It's good to talk (long distance)

Grennan and Sperandio work together, but almost never meet. They want to keep it that way. By Michael Bracewell
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The Independent Culture
Since Gilbert and George fused themselves into one artist, back in the 1960s, we have tended to think of artistic duos as living and working together in the closed environment of their studios. There is a compelling mystique in this idea of two artists working as one, producing pieces that have an opaque insularity that comments on the formulation of an artistic marriage. What makes Simon Grennan and Christopher Sperandio so unique in the tradition of artistic double-acts is the fact that they live on opposite sides of the Atlantic (Simon in Manchester, Christopher in Manhattan), seldom meet, and create their art through long-distance telephone calls and digital technology. It could be argued, in fact, that their transatlantic relationship has become central to their theory and practice of art.

Their latest project, a comic book commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Art, entitled Cartoon Hits, reveals the visual and conceptual potency of their particular collaborative process. "We try to make art that is immune to appreciation," says Simon, encapsulating his and Sperandio's development of themselves as explorers of authorship.

These days, in the works of artistic duos as different as the Wilson twins and Jake and Dinos Chapman, we can see how total collaboration becomes a means of obscuring creative copyright; the artists become like a brand name - their signature takes on the impersonality of a logo. For Grennan and Sperandio, however, it is less their definition of themselves as artists that is vital to their partnership than their role as the near invisible instigators of the social dynamics they document. In their previous works, such as The Workers Make the Candy of their Dreams (1993) or Six Eastbourne Dentists (1994), Grennan and Sperandio responded to individual commissioning bodies to make works that brought about an anthropological study of social microcosms. The actual "art" resulting from these commissions, whether real candy bars or a set of competent but undistinguished photographs, was wholly secondary to the process by which the two artists had chosen to establish and infiltrate a particular situation. Last year, for the 10th anniversary of Manchester's Cornerhouse gallery, Grennan and Sperandio "recreated", in treated photographs, memories of the Cornerhouse that had been submitted by members of the public. Now, having chosen to present real stories in the format of comic books, Grennan and Sperandio's Cartoon Hits combines further recreation of real people's anecdotes with an increasing role for the artists as cartoon characters. And it's all done with computers.

"Entertainment is vital," says Grennan. "It's essential to have fun. But we're beginning to enter the books as though we're playing ourselves in generic roles - usually being mangled or otherwise obliterated." Cartoon Hits is visually gorgeous, with the lush pastel colours of Japanese packaging and the rich use of framing that turns successful comic-book art into a choreography of words, pictures and psychedelic detail. On the cover, the artists are depicted chained at the bottom of the Hudson river, and throughout the book they make cameo appearances in which they blandly offer some definition of their project.

Grennan and Sperandio sit on the disputed boundaries between art and popular culture. Cartoon Hits, therefore, can be whatever you want. Whatever it is, it's provocative and entertaining, showing how much can be achieved with a photo base, a computer and a good idea.

n 'Cartoon Hits' is launched by the ICA on 7 Feb