Coincidences happen all the time, some resonating more than others. Picking up the phone at the exact time the person you are calling calls you is a peculiar occurrence that is hard to ignore, while seeing the same stranger in two unrelated places in one day is both easy to miss and dismiss. Coincidences occur naturally, but what happens when you start looking for them? Artists Sandy Plotnikoff and Lucy Pullen shift the casual, accidental nature of coincidence by increasing the likelihood of occurrence. They stack the deck, so to speak, with colour. For Plotnikoff, notice that the phone matches his red gloves, and the chair next to the phone matches his mint green sweater constitutes coincidence, while Pullen supplies the material of coincidence. Plotnikoff and Pullen force the incidental to redefine the notion and meaning of ‘chance occurrence.” They amplify probability factors by simultaneously limiting and multiplying the variables. Plotnikoff isn’t limited to one color in particular, but to colour in general. Pullen formalized a common experience beyond the gallery exhibition with a take-away object. They orchestrate coincidence in their collaborative practice as well.

 

Superballs (1009)

Sandy Plotnikoff & Lucy Pullen

Halifax Nova Scotia Canada

 
   

 

Their collaboration is more than the collision of two solitary practices; it is an intentional reaction to each other’s work. Bun Bun (1994), an intervention by Plotnikoff, signifies the beginning of their collaboration. In Kelowna, British Columbia, Plotnikoff scattered ten thousand buns, collected from a bakery garbage bin, in a park the morning before a local radio station held their annual Easter egg hunt. Labels with the words “bun bun” were pinned to each of the buns. Complaints made to police regarding the bun invasion incited a run of press in local papers. Eventually, the “quirky” story got picked up the associate press and made provincial papers across Canada and the United States. One paper ran the headline “Cops Hunt Bun Wacko” and called the unknown suspect “an obviously sick and demented person”. After meeting Plotnikoff and hearing about Bun Bun, Pullen produced Eat Your Words (1994).She baked trays of sugar cookies in the shape of the word “words” then packaged them to simulate a grocery store item, going so far as to fabricate a Sobeoy’s barcode. She placed them in the cookis displays of five supermarkets. Again, daily papers hyped the event with headlines like “Who Cooked These Up?” and by printing photographs of Pullen’s cookies in a Ziploc bag marked “Evidence” next to a frowning police constable. Bun Bun and Eat Your Words resemble each other in that they are a literal play on a work. Even though Plotnikoff did not intentionally seek ‘bad’ press, he and Pullen recognized it as central to the project. The press offered the work a life beyond the park, documenting the project in a way the artist couldn’t. Eat Your Words offered them both a way to work through what was an unforeseen element of the earlier piece. Pullen didn’t call the press, but she did consciously look for representation by bringing the work into a supermarket and disrupting the controlled system of buying and selling.

 

Newspaper document for 2 public projects (2001)

Sandy Plotnikfff & Lucy Pullen

 

 

artist book, 36 x 24 inches

web press, ed. 100

 
   

 

The social nature of the artists’ practice goes beyond responding to one another’s work – they intentionally build ideas. Pullen takes the spontaneous gesture of lines drawn freehand and transforms them into a signature pattern. The design is obviously a repeated freehand drawing but she manufactures it into wallpaper and formalized it as a print. Plotnikoff takes the essence of a line and brings it into the pages of The Face, a British lifestyle magazine. Starting with the cover and ending on the back page, he draws a connecting line in black marker under the nose of every face in the magazine. Plotnikoff and Pullen’s separate work fuse into a corresponding series that not only follow each other in time and place, but also come together to address a central concern. Both artists’ work converges on the reproducibility of a simple line, taking it across a variety of surfaces. Carrying the formal concerns of the line through various spaces, Pullen installs her wallpaper in the offices of Ernst & Young and Plotnikoff brings the line into the pages of a popular magazine. The work lingers, but not necessarily through a simple remounting of the same work. Instead, they search for innovative ways to extend formal and conceptual aspects of individual works.

 

Issue #12 (1998)

Sandy Plotnikoff & Lucy Pullen

The Little Cockroach Press

Art Metropole, Toronto Canada

8.5 x 5 inches, pp. 16, full color

free edition 100

 
   

 

 

Bookworks play an important role in addressing this concern and remain a tangible way to distribute their work. In 1998, the pair documented themselves in a thrift store, trying on an assortment of multicolored clothes all at once. They layer themselves in turtlenecks, absurdly squeezing into eight at a time. In another photograph, they pile on a stack of brightly coloured baseball caps and weigh themselves down wih bulky sweatshirts and jackets. Under the auspices of an Art Petropole Little Cockroach Press publishing project, they consolidated the snapshots in a bookwork. (4) The artists also print bookworks in relation to larger projects, like Superballs (1997), where they let 2,500 multi-coloured superballs live up to their name by dropping them from the roof of a seven-storey building.

 

Video document of Superballs (1997)

Sandy Plotnikoff & Lucy Pullen

exhibited in Fin de siecle (1999)

Optica, Montreal Canada

 
   

 

As opposed to reinventing old work or simply documenting it, they develop new ventures out of a familiar language. This process embodies the way they will collaborate for an upcoming exhibition at the Helen Pitt Gallery in Vancouver. For one aspect of the show, Plotnikoff will travel to meet Pullen in Philadelphia, where she is currently studying, with a shoebox of 4” x 6” photographs. Pullen will contribute her own collection of snapshots to combine their separate archives in an overall composition based on colour, form and meaning. They plan to adapt source material and content of current and earlier works to emphasize the nature of their exchange, beginning with the promotional poster, which will be a collage of the press clippings from Bun Bun and Eat Your Words.  Even though many works exist independently, Plotnikoff and Pullen bring them together as something larger and more comprehensive. Works  carrying only one name are incorporated into one cohesive installation, leaving a purposeful vagueness as to who had made what.

 

Issue #12 (1998)

Sandy Plotnikoff & Lucy Pullen

The Little Cockroach Press

Art Metropole, Toronto Canada

8.5 x 5 inches, pp. 16, full color

free edition 100

 

   

 

Meeting one another had an immediate impact on Plotnikoff’s and Pullen’s separate practices. However, they didn’t come together in full-fledged collaboration until three years after that meeting, with Superballs. Pullen referes to Superballs as a metaphor for their collaborative practice, ‘bouncing ideas back and forth between us over years, months, days, hours, minutes.’ The pair’s collaborative work is a reaction to the singular. It takes them out of theor solitary practices and offers up a platform to acknowledge the value of their exchange. The exhibition at Helen Pitt allows for an opportunity to formalize the ephemeral nature of this unique collaboration, showing a ceaseless connection between individual works. Like the single superballs left to linger and to compel on the streets of Halifax, Plotnikoff and Pullen’s individual production references a larger whole.

Jen Papararo
Supercollaborators
Mix Magazine (2000)
Vol 26. #3 pp. 40 - 43

 

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