Mike Collier and Alex Charrington in the studio

Hello, could you tell us a bit about your practice?

I am a lecturer, writer, curator and artist – and currently Professor of Visual Art at the University of Sunderland.

My practice is collaborative, working with sound artists, poets, photographers, printmakers and artists. Much of my work is based around walking – through the city, the countryside and urban Edgelands. I often integrate image and text, drawing on the poetic qualities of colloquial names for places, plants and birds.

In 2010 I co-founded WALK (Walking, Art, Landskip and Knowledge), a research centre at the University of Sunderland which looks at the way we creatively engage with the world as we walk through it.

In 2017, and working with Alex Charrington (Charrington Editions), I produced an exhibition at Cheeseburn that was inspired by listening to the Dawn Chorus – a choir of sixteen birds heard early one morning in May. In this exhibition, their songs were represented variously as digitally manipulated sonograms and musical transcriptions brought together in a series of screen prints, musical composition, digital prints, relief sculpture, poetry and glass.

For this project, I also worked in collaboration with sound artist and composer Bennett Hogg and BBC sound recordist Geoff Sample to develop the ground for a new musical composition and a glass Dawn Chorus chandelier with Ayako Tani which included drawn notations of birdsong.

 

Working with Bennett, Geoff and Alex listening to Geoff’s dawn chorus recording

What are you exploring at the moment?

I am continuing to develop the Dawn Chorus project with Geoff, Alex and Bennett, (Singing the World: Mimesis and Birdsong). This is a visual and musical exploration of mimesis using the example of a dawn chorus to explore the relationship between the natural world and its specific cultures and cultural ecologies in relation to our own sense of culture/s. We aim to explore further the interaction between birds in the chorus as little work has been done in this area (whilst more work has been done around studies of birdsong dialects).

By recording a number of dawn choruses in different locations in the UK and abroad (along a similar latitude – 55 degrees north – which passes through Newcastle), our intention is to undertake an examination of how birds interact through song in the dawn chorus, exploring ways of visually and musically re-invoking these patterns of cultural interaction in the More-than-Human World.

My reason for doing this is to explore ways of showing how we might better understand our complex relationship to a more-than-human world – enabling us to value the whole world as a living ecology of cultural differences.

 

Have you found there’s anything in particular that has influenced you over the years? What inspires you?

In general – ecological and cultural diversity;

Specifically – various soundscapes; many inspiring natural historians who have become good friends over the years and whose knowledge I respect hugely; artists such as Piero della Francesca; Fra Angelico; Cezanne; Alex Finlay; Paul Klee; Agnes Martin; Ivon Hitchens; Rachael Clewlow; Bridget Riley … too many to mention.

Poets: Ken Cockburn, Matsuo Basho, Chinese Rivers and Mountain poets, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Thomas A Clark, Gerry Loose, Katrina Porteous, Kenneth White, Gerard Manley Hopkins (a wonderful poet), Jake Campbell, John Clare, Harriet Tarlo, and many many others.

I am still trying to get to grips with phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty); and beginning to explore the Rhizomatic theories of Deleuze and Guatarri whilst thinking about our place as humans in a non-hierarchical, More-than-Human, world.

Musicians and composers from Thomas Tallis to Bach and Mozart; Debussy to Steve Reich; Miles Davis to Susso Seki Singh; and of course Brian Eno (a big hero of mine!). I nearly always have music on in the studio whilst I am working.

For many years I have worked closely with my brother Tim Collier – a brilliant natural history photographer (specialising in bird photography).

 

Where do you work? Could you show us a picture of your working environment?

I am lucky to work at Cobalt Studios, surrounded by many inspiring people – a great atmosphere to work in. Mark and Kate do an amazing job running our studios and gig space.

 

 
Studio at Cobalt

 

What’s on your bookshelf/what are you listening to or reading at the moment?

I am reading lots of books around birds and birdsong (see picture below for my current bookshelf); As I type this I am listening to The Isley Brothers ‘Summer Breeze’!

 


Current reading on my bookshelves – all about bird song and bird cultures

 

Could you give us between ten and twenty words that define your practice?

Collaboration; joy; celebration; colour; sound; language/s: ecology; beauty; Zen; heart; walking; sharing; fieldwork: birdsong: listening; looking; thinking; making; earth; sky; technology.

 

Where can people see your work?

www.mikecollier.eu and at Cobalt Studios, Boyd Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 1AP. Tel: 07756880686 (please ring for appointment to see my work or for sales).

 

Our previous featured artist, Anton Hecht, asked “Should an artist care if the audience understands or appreciate the work they have made. Is there a duty to communicate?”. Could you answer Anton’s question and think of one for the next artist?

Wow Anton … that’s a big question! My own simple answer to this is YES!

However, it is a complex issue and I have written a fair bit about this over the years. I think it is important to share our work … our enthusiasms, our questions, our joy, our anger … and our frustrations. This does not, however, mean we ‘should always do as we are told’ or what is expected … we, as individuals in society (and I don’t just mean artists), have to have the courage of our convictions and be prepared to challenge issues etc.

I enjoy reading the work of George Monbiot, for example; he is a stimulating and challenging author. I also find, on a personal level, that I learn so much more about art, ecology and the world in general when I share my work with others and work collaboratively … it is an enriching process and I always get something back in return.

In summary, and to answer Anton’s question directly, I would say that my work and practice positions itself within the relatively new field of participatory and collaborative research in More-than-Human Worlds. For example, in in a recent book of the same title editors Michelle BastianOwain JonesNiamh MooreEmma Roe suggest that ‘Socio-environmental crises are currently transforming the conditions for life on this planet, from climate change, to resource depletion, biodiversity loss and long-term pollutants. The vast scale of these changes, affecting land, sea and air have prompted calls for the ‘ecologicalisation’ of knowledge’.

I really like this idea of the ecologicalisation of knowledge – and of sharing this knowledge with others in the best way I know how – by making artwork.

My question for the next artist is:  What excites you most within current art practice – and why?

 


Alex Charrington in the studio
All images: Dr Mike Collier