when you look at Lauren um Robyn and Nina’s relationship, I think Nina is very very structured in the way she works and I think Robyn is too, but I think Nina is incredibly structured and focused and wants to run by a timetable and that sort of thing, which is quite interesting
Lauren: But also while they were living in the house I assumed that they were both kind of like, I saw them as an entity. Since Nina has gone we've gotten to know Robyn a lot more and can now obviously see the different personalities and pick up the different aspects that they each bring to their combined work. There is also that open house Braai day, if you want to speak about it.
When the four of us were living in the house I remember we all felt a bit anxious when halfway through the month the next artist would join us
Robyn: As if we were starting again
Lauren: When we were all together the whole thing just worked, it was almost quite perfect for those two weeks with Robyn and Nina and Robyn and Lauren. It was quite funny and quite comfortable and we were all curious of what would happen when Dineo came, wondering if it would completely throw things off balance
Robyn: Bizarre coupledem - you couple off and you're fine as a couple. Dineo is not part of a collaboration, she was a single artist and we had to kind of open up again when she arrived, which was quite interesting
Lauren: But it worked out fine
Robyn: I think we are just very anxious and I think Robyn and Nina are very anxious people too, um ja I don’t have anything else to say