Dialogue with Jennifer and Kevin McCoy

Fall 2010: v.06 n.02: Dynamic Coupling

 Double Fantasy 3, career detail, 2007. Jennifer and Kevin McCoy.

Double Fantasy 3, career detail, 2007. Jennifer and Kevin McCoy.

This project imagines what we would have talked about as children, what we thought the future would hold, what our (now embarrassing) fantasies were. The finished sculptures are two sided. One side for Kevin’s fantasy, one side for mine. Each side of the sculpture has a model of a childhood. Cameras project images of it to a large screen.  More documentation can be accessed at: www.flickr.com/photos/mccoyspace/sets/

How much time do you spend together? Do you live together or share a studio, or do you just get together to work on projects as they come up?

We spend as much time together as we can, although we have small children that absorb much of this time. During the evenings and during school hours we try to focus on new ideas and the practical side of art production.

Usually the more interesting projects and the more frantic deadlines rise to the top during these conversations. We share a studio, a carriage house, behind our house. More than a distinction between separate work areas for each of us, we feel the need for spaces that are “clean” for computer based work, and “dirty” for sculpture. Practically, though, the studio changes into what we need it to be for the project at hand . . . sculpture space, shooting studio, or computer lab.

When you are working on something do you schedule structured time together in a physical space, or meet online, or is it more organic than that?

It’s very organic. We do best with fewer interruptions, but sometimes more time does not lead directly to making more or better art. Its best for the work when our minds are more active and when we are both challenged.

Do you keep your personal/professional lives separate, or have they become seamless and indistinct? Is this okay?

It’s always been very seamless and indistinct.  What could be more fun?

Can you, or do you, turn off your research/studio practice(s)?

Only to speak to and to play with our kids, and sometimes not even then. They don’t care about the art world, but they love art making.

When and how did you meet each other and under what circumstances?

We met in film studies classes in Paris. I (Jenn) was finishing up an undergraduate degree in Film and Kevin had returned to Paris try his hand at a Philosophy degree as post undergraduate studies.

At what point did you start making work together?

We started working together at once because I (Jenn again) had just shot a short experimental film on Super 8 and was trying to find someone to collaborate on a soundtrack.

Was there a growing period, when you had to get a feel for each other’s process/priorities, learn how to communicate – or did you click right away?

We certainly maintained separate practices for the most part for a couple of years and slowly we became so involved in one another’s projects that it seemed smart to begin to co-author them. This was also a neat trick once we started moving from single channel video projects to installations because then we were invited to travel together so we could both make the installation on site. It’s better for the work and better for the relationship.

Do you gravitate towards roles in your practice – based on strengths, or personality, or skills? Or is every project a different kind of adventure?

We learn new things on every project we undertake. Our roles as collaborators also extend to interns, assistants, programmers, or cinematographers depending on what kind of project we are working on. Sometimes, we need to be film directors, sometimes we need to be studio managers, at other times it’s the solo endeavor in the studio that is usually associated with artistic practice.

How do you generate the concepts you work with? Do you draw, write, photograph, or do any sort of regular background practice? Is this a shared thing?

The concepts come from anything at hand. The view, the news, a found object, many books and many movies. The generative strategy is almost always conversation. With visual art, especially sculpture, there is a way to create a fascinating object that opens up rather than locks down possibilities. With our work, there is often a functional aspect to the visual plan at hand as well. Rather than being disappointed by this mechanical reality, we really love when the work takes on its own form, beyond what was imagined in the drawing or the conversation. Then you’ve got something!

How do you make choices and negotiate decisions about what direction to take with projects?

We try to tempt each other to work on things that look promising. Ideas that are more exciting tend to rise to the top and other ideas seem to fall apart before they begin. It’s disappointing to stop and rework everything, but sometimes that has to happen. For us it can be difficult to choose between conceptual rigor and letting the project develop naturally, but in a way that is more difficult to encapsulate with language.

Will you describe a project that didn’t work out or you didn’t follow through on? Can you describe something that you couldn’t agree on or you didn’t feel like you were both “into?”

Our last summer in New York City was a bit of a disaster. We were meant to re-install a project we created for the BFI in 2007. For many reasons, because our time was limited, increasing technical issues, lack of enthusiasm to re-mount an existing work, we ended up putting the whole show on hold. The work is a wonderful piece and it will live again, but it needs to be re-addressed with fresh work happening at the same time.

What kinds of singular processes or practices, studio or research, do you maintain as individuals that you may or may not bring into the collaboration?

I (Jenn again) think that everything really ends up in the collaboration in some form. Kevin is a huge reader of theory, non-fiction, and news with a stunning array of information on many subjects. I am working currently on a blog about living overseas in the Emirates that is more of an art/lifestyle activity. It’s becoming like a public sketchbook of curious events and ruminations. Who knows what it will lead to?

Do you make your own work in addition to the collaborative work, and what sort of need does this fill?

Time really doesn’t allow for three art practices, two jobs, and two children, but I think we are both open to outside collaborations and events that might not include both of us equally.

What are the strengths in working collaboratively and what are the challenges in working collaboratively?

The biggest strength in working collaboratively would be the sense of mutual support for risk-taking. This can happen in any artistic community or relationship (say early Johns and Rauschenberg work), but it’s even stronger with shared authorship. This support can be a kind of editing, where some interesting scrap can be salvaged from an amorphous idea. It can also be seen in the form of “egging on,” challenging the other to not give up but to see through a thorny challenge. Of course it can also be an unconditional support where your doubts are assuaged by your collaborator and you decide to throw a project into the public realm and let it sink or swim there.

The negative, we find, is less in the process or in the work itself, but in the perceptions of others. We often like to play with the confusion caused by collaboration. For example we have used the word “I” in projects, (like I Number the Stars) to deliberately complicate the co-authored position. People like to know who is doing the thinking and who is doing the making. In our western art tradition, the idea that there are two people behind something causes enormous suspicion. Who really did that? Who really thought that up? They are disappointed to find there is no secret, no hidden genius behind the work. Its turtles all the way down.

What sort of theory, cultural circumstances, or life scenarios influence or inform your decision to work collaboratively? Would you say that your collaboration is philosophically driven, or more pragmatic?

Art-making is a bit like world-making. It requires many skills and approaches. It seems unnecessary to limit it to one person’s energy. It’s both philosophic and pragmatic. Art is the only field that has solo creators really.

If you teach, how does collaborative practice inform the way you facilitate student projects and teach studio courses?

We both teach. I (Jenn) teach a seminar on collaboration called Collaborative Strategies. I find that students get to know one another too late to develop strong collaborations without a gentle push to invade each other’s practices. Some students come into this process naturally and others are more reticent, but I believe school is a place to encounter the Other in a way that may not happen again. I also teach in a program predicated on collaboration and technology from the outset. The challenge in both classes is to keep reminding one another that although we are using the same words, the same meanings are not necessarily attached. In a long-term collaboration, these terms are more self-evident.

If you teach, do you co-teach? If you do co-teach, how has that been received by the students, and how has this been received in the academic institutions you have worked with?

We teach separately more often but have done master classes together. When we teach together it is most useful to use our own practice as the jumping off point.

Please point to us at a project or projects you would like to describe. Include links or attach files. If relevant, share with us a sense of the collaborative back-and-forth that may have gone into planning and making the work.

For purposes of this article, it would be nice to include the Double Fantasy series, which takes collaboration and relationship as its focus.
This project imagines what we would have talked about as children, what we thought the future would hold, what our (now embarrassing) fantasies were. The finished sculptures are two-sided. One side for Kevin’s fantasy, one side for mine.

Jennifer and Kevin McCoy are a Brooklyn, New York-based married couple who make art together. They work with interactive media, film, performance and installation to explore personal experience in relation with new technology, the mass media, and global commerce. They often re-examine classic genres and works of cinema, science fiction or television narrative, creating sculptural objects, net art, robotic movies or live performance. The McCoy’s are represented by Postmasters Gallery.

Kevin McCoy (b 1967), MFA Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Electronic Arts, Troy, New York; Jennifer McCoy (b 1968), MFA Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Electronic Arts, Troy, New York.