|'HERE'S TO ANOTHER 10'
Published by ICIA, The University of Bath, 2013
Edited by Low Profile.
Designed by William Hibberd
ISBN 978 0 86197 189 3
Artists Book marking the ten year collaboration of Low Profile, Hannah Jones & Rachel Dobbs, and looking towards how they might continue in the future.
Featuring commissioned texts by Action Hero, Hunt & Darton, Lindsay Hughes, Barry Sykes, Rebecca Weeks and Joanne 'Bob' Whalley & Lee Miller.
Invited to offer Low Profile some professional guidance on how they might proceed I chose to write down some unguarded thoughts on what I've got from their work so far.
'OF OWL PERIL'
Or you could have ‘Pilfer Wool' or ‘Follow Pire' or ‘Well, If Poor' or ‘Fellow Pro I' or ‘Lower Of Lip' or ‘O, Rifle Plow' or ‘O, Life Prowl' or ‘I Proof Well' or even, of course, easiest of all, ‘Lowlife Pro'. Or my favourite, ‘Rope Of Will'. Of course there are many, many more, most of them nonsense*, or gibberish** or just not relevant ***.It's easy to underestimate a name, or forget its meaning, beyond what you think it now represents. Call your child Storm, or Zeus, or Jesus and they'll surely not live up to expectations, but choose your own name and you may be able to set your own standards. Although aim too high and you'll be tested by your own ambition or seem to revel in irony, too low and your false modesty will irk. But this isn't No Profile, it's just Low Profile.
I'd argue that calling themselves Low Profile was their first great work. An honest self-portrait of their starting position (their breezy honesty is another asset) and a mission statement of their approach - a metaphorical smearing of camouflage make-up across their cheeks at nightfall. It also strikes me as a succinct sketch of the art world they operate in; at once accepting your ever present need to get noticed and also that the rest of the world will barely know you exist.
Has their practice come to suit the name or has the name come to embody the work? Whatever they are doing, their work seems acutely, perfectly, aware of their own position. And now, ten years in, it is not surprising their thoughts turn to where they are in their career and where they might be headed. I've seen it in others and also myself. This needn't be a bad thing.
I often think of a piece of theirs called ‘Have You Seen Our Work?'. In it you are invited to describe, paraphrase, recall to your best ability, one of Low Profile's projects. You record it in some way and send it to them, they then display it unedited. The title invokes that artistic desperation, a plea to be noticed, but at the same time an ambivalent inquiry. It is also an invitation to be misremembered, misinterpreted, even overlooked. I keep meaning to do one for them but have never got round to it, although I have often re-described that very project, so I suppose in a way I now have, right here. Now I think about it, there's another work of theirs I also often recite to others (and I'm now resisting the urge to look it up, to cheat). It's the one where the performance is simply Hannah & Rachel taking tea and coffee orders from the entire audience – I picture a packed theatre – without any means of writing them down. This tour de force of memory, timing, repetition and dashing up and down aisles neatly critiquing, undermining - somehow withholding and yet still delivering - the familiar expectations of audience and performer.
Come to think of it I have seen precious little Low Profile work in the flesh. If any at all in fact. No, let's face it, I've seen nothing****. I mean I've seen a lot, maybe most of it, but only ever in photos, transcriptions, documentation, the majority of which is self-produced. For a practice that seems to thrive on the live dynamic I've somehow felt like I can appreciate it, evaluate it, enjoy it without ever being there*****. You might then argue that it is this documentation that is the work, at least for me I suppose it has to be.
I've known Hannah and Rachel since 2010. I met them in Plymouth, where they are based, when I began a year-long residency at Plymouth Arts Centre. It was a little uncanny at first as I had recently ended a duo collaboration, also a bit performative, also a bit humorous, also a bit based around a fascination in vicarious survival situations, finding an absurd relevance in re-enacting them in our comparatively humdrum, comfortable, middle class city lives. We (Sean Parfitt & I) were called Staying Alive, also two words, sounding slightly adventurous, slightly benign - In some parallel universe the four of us might have all got married and lived in a treehouse together, making work purely to entertain each other.
After five or six years Sean and I couldn't hack the duo life, it's harder than you think (one reason alone to toast Low Profile's ‘Tin' anniversary). But I still feel much in common with how they think and work. Indeed, my residency turned into an absurdly early retrospective exhibition, a counterintuitive, introspective gesture that turned out to be very productive (actually, someone joked at the time ‘I suppose you're going to do one every ten years?', and I've a feeling I'll do just that).
There was a subtext to the invitation to contribute to this publication of offering some advice, pointers, reflections for Low Profile's next ten years. That perhaps as I also work in a similar, itinerant ‘can you make a new performance in response?' method I might be able to offer my perspective on what's important, exciting, possible, or unworkable about keeping going like this. Or that as I similarly back that up with all sorts of self-set tests that may or may not see the light of day (or the light outside my studio, or the bespoke lighting of a favourite gallery) I may have an opinion on where they should or could go from here. That I could try and trace a path through the freedoms, frustrations, mantraps and contradictions we all encounter. But I don't really want to do that. Or rather I don't think I can, or this might not be the place, or I don't want to fix anything in black and white that might be - should be - out of date tomorrow. Or maybe because I've got nothing or maybe because I've already said it somewhere up above. Or perhaps I'm only going to offer all those anagrams; observations, guidance, challenges even - hidden in plain sight for all these years.
* Woofer Pill
© Barry Sykes 2012