The Builders: An Interview with It’s Our Playground

Installation of Heather and Ivan Morison's Dream Workshop; image courtesy of It's Our Playground

The Builders is a “living exhibition” that runs till 30 October 2011 at The Market Gallery, Glasgow, and unfolds from interventions by a group of artists working in sequence. Heather and Ivan Morison first list the materials and tools that form their dream workshop; Neal Beggs creates new works in the gallery for seven days using only what is found within the workshop, and Nick Evans displays these works in a final exhibition. The Builders is a project by Camille Le Houezec and Joey Villemont, also known collectively as It’s Our Playground (IOP).

Magdalen Chua: How did IOP come about, and do you have your individual artistic practices?

It’s Our Playground: We’ve never done curatorial courses and have been trained as artists, with our personal artistic practices. We see exhibitions as an artistic practice, not just reserved to a certain number of people trained to do exhibitions. In France, curatorial practice is not something often heard of, although some art schools are starting to have classes on curating.

We noticed that the exhibition, as a subject, was not part of our programme, and we turned our studio in the art school (Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Art de Bourges) into an exhibition space.

For every project we’ve done, as seen in The Builders, a work is produced. We really like to be surprised, and not just select works. As we both come from an artistic and not an institutional background, we prefer working with an artist, not just with his work.

Maybe there is a relationship with our own practice. Camille only produces work when there is the chance for it to be exhibited. We know that artists have to produce and want to work with them on it.

We have never approached an artist for one specific piece. It is always for a project, and the collaboration is always central to our practice. We want to find our own place in this process and do not want to be just spectators.

Heather and Ivan Morison's Dream Workshop; image courtesy of It's Our Playground

MC: Why are you called It’s Our Playground?

IOP: We see the exhibition space and gallery as our playground and there is a strong idea of playfulness in our work. This is not in a childish way or about doing ridiculous things. It is about a free approach without boundaries or constraints. When we started having our online projects, it changed the way people saw what IOP was about, as they could play with the way works were being displayed. Even in our personal work which is very serious, there is also irony. IOP will stop the day we don’t find it fun.

MC: Could you describe your residency and what parts of the residency were important in leading you towards The Builders.

IOP: We submitted our proposal to The Market Gallery in January this year. Our project focused on the socio-economic context and we wanted to prove that the cuts and lack of money was not a reason not to make good shows or good pieces of art, and not to be ambitious.

We started to think about what form art could take in this context, and about processes and performance as a cheap way to make art. We thought of inviting artists to live in the gallery through a living exhibition that would also reflect the contexts outside the gallery.

During the residency, we had mentors, Francis McKee and Sarah Lowdnes, whom we had exchanges with that brought a dynamic to our practice.

We also presented an exhibition on our website, The Survivors, the Explorers, the Builders, which were the sketches for The Builders, and a way to put the research into a certain form. This is the first time our online projects have led to something real.

Third day Neal Beggs is in The Builders, using the resources from Heather and Ivan Morison's Dream Workshop to create works; image courtesy of It's Our Playground

MC: How did your online projects begin and how are they a part of IOP?

IOP: The online projects started as a channel and place for both of us to work together, when Joey first came to Glasgow.

Once, Joey went to Frieze Art Fair and sent Camille 400 images to make a selection for an online exhibition. Called To the museum – curating Frieze Art Fair 2009, we played the curators for the fair, and the project was borne from a reflection on the way images of art appear online and how documentation seems to replace the work in our mind.

When Camille arrived in Glasgow, it was difficult to open a space and a website was a platform for projects. It was a way to curate internet images, texts, videos and give them a new life. From the beginning, we wanted something quite quick, and to have an exhibition every two weeks.

We contact the artists whose images we use, if they have a website, or email address, or through their galleries. We have also started inviting others to create online projects on It’s Our Playground.

MC: The phased nature of the exhibition, where one artist kicks off the building process which another artist continues, makes me think of collaboration but also constraints based on the parametres set by the preceding artist. What were your considerations for the exhibition?

IOP: Everyone in this project has different constraints. Heather and Ivan Morison had the constraints of the budget and space, while Neal has the constraints of the materials and seeing his work used by someone else.

Constraints are not bad, and in fact, create stimulating conditions. It is not about what you can’t do but about what you could do.

Similar to evolution and civilization, you have the first people coming on the island, explorers developing and the builders using what others have created. That is the process for the different levels of the show – bringing materials on the land, building it, and arranging it. In a sense, it could be interpreted as a satire on the world of art. There are people making artwork and those exhibiting it, but at the end it is a team of builders, as collaborators and part of a chain reaction.

Neal Beggs' Open Studio Day; image courtesy of It's Our Playground

MC: Why did you choose to work with these artists?

IOP: Heather and Ivan Morison’s works evoke the primitive and mysterious, and we were sure they would bring strong materials. We chose them to begin the exhibition as we knew that they were busy and the only thing we wanted was the list of materials indicative of their dream workshop, which was quite easy to get.

We knew Neal and trusted that he would respond to the project in a way that would surprise us, being efficient, dynamic and generous. He is also a survivor, and has climbed the Mont Blanc.

We invited Nick Evans because we have an appreciation for his work. He is an artist in Glasgow who has shown an interest in building and displaying exhibition furniture, paying strong attention to the plinth and wall drawings, as evident in his collaboration with Lotte Glob in the The Erratics at the Mackintosh Museum.

We also have in mind for this exhibition concept to travel to different places, with new builders and other artists.

This interview took place during the stage of the exhibition where Neal Beggs was creating works from Heather and Ivan Morison’s dream workshop, and I had the chance to speak to him.

First day with Nick Evans displaying works created by Neal Beggs; image courtesy of It's Our Playground

MC: What was your reaction when you heard about the project?

Neal Beggs: I just said yes, why not. Sounds like an interesting project and I was excited to play around with materials that I didn’t know what they would be before, and without the stress of thinking about what it is you would make.

Generally, when somebody suggests a project, unless there are warning signs, you do say yes, that sounds like good fun. People don’t ask you to do a project unless they think you are appropriate for what they have in mind.

Often artworks come into existence because of the opportunity, when a curator says I would like you to be in this exhibition. There is a sense that this project emphasizes that happenstance aspect, where we respond to the pragmatism of our context. I will be doing an open studio where I will talk about the works that are in progress.

Nick will take what I’ve done and do exactly what he wants with it. I’ve tried to make things in units. I have an idea of how I want to arrange it. Nick will arrange it in a totally different way, or he might not even want to use it.