Robert de Saint Phalle and Tara Gilbee
Two artists from opposite sides of the world, having never met, created an artistic endeavor around issues of how the self perceives the unknown other in physical and virtual space. Exploring a myriad of methods around projecting and receiving identity including portraiture, identity theft, performance, and installation, the collaboration marked their progression toward knowing their fellow collaborator and the nature of the project itself. Tara Gilbee of Melbourne, Australia, and Robert de Saint Phalle of New York City, United States, met via email and quickly realized the possibility of working together from half a world away.
Collaboration involves both conscious intentions and unforeseen outcomes of working with someone else. There is a loose promise made, a choice to work with someone with whom one hopes to be artistically compatible. Collaboration depends on a certain assumption of known quantities, ie. self and other.
Here however, two strangers are combining into one unknown individual, short-circuiting any sense of control.
Tara Gilbee of Melbourne, Australia, and Robert de Saint Phalle of New York City, United States, met via email and quickly realized the possibility of working together from half a world away.
The resulting project is spanned three phases of proximity and embodiment. Phase 1: facebook avatar exploration, Phase 2: Temporary studio activity, Phase 3: The unmasking.
Part 1: identikits and avatars
Tara and Robert used the virtual social networks of Facebook to blur their identities. Having an mutual interest in fictional identity and blurring of identity constructs, the pair spent months impersonating their unknown partner on Facebook as undercover research (see Figure 1) Each had never been on Facebook so it was easy to switch identities and impersonate the other. Adopting friends and networks according to the searches and whims they choose.
Part 2: the architecture of strangers
Working separately in a makeshift studio (an un used building – once a toilet block – a space known for clandestine meetings) the pair kept a routine of studio visits which acted as “micro-performances” throughout a month (see Figure 2), setting out clues for each other and dynamic ideas at play, the two worked on a mutual visual language but never crossing paths. The idea being to eventually coalesce the mystery and unveil the physical reality in a single centralized public event and exhibition.
Part 3 : the unmasking
The third act and the finale to the project was the unmasking. The artists and gathered participants were witness to the unveiling of their true physical identity, after building a range of ideas and assumptions about each other, the moment came to meet (see figure 3). The audience was invited to share in this act and to explore the studio setting for this collaborative exploration, many within the audience were brought into the game and the network of assumptions during ‘Part 2’ and so they were as intrigued as the two artists. The performance began with the artists shut inside and the audience only allowed viewing through a peep hole. When the artists meet face to face, everyone else entered the space. On the other side was a waiting room with illuminated text (notes that artists wrote to each other during the month)