True artistic collaboration is a rare and wondrous beast. It demands complete trust, ruthless honesty, shared vision and an almost Darwinian approach to ideas: only the strongest can survive to blossom into reality.
West Footscray artists and partners Frank Veldze and Suzanne Donisthorpe have been collaborating for the last seven years, creating large-scale sculptures that challenge and delight.
Their artistic partnership brings together Suzanne’s formidable conceptual skills and Frank’s boundless imagination and talent as a maker to create art that asks questions about place and home.
Art that says something
Story and social commentary provide a theoretical foundation that underpins their work. As Suzanne explains it's essential that their work have meaning beyond the aesthetic.
“If you are going to do something you may as well say something.
What’s the point of art if it’s just decorative?
You can make stuff that’s really good but what does it mean?
If it can transport someone out of looking at the world in a particular way just for a second and make them think it about it in a more poetic and complex way, that’s the point of art for me in a way.”
Their first collaborative work was Dream Home a 6m x 6m house made entirely from mattress wire, salvaged from mattresses that were being thrown out from Ozanam House for Homeless Men in North Melbourne.
The piece captures the precariousness of a homeless life in a structure that promises everything but in the end offers neither shelter nor protection.
Their work, Plague Species, a giant five-metre high rabbit made from gorse
and fencing wire, was created as the world’s population hit seven billion.
The couple are busy working on their next project, Dream Boat, which will be part of the Moreland public art commission.
The 4m x 2m craft made of mattress wire houses life-sized figures made from shredded lottery tickets.
It’s a work that explores the plight of refugees, risk and desire, dreams and dashed hopes.
Meeting of minds
For this couple, creative inspiration can come from anywhere, but ideas are always ‘thrashed out’, pushed and prodded to test their veracity.
“We can come up with an idea but without a concrete form of something we want to explore, but then I can see it finished,” said Frank.
“And we can talk it through, the engineering, what the work means, what it might look like," said Suzanne.
"Frank solves all the practical problems and then actually makes it.
Ideas can come from very practical things – from materials and Frank’s genius at that," said Suzanne.
“I like the discovery, coming up with a crazy idea and then the vision of how I’ll go about it. Just start and see where it goes,” Frank explains.
Making it big
Frank credits Suzanne for shifting his artistic practice from small wire works to large scale sculpture.
The couple’s work encompasses sculpture, sound and projection.
For Frank the medium of mattress wire has been a continual source of structural inspiration, not just for its abundance and low cost, but its versatility.
“I like the idea of ninja artworks. Large-scale work, which is usually associated with concrete, cranes, corten steel - you get these heavy dominant structures.
I like the idea of making big things that you may not even see initially, you walk past and people go ‘wow this is enormous’, it changes the whole perspective, and its cheaper.
I wouldn’t work in new materials anyway, I much prefer finding things; it’s part of the deal.
There are so many ideas to explore and some things – like the mattresses you do it as far as you can, you stretch and then plant a little metaphorical flag there and then head off somewhere else but it’s not over. It's just another pathway and you can always come back.”
Suzanne laughingly describes artistic drive as a ‘kind of illness or affliction: an incurable disease’.
“Everyone that’s artistic has it – a compulsion - and you kind of understand that it’s not going to pay any money really and it’s going to be really hard work.
Some people will think you are a complete asshole and why should you be allowed to keep doing this stuff.
It doesn’t necessarily fit with the rest of society, you’ll be an outsider, there’s all that stuff that goes against it, but that’s also why you do it.
I think there’s something that’s a little perverse – when I think about everyone that’s artistic.
They think, this isn’t good enough, it needs a kick, it needs exploring, it can’t just stay like this and so that perversity feeds that desire to try and say something about it.”
Suzanne says their collaboration enriches their relationship.
“I love you, I love you, I love you is fine, but if you’ve got something to do together, oh man, that’s such joy. To have a partnership that actually works where you collaborate on things. We’ve each got our individual role to play and there’s no demarcation. It’s good.”
You can also check out Dream Home at the corner of Moreland and Parker Streets, Footscray.
words jessica dean + pictures samantha kuruvita