I am dropped off to meet with Dave & Jenn in an industrial area behind a large corrugated metal Building, around the yard are large twisted chunks of metal, old tables, and various bits of things punctuated by puddles. Since moving out of their home/studio in Kensington they have been sharing this large industrial space with another artist, and I imagine it must be very different from working out of their living space.
I find my way through a side door into a dark and cavernous interior and am ushered up the stairs by the artists, to the office on the second floor which has been converted into their new studio space. A bit like a secret clubhouse, the hideaway seems appropriate for artists that by their own admission are rather reclusive. A large black cat promptly introduces himself and hops into a lap, he came with the space they explain, and has wasted no time making himself at home.
Dave and Jenn’s work is highly dense and good to loose yourself in. Their process is labour intensive in a way that does not appear laboured, the stories come together organically in a darkly playful meandering sort of way. Seeing their work is about looking and looking, and the pleasure of getting lost as you fall under the enchantment of their dreams and nightmares.
Obviously collaboration is a big part of your work, can you tell me about how you started working together, and how this changed your process as individuals?
D: We started working together in 2004 while we were still at ACAD, We were always getting into each other’s business anyways and in the end the stuff we were making together were far more interesting to us than what we were doing on our own.
J: The idea of being a team appealed a lot to us. We never wanted to spend any time apart. It’s weird maybe but we are rarely away from each other, it has always been like that.
D: For sure I might look at things differently now because of Jenn. But we started out working together when we were really young. Our individual processes were not really worked out then. We’ve been learning together. So it’s hard to compare.
You mentioned that at the time you started working together your work was quite different, but over time the images you make, even down to the brush quality have become almost interchangeable.
J: It is not that our brushwork or anything else has become the same over the last decade, but now we can mimic each other pretty well, play impostors. Like, when one of us really needs a break from something, the other person can take over. We will always be two separate people and we both have our own ideas and motivations. At first it was fun to see how much we could meld together, now the differences keep the ball rolling.
D: We do like joke though that together we make one functioning artist.
(Is there there ever disagreement about where a particular work is going, or even playful sabotage? _ now I know that I have asked a version of the most annoying question, feel free to skip this one… )
D: We have no problem just going in and adding to something the other has done, without asking.
J:Or removing something. I mean, there has to be a push and pull of wills. And we are both pretty stubborn.
D: Each of us has the power to veto something if the other person can’t be convincing in their argument. And then you have to deal with it.
J: But it’s good to give into things that seem like maybe a weird idea at first. If I always got my way we maybe wouldn’t get as far.
When you look at a work you have co-created do you find things the other has added that you did not know were there?
J: All the time. You can get so wrapped up in what you are doing. We both can end up in our own headspace. And as we add layers of resin and keep working, because we have to sand the layers to paint on them, things get hidden and obscured and you don’t see them until they surprise you at the end when its polished up and clear again.
To me the layered nature of the paintings already represent a kind of sculpture. What precipitated the choice to begin adding free standing sculptural elements to your recent works?
D: I have always thought sculpturally, I like making things, learning new things. It was just normal to keep moving these paintings further and further into the surrounding space, letting them grow.
J: Because the paintings are just layer after layer of accumulation, it just made it easy to keep going. The sculptures are just another layer of the narrative, meant to be in the same space. For now I wouldn’t be satisfied with just one or the other. We work with whatever material we want to. That’s the great thing nowadays, the information is all out there.
How was it to hand of the fabrication of some of those elements to another maker, in the case of the bronze works you had cast?
D: It doesn’t happen a lot, but bronze casting and laser cutting are beyond our capabilities. Whenever there is something that we do not have the tools or knowledge to do by ourselves we try to learn as much as possible to stay as involved as we can, but working with others always leads to us gaining skills in the process. No reason not to.
J: We have been fortunate to find a foundry that lets us mess around and learn as we go. They have been very supportive of our way of working.
You lived and worked in the same place for a long time, and to me as an observer there was a strong emotional link between you and that location. What did that house bring to the work you made in it, how did you mourn the process of leaving it?
J: We moved into that place when we were still at school. And we kind of grew up there. It was such an old place, it had its own personality. Our upstairs neighbour was the best. The two of us, our neighbour and the house made for a quirky family. It was like a clubhouse. Like a kid’s idea of what a house should be. But it wasn’t ours. We knew for years that we were just waiting to leave, a year after we moved in developers bought it. That property and eventually the whole block was bought and sold a few times. That’s not a new story, it happens to lots of people, especially here and now. Anyways, we made a lot of work revolving around that place. That’s how we deal with everything that is uncomfortable, we make stuff.
D: The workspace there was really great, we had an entire finished basement as our studio.
J: We’re a little reclusive, we work a lot, the place was perfect.
D: The yard was huge and full of trees, with a big park behind it. When you were out there you felt like you weren’t in the city any more.
Do you bring your cats to the Studio?
J: When we had our studio at the old house our two cats, Samuel and the LadyBear, would come and go, they had their spots. They are well honed critics.
D: Now they have to stay home, since we work elsewhere. I don’t think they like it very much. But our new studio space has a kitty, who lives in our room. She is our room mate
. J: She is good medicine for the brain.
The thickets and tangled woods I see in your layered paintings suggest an internal world at odds with the expansive landscape that surround us in Alberta. Can you tell me what inspires those visions and what you are seeking to create in the mind of a viewer?
J: I think it is more a reflection of our internal dialogue. We’re sponges for information and there’s so much of it out there for the taking, the mental attic gets a bit clutter sometimes. I think making work is a way of sorting it all and projecting it outwards again. But the forest and vegetation is also so important to us because they represent a lot of the things we’ve always liked to think about… Things like, how do we as humans really fit into the natural world? Are we really separate from nature or is our technological world just a normal evolution?… What will happen to our societies in 800 years?…
D: Or maybe we just like green stuff…
J: Or that.
When we met you talked about recurring characters in your works, mythical creatures, that follow ongoing narratives spanning multiple paintings, that die and come back to life. I like the idea of a kind of serial story that is not necessarily a linear narrative, and the way that these characters develop as your own work does. Those characters are there for a viewer to discover and interpret themselves, to draw thier own conclusions.
D: It can take a long time until we we are done with an idea and until then they keep coming back.
J: We have always seen each piece or project as another chapter in this ongoing non-linear narrative. We take the long view when we think about making work. There’s something about long expanses of time that appeals to both of us and the fact that a lot of what we do ends up taking a while to read or playout is good. The viewer should be able to connect to the work and have a bit of room to maneuver, but I don’t think we intend for them to have full reign, it’s not exactly a “choose your own adventure”. It’s fun to listen to other people talk about what they are seeing. What they think we mean. But I think even though the work is in many ways so personal it has a lot of common themes… exploration, ambition, pride, awe…
D: We made up a motto, “Art, Science, History and Hearsay”. We still use it. It is a guide. I think it works to keep most of our work relatable because it is such a wide scope.
It’s my sentiment that most of the best work hinges on both the viewer and the artists’ ability to tolerate the unexplained, at the risk of actually providing an explanation, and knowing that your most hated question is “what does it mean” is there a functional magic in allowing people to construct their own stories from the imagery you provide?
J: The work is such a jumbled weave of information and signs, it takes so long to make and develops over a long period, with dots being connected throughout over months… but going through it and saying okay “this is this” and “here we meant this”… that would be boring. There needs to be room for other people to enter into it yes. The work often means very different things for the two of us anyways… and some things can remain ambiguous. We have a clear idea of what we are thinking of when we making, we’re not wishy-washy about it, but that doesn’t mean we have it all figured out. If we did we wouldn’t be interested anymore.
D: When we start a work we don’t really know how it is going to turn out. Because the time and things that goes into it have not happened yet. I may have a main theme or composition in mind but the other components are unknown. And we never make a lot of sketches or plans even for the biggest works.
J: Gleaning our lives for ideas, it’s like mushroom hunting, we examine every little morsel and try to figure out whether it is useful to us.. maybe this mushroom is delicious and will prove interesting, or perhaps maybe it will produce uncomfortable nightmares… or maybe it’s deadly poison. Anyways, there’s an aspect of wonder and uncertainty in it for us when we make these things… and I hope and think that these two qualities in some part let a wide range of people connect with what we make.