"We Do Not Say No"

Bare Bones, The Franklin. Image courtesy of the artists.
Sarah and Joseph Belknap on collaboration
Better than roses and chocolates, we're celebrating Valentine's Day by talking to one of our favorite artist couples, Sarah and Joseph Belknap, about their creative partnership.
Did your art play a role in how you two met?
We met at the now closed Brudno Art Supply on Balbo. I was a photography student and needed some mat boards cut and Joseph was the cutter. We went on our first date shortly after. Five months later I moved to Philadelphia with Joseph and his two brothers. Joseph’s brother was moving to go to graduate school there and they had already planned moving so I joined along. We all lived together in a big cheap loft and Joseph and I moved back to Chicago after four years so he could attend graduate school at SAIC.
How do you each define collaboration in your work relationship? Do you have any suggestions for collaborating artists?
We are each other's teacher, advisor, art assistant, the spark that can floor initial ideas.
Turn the ego off. We are two separate forces with an insatiable appetite. We do not turn off—we understand this about each other. We do not map out our journey, we are on a lifelong drive with each other at our sides. The highs and lows are accepted as part of it. We rejoice for a moment, or cry, but just as the moon pulls the sea, we know the next tide is around the corner. There is so much life to live, so many things we do not know and this is what drives us.
I cannot provide any formula for what a healthy collaboration is other than respect, curiosity, hunger for knowledge and experience, honesty, and a willingness to let go of any ideal or predetermined form. The work changes and redefines itself as both personal and collaborative reflection occurs. Collaboration occurs in many various forms. In the space of collaboration is conversation between the different parts and functions of that structure. These parts must be able to listen, respond and create freely.
We work every project/experiment differently than the previous. Sometimes we are both doing the exact same thing, sometimes one of us is better at something and the other steps back, sometimes we have to divide the work because it’s what makes sense.
Lots of couples say it would be impossible to work together, so how do you keep from killing each other?
We started working together because we wanted to see what would happen. Our previous independent work was incredibly different from each other's and we have very different personalities. We wanted to see what we could learn from each other. We initially planned on collaborating for a year and expected to work independently again afterwards but we enjoyed the push and pull between us and the collaboration became permanent.
We fight a lot but we don’t fight to hurt each other’s feelings. We make each other crazy at times but know that if we aren’t pushing and pulling each other, then the work we make becomes complacent.
We also have one very important rule. We do not say “no.” If one of us has an idea, we do it. We just try it because even if it sounds like a terrible idea, you won’t know until you start to see it. If it isn’t working, we can try to make it work or then we can say “no.”

Sarah Belknap (b. 1983) and Joseph Belknap (b. 1979) are Chicago-based interdisciplinary artists and educators who received their MFAs from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Working in collaboration with each other since 2008, their art has been exhibited at the Arts Club of Chicago, the Chicago Artists’ Coalition, and Western Exhibitions and Comfort Station, both galleries in Chicago, as well as in artist-run exhibition spaces in Brooklyn, Detroit, and St. Louis. In addition, they have presented performances at institutions throughout Chicago, including the Chicago Cultural Center, Hyde Park Art Center, Links Hall, and at the MCA. Most recently the Belknaps have a solo show at the MCA as part of the BMO Harris Bank: Chicago Works series.


Bare Bones, The Franklin. Image courtesy of the artists.

Published by CAR_Jeff on Wed, 02/11/2015 - 2:17pm
Updated on Wed, 02/10/2016 - 4:06pm