For this week’s blog post, the MacKenzie has asked artist John Noestheden to share a story about his major collaboration with artist Shuvinai Ashoona, in Basel, Switzerland, in 2008.
Shuvinai and I were invited by curator Wayne Baerwaldt to collaborate on a monumental banner for the Stadthimmel (City Sky) project in Basel, Switzerland, in 2008. We met at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery and discussed our work—and that quickly led into how she could focus on the earth and I could focus on the sky. This was the beginning of an organic process and an instant friendship.
We began by looking at her drawings of arctic landscapes and my celestial images—and we decided to intertwine photocopies of our drawings. The original banner was 11 inches wide and 192 inches long. From atop a ladder, we could see the entire composition and discussed the placement of images. I laid out the photocopies of my drawings and she added hers. Together we decided where they should go. The gallery photographed and printed an image of the assembled drawings on paper, and then we went back in and enhanced the drawing.
Shuvinai worked intently at her landscape for three days. She talked about the clouds that came down and became rocks; she drew several horizons and outcroppings. When she reached the middle of the paper, she was done and quietly started working on another panel. Then I began to add my stars, coloured-coded images, and silver crystals. Shuvinai noted that some of the star images resembled snowflakes, and she suggested that they could be wrapped around her stone outcroppings and assembled on specific areas of her landscape.
Collaboration presents a challenging way to think about one’s artwork. I learned how to respond to Shuvinai’s work—and we learned to work in the space between our practices. We both recognized that we were simply artists with different cultural perspectives collaborating to accomplish a common goal. Through unity and autonomy, we created a dynamic public art project, Earth & Sky.
John Noestheden was born in Amsterdam, in 1945, and moved to Canada in 1952. He received a BFA in 1973, from the University of Windsor, and an MFA in 1975, from Tulane University, New Orleans. In 1990, he accepted a position at the University of Regina teaching sculpture and drawing. In 2010, John moved to Hamilton, Ontario, where he maintains a rigorous art practice.