[Published in Meanjin, December 2011 Edition]
Artistic collaboration in the written word is surprisingly rare. For all postmodernity’s declarations about the death of the author, poetry in particular has upheld some facade of the artist as solitary genius. The relationship between poet and muse may be more familiar, but the poet’s act of creation is still perceived to occur in isolation. The bard becomes an alchemist, taking elusive combinations of words and through some sorcery transforming them into a tangible object, a poem on the page.
This makes the collaborative work of poet Jillian Pattinson and her brother David, a photographer, something special. The selection ‘The Night God Introduces Fox and Cat to Crow’ is taken from an exhibition entitled ‘The Still Point’, which was held at Stefano’s Gallery in Mildura earlier this year. Using existing photographs or poems as starting points, the siblings set about creating new works in response. The result was a series of twenty-three photos and nineteen poems; there are also audio recordings of the poems.
Before they began, the siblings discussed the commonalities between their media. They agreed that poetry and photography shared more than, for example, poetry and prose. ‘It’s about showing rather than telling,’ explains Jillian. ‘What we realised is that both the photograph and the poem are trying to capture ephemera, and fix a moment—in a word and in an image. It could be something quite fleeting and transient, yet you try to pin that down.’
Raised in the Mildura region in a family that Jillian describes as ‘a bit of a Brady Bunch’ (they have a younger brother, as well as two step-brothers and two step-sisters), Jillian now lives in Melbourne while David lives in London. The process of collaboration therefore occurred mostly online. They created a virtual model of the gallery to explore how to arrange their pieces within the space. Luckily, being siblings allowed them to be frank about each other’s work. ‘We could just say, “Nope, that just won’t cut it!”’ laughs Jillian.
This photograph was taken during one of their face-to-face meetings, in which they took a road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide for the WOMAD festival. David spied the scene from his window, telling Jillian to stop the car immediately. ‘I think the appeal was the way in which the arrangement of the animals contrasted with the otherwise pastoral scene,’ says David. ‘I found the exhibition of the animals to be disturbing, maybe sadistic or at least disrespectful.’
When she saw it on the digital camera, Jillian realised that the options were endless, but narrowed them down to seven poems to correspond to the seven creatures. ‘It was definitely the most exciting part of the collaborative process for me, that particular image,’ says Jillian. ‘It opened up so many questions. I couldn’t even cover them all in seven [poems], but I just wanted to deliver it in some way. Otherwise I’d end up with a gallery full of paper and [one] picture!’
You can view Jillian and David’s ‘The Night God Introduces Fox and Cat to Crow’ online at Meanjin.com.au.