Strong bonds and shared emotions can produce great collective work, particularly if they also reference what makes a group tick: the bricolage, the experiences, and a shared history. Peckham's Garudio Studiage is a collective entity with considerable strength in personality, producing work with a wonderfully cheeky – some might say British – twinkle in the eye.
Its members were friends before they started working together. Anna Walsh and Laura Cave met at sixth-form college; Walsh met Chris Ratcliffe while studying for an MA at the Camberwell College of Arts; and Cave met Hannah Havana at the Royal College of Art. They ended up living in neighbouring houses, working together at a prop-making company, and then making their own work in a garage let for free by their landlord. Hannah Havana picks up the story. "the amazingly eccentric ageing Cypriot landlord and builder, called simply 'Jimmy'. He only dealt in cash and didn't seem to be able to read or write, but his kindness and special eye for a bargain and a quick fix was inspirational."
When money was tight, a free space was a great opportunity to build collaborative work; a screenbed once belonging to Tim Mara was purchased from an ex-RCA tutor. From there, the group with the play on the words "garage studio" started to take shape. However, a free space to work came with no heat or light, and some unforeseen additional caveats: "Jimmy kept his building materials there, and would often turn up with random things like giant sacks of sand, broken boilers and, one day, some cats. At one point we couldn't use the screenbed for two weeks, as a cat had kittens on it and screeched whenever we went near." In-kind payment was to help Jimmy with his own work, which allowed the rather different worlds of contemporary design and budget building materials to occur in the same day. As Hannah admits, "... we would never know if we would have to suddenly drop our work to help install some pipes in the local chip shop or give interior design advice for his latest renovation. This meeting of worlds and our relationship with him planted the seeds for our way of working that still exists today."
The way of working is defined by the relationships that have been building since their late teens that remains intrinsically part of Garudio Studiage's culture. "Friends before work" comes first, a philosophy extending to the group even going on holiday together. However, they work on products individually, bringing them together for shows and commercial commissions. It's an overt, a tangible sense of humour that is the thread throughout these individual works, as well as a cross-influence that comes from working individually but as part of an overall team. Their paid jobs that have included stints in advertising, fashion, and lectureships have helped to build an awareness and confidence in multi-disciplinary practice, allowing the group to build Garudio Studiage as something that Hannah calls "an outlet for creativity and enjoyment. We like to do as much as possible ourselves and this mix of skills really helps us to be able to reject conventional commercial approaches and try to be as true to our original aims as possible."
As Garudio Studiage started to take on commercial projects, it moved from Jimmy's space to Peckham's Copeland Industrial Estate, now the Bussey Building in the "Copeland Cultural Quarter". It still recalls the roots of cold garages, plumbing, and cats: "Anyone who has visited the space will be able to imagine the small transition from a broken garage to a modern day shanty town of artists, tradesmen and African Churches, not to mention spiders, mice, winged insects and a spectacular selection of 'Jimmy-like' staff. Needless to say we felt at home." Garudio Studiage now occupies two studio spaces in the building, and has grown into an organisation producing work for clients including Graham Norton, the ICA, Wieden + Kennedy, and Dazed and Confused. Their bedding into Peckham is clearly part of their character, as they are increasingly seen as being central to the growing art scene in and around Peckham, something to be shortly celebrated with their next show Nation of Shopkeepers at Peckham Space.