I often call myself a 'public artist' as virtually all the work I create is shown within some form of public space. The work I make is generally site-specific, in that it is created specifically (both physically and conceptually) for the place in which it is shown. Sites have included shopping centers, churches, buses, beaches, websites, billboards and in one case a TV program.
My work is primarily a method for exploring issues and ideas. I sometimes work alone but more frequently I make work with other people, individuals and groups, most of whom have very different opinions and life experiences to mine. Generally the only clear point of connection between us is the subject of the work.
The work starts as a process - a large conversation - and becomes concrete through a shared desire to extend this conversation to include a wider audience.
A friendly intervention into the world of Afro-Latin social partner dance. Kizomba is an intimate couple dance, originally from Angola, in which there is a very strong convention of men leading and women following. I have been an active member of this dance community in the UK since 2010 and prior to making this work, I had never seem a woman lead a man dancing Kizomba socially. The work involved my learning to dance as a follower, then advertising and running a short course in which myself and fellow dancer Katya Menhennet taught women to lead and men to follow. The participants embraced the opportunity enthusiastically and it was particularly notable how quickly most of the men relaxed into the role of following, closing their eyes and allowing their movements to be led by their female partners. Since the course, several of the participants have been seen dancing in a role-swapped manner socially in the dance venues of Leeds. This subtle, yet visible addition to the texture of the social dancing environment also became a part of the work.
A sticker-art project which responded to the threatened "burka ban" which was at the time being debated by the French government. The "BURKAZ" presented an image of veiled women with dynamic super-hero style personalities – based on the Saudi women I met in in Jeddah who combined stylish burkas with designer shoes and accessories as a statement of rebellion and independence.
A series of photographic self portraits exploring identity, masquerade and isolation.
A sticker-art project which explored new ways of representing one of the most commonly used images in vernacular graffiti. A playful questioning of the relationship between genetic male-ness, socially constructed ideas of masculinity and the role of the phallus as a symbol of male power.
As part of the British Council initiative "My Father's House" I was invited to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the aim of developing proposals for artworks which responded to the architecture and society I encountered. I met a lot of Saudi men including groups of photography enthusiasts, doctors, historians, business men and drivers. I also met a surprising number of Saudi women including one gallery owner and three contemporary artists – all of whom were fiercely intelligent and highly critical of the Saudi state. On the final day of the visit, during a discussion with my two British Council guides (one of whom was a a woman artist) I came up with an idea for a sculpture titled "The Saudi Women's Cube". This was based on the tension felt by so many Saudi women between their own deeply felt Islamic faith and their antagonism towards the way their religion is interpreted by the ruling male elite of their country.
This proposal was put "on hold" in late 2007 due to broader diplomatic issues. The project was officially cancelled in 2008.
A collaboration with users of St. Georges Crypt Night Shelter in the centre of Leeds. The result of a commission from Leeds City Art Gallery and St. George's Crypt to mark the shelter's 75th anniversary. During the summer of 2005 I spent many evenings at the Crypt talking to the men and women who go there, about what night time means to them. The resulting video installation combined ideas, memories and statements which the people I met passionately wanted to express to a wider audience.
A re-staging of one part of the "You Are Here in a Moment" exhibition. This time in a larger space - see below for full details.
For this piece I collaborated with Science and Gareth Gumbs, two residents of the Chapeltown area of Leeds to make an informal documentary video-work combining the conventions of vox-poping and street-corner debating. Over a period of several months Science and Gareth walked the streets of Chapeltown and Harehills talking to predominantly Black and Asian, young men about their experiences of, and opinions about, contemporary urban life. The resulting exhibition piece combined interactive DVDs of these conversations with a projected conversation between Science and myself in which we reflect together on the overall experience.
A one hour lunch-break project with children from Harehills Primary School. I provided trays of magnetic words and a few examples and within minutes the first children were queuing up to use the digital camera. Sometimes everything just goes right.
The concluding exhibition took its title from one of the "Playground Texts" and was staged at Leeds Metropolitan University Gallery. It included an installation of "Searching for Truth", large digital prints of the "Playground Texts" and a projected version of "The Man Who Sings Prays Twice" a video piece I created with local writer Barbara Kirk.
A collaboration with smokers from St. James's Hospital, Leeds. I traveled around the hospital site and started conversations with anyone I saw who was smoking. The vast majority of these were staff but many also had experiences as patients and as relatives of patients. What developed was primarily a process-based work in which the smokers were both the collaborators and the audience. Generally, people were very interested to discuss their experiences but were reluctant – for a variety of reasons – to be identified publicly as smokers. From this came the idea of a book of unattributed comments and anonymous photographs.
Two large laminated versions of the book were exhibited at the gallery - one inside and one outside where it could be read by smokers who generally congregate around rubbish bins beside the gallery windows. I will shortly be placing copies of the book back in the smoking spaces of the hospital for the smokers to read. Further copies may be used as part of the hospital's Quit Smoking scheme.
14 people from across the globe follow instructions given through headphones - documenting their journeys with photography and video.
An exhibition documenting the work I produced as Artist in Residence at the BRAHM Agency. This was a joint exhibition with Louise K. Wilson who also had a residency at BRAHM.
14 days of collaborative art-making in one of the North’s major advertising and PR agencies. I worked with cleaners, directors, creatives, account managers etc. to create new stories, about the people in the building, for the people in the building. Works included a series of silent videos which re-interpreted images of office life which were in turn projected into the open-plan office space; and a reworking of the company logo (in which each coloured line represented a service offered by BRAHM) to include an invisible line to represent the cleaners.
A series of guided audio-tours for use in the city. Tours included a "Shopping" tour and "The Mission". This project developed into "Global Fragments" - see above.
Digital video projections for a major new opera by Sam Paechter and Rachel Feldberg. Premiered at Bolton Abbey’s Victorian Railway station and Leeds City Art Gallery.
A commission to create a CD-ROM-based interactive artwork for distribution throughout the UK library network. My work explored the theme of "Men and Shopping" and was a cumulative interactive collaboration in which I brought four male shoppers into an anonymous virtual dialogue about their experiences of shopping.
A ten-minute digital television program, which explored the night-time lives of four people who, didn't sleep at night - a breakdown recovery driver, a fisherman, an illegal-rave organiser and an insomniac. The film itself attempted to re-negotiate the video-diary format through digital technology and collaborative filming techniques.
A collaboration with 14 ex-pupils drawn from 40 years of Foxwood Comprehensive School - built as Leeds' first comprehensive in the late 50s and closed under special measures in the late 90s. The project resulted in multi-media installations in two massive stairwells of the building - now East Leeds Family Learning Centre. The installation was planned to stay for a month and was retained as a permanent fixture in response to positive feedback from the local community.
A collaboration with 14 disabled people which explored experiences of love, sex and relationships. It resulted in a book, a web site and six billboards. Click here to see the We Still Can website
A sound based interactive installation in the Birmingham Botanical Gardens which explored perceptions of scientific evidence. Working as the Lewin Collins Foundation I created two "educational" workstations which suggested that plants might respond directly to human activity such as music. My intention was to present people with something that looked scientific but which they would quickly 'see through' and perhaps cause them to question how easily they accept scientific authority. In practice every single visitor asked, said they believed the "experiments". These visitors included a party of Botanists from another institution! Some months later I was contacted by an agricultural college and asked if the Lewin Collins Foundation would be prepared to restage the experiments for their students - it was hard to know whether the caller was more embarrassed or disappointed when I explained that the plants had not in fact responded to the music he had played to them when he visited.
A collaboration with 14 people with very different experiences relating to death, and from a range of faith backgrounds. The project resulted in three separate photo/text installations which were shown in a shopping centre, a church and a synagogue.
A collaboration with a diverse group of local drivers (bus driver, rally driver, road protester...) in which we explored the complex experiences of contemporary driving. It resulted in a simultaneous exhibition of photo/text works in the museum cafe and on over 150 Oxford buses.
The work was re-shown as part of an exhibition responding to the building of the Newbury Bypass - which had been the focus of prolonged and extensive protests in the mid 90s.
A commission from 'Crystal Clear' - a multi-venue art event which worked with the new Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds to explore issues raised by the building and its collection. I produced a series of photo/text banners for an installation in the Leeds Parish Church. These drew on the responses of eight local people - each with direct experience of weapons - a surgeon, a police firearms officer, two peace campaigners, two gun club members, a victim of armed robbery. Each collaborator visited the museum and followed a "critical" audio tour of the museum which I created for the event - their responses to the tour became the raw material for the final works.
A Visual Arts UK commission for which I created "Red Wood Orange Doors" a process-based work which culminated in a series of temporary sculptures, and "BoatHead"a pair of giant beach drawings which were photographed from the air. I also spent a month creating sculptures with school groups, which culminated in a photographic exhibition hosted by 16 shops in Seaham High Street.
Published: LOOKING BEYOND, Easington District Council 1996
A "museum style" guided audio tour applicable to any Mothercare store in the UK. Six men visited six stores across the country. Their responses to the tour were compiled into an exhibition at Manchester Metropolitan University. Both the tour and the responses addressed and questioned the connections between masculinity and consumption.
A commission to create a live projection piece with composer Hugh Nankivell and pupils from a Huddersfield Junior School.
A site-specific text and image installation created with a group of disabled students to raise disability awareness within the university. Created whilst working within Graphic Works an ethical design partnership I co-founded in Bradford in 1989.
A very large scale site-specific installation of Sugar, Bamboo and Muslin. An attempt to evoke and link the histories of the dock, the city and the slave trade.
A series of interventions in the form of signs which I attached to fences marking the perimeter of building sites. At one stage a builder asked what I was doing. In response I resorted to my pre-prepared script and I explained that I had been asked to put up the "STRICTLY MEN ONLY" signs by management. He was very put out and told me the signs were sexist and that he had only worked with a woman plumber the previous week. In many ways this was a decisive moment for me. It caused me to question the validity of making unannounced public comments and this ultimately led me away from commenting about people and towards working with them.
A series of 15 'seamless' textual and visual interventions on commercial billboard posters.
Click here to see the Saatchi & Someone website
GRAPHIC AGITATION 2, Phaidon Press 2004
SUFFRAGETTES & SHE DEVILS, Phaidon 1997
GRAPHIC AGITATION, Phaidon Press 1993
Leeds Postcards 1990
For all comments questions and requests email David Collins at:email@example.com