Van Gogh and Gauguin. Richie Hawtin and Anish Kapoor. Method & Red. When awesome artists collaborate under awesome circumstances, the ensuing results are almost always amazing. They enable both artists to ascend to new heights through commensurate immersion in the work of another. From Dali and Buñuel to Elton John and Eminem (yeah, I went there, just listen to that crowd), the fruits of collaborative labor are often as prolific as the artists’ individual works, if not more so. But what happens when the collaboration is anonymous?
unmute.eu is an alternative podcast-style project probing the forefront of that faceless vanguard. Acting as part gallerist, part patron, the project, started in 2011, has overseen six different collaborations between audio and visual artists, each one centered around its own abstract concept or theme. The kicker? Much in the same way the internet used to shroud VICE commenters in a comfortable nest of e-anonymity, neither artist is allowed to know their complementary creator or project until the works are due. We spoke to co-founder Sandra Kazlauskaite about the project and picked her brain on everything from endeavors in progress to her dream collaboration.
Creators: First off, can you give us an overview of a couple of the pieces so far, as well as how the project came to be, people involved, etc.?
Sandra Kazlauskaite: unmute was launched in 2011 with the idea of bringing sonic and visual artists together to explore various themes through their own respective disciplines. The aim of the project was to offer something different to the usual podcast experience by gathering a shared online space for people to express themselves within. Currently, co-founder Daniel Beck and myself run the project on a day-to-day basis, uploading new pages every two weeks. We see the pages on the site as exhibition spaces in their own right, and it’s important to us that the contributing artists feel that their work is displayed properly. You’ll never see two identical pages on the unmute website.
Since our launch in December, we’ve been fortunate to work with artists from different parts of the world. The most recent theme, Chemicals, has a hypnotizing visual interpretation by Portugese artist Isabel Salvado with an enthralling podcast by film writer and music promoter André Santos, where the periodic table, atomic bomb and geo-engineering are all part of the exploration of the topic. Interestingly enough, when placed together in one virtual space, both disciplines merge and complement each other with equal weight. The visual and sonic elements never meet, but the end result is always so clearly bound to the connective theme that it’s difficult to image the two elements were ever separate. I’m especially excited about our upcoming theme, where the sound explorations will come from the wonderful electronic music producer John Tejada. As always, it will be intriguing to find out if the merged music and visual artwork will work together for the particular theme.
How much of the projects do you think are guided by the abstracts, and in that same vein, do you think placing restrictions on or giving some form of structure is necessary to the creative process?
I believe certain creative restrictions can reveal the unexpected in a creative mind. There is a sense of comfort in taking ownership of any complete artwork, especially with audiovisual art, wherein the visual artists often envision what the sounds should be like, and vice versa. With unmute, however, we try and get the practitioners to experience a slightly different mode of creation, one not necessarily within their comfort zones. Visual artists have to submit a soundless artwork, while sonic representatives cannot add any imagery to their podcasts. A given brief/theme does place certain boundaries to the creative process as well, but it is the essence of the abstract that we are very much intrigued by: no restrictions on timescale, format, medium or style, just pure experimentation and subjective artistic interpretation of a particular word or phrase. Whether it’s Cliffs, Bad Dreams, Spaces, or Chemicals, it’s completely up to the artists to decide upon the sounds and visuals.
Nye Williams’ Still Photograph from unmute 3, ‘Spaces’
Who do you guys have planned next, and do you ever think the collaborations will become face to face?
There’s scope to grow, without a doubt, and hopefully, with time, effort and the wonderful people surrounding us, we will expand the network to a much wider audience by exhibiting the works not only virtually but physically as well. What I find inspiring about the concept of unmute is the accessibility; the digitization of art over the last couple decades has extended the possibilities for sound, music and visual art online. We try to offer artists a unique space in which to express themselves. The next focus is to bring unmute’s online spaces to life through live exhibitions and performances based around the same underlying concepts. The anonymity of the process will remain untouched; with unmute, there will be no direct interaction or face-to-face collaboration between the connected artists. But needless to say, being a very small team, we are very much open to ideas, suggestions and collaborations. The more disciplines we can bring together, the stronger and more fulfilled the project will become.
Finally, we at the Creators Project are huge proponents of bringing like-minded artists together. Who are the top 3 collaborations you’d like to see if time, money, and living/deceased status were no object?
If only, if only… I could probably sit here until the next millennium piling extensive, endless lists. Sonically, I think Scott Walker is outstanding, Coil’s allegoric soundscapes and Pierre Schaeffer’s raw musique conrete findings would also be somewhere near the top of my list. Visually, someone like Sergej Parajanov with his vivid and symbolic colours, Walter Ruttmann’s primitive yet perfect animated moving shapes, or even Douglas Gordon and his experimentations through installation and expanded cinema would be beautiful.
I’m reluctant to pair any of these directly, though, as we’ve found that it’s quite often the pairings you would least expect that create the most intriguing combinations. Notably, half of the people I have just mentioned above are already deceased, and even though it’s always very exciting to dream about the creative pioneers who are not with us anymore and thinking ‘what would it be like’, we have to realize there are a huge amount of great artists working today. And with the unmute platform, we are trying to expose that. Whether you’re actively involved in producing sounds, visual art or just have a great passion for music, moving and still visual art, and would like to express yourself creatively, unmute’s doors are open – it’s all about experimentation and process. If you are interested in taking part, get in touch!
Thanks for speaking to us!
If YOU could bring together two artists from any time, or any place ever, who would they be?! Post your collaborations in the comments below!