Friday, 12 February 2010

Buy One Get One Free

Exhibition poster - seen here

I went to a symposium today at West Wales School of the Arts about artist collaborations. Organised by Contextual Studies duo Helen Lindsay and Marilyn Allen (a dynamic duo in their own right!) the day featured presentations from Tracey Warr, Anthony Shapland from Cardiff's g39, Sean Edwards from WARP and Secondeditions

It was a good day, looking at the ways in which visual artists collaborate and some of the issues that are brought to light when they do. Tracey Warr gave an excellent introductory talk sweeping through art historical collaborations from Modernist groups and pairings to contemporary work. She talked about artists she has worked with, collaborating essentially as a curator/writer and the nature of equality in such scenarios. She highlighted the different dimensions of collaboration, the many varied ways in which people come together to make art and the peaks and pitfalls that can be encountered. Warr has published a series of conversations about collaboration - ‘On Collaboration: Interviews with Heather Ackroyd & Dan Harvey and Phelim McDermott’, Doubt Guardian. In press. 2008.

I have collaborated with other artists and technicians on various occasions and have run into many of the difficult territories discussed. Ideas of ownership, attribution, financial allocation, divergent ideals to name a few. I have also benefited tremendously from the generous and productive aspects of sharing with and learning from other practitioners. It's always a sensitive negotiation and requires a lot of grown up skills to bring the best out of the situation. I was personally a little relieved to find that other artists' collaborations are as individual, particular and potentially contentious as those I have engaged with - phew! I'm normal!

I like the idea Tracey Warr discussed of The Third Mind that can be created through the process of collaborating. A kind of reflexive entity that lets the work find a less ego-bound outcome; an autonomy outside the grasp of the individuals involved.

We heard from Anthony Shapland about the genesis of the hugely influential artists run gallery, g39, its unfolding story and current developments, including WARP, the resource service headed up by practising artist Sean Edwards. The network-style ethos of the project was celebrated at their 10 year celebration exhibition If You Build It They Will Come in 2008.

There were a few interesting suggestions as to why artists working currently have embraced this mode of practice. Perhaps a reaction to a current lack of any genuine political agency; or a compensation for the loss of communism and socialism; even an obfuscation to political action, a muddying of incisive action. My own feeling is that it mirrors the paradigm shifts in all other areas of our lives towards network orientated systems rather than hierarchies - the Internet being a primary expression of that idea. It is perhaps an inevitable outcome of Roland Barthes ideas in Death of the Author. The flip-side - the birth of the reader/viewer becomes a further collaboration, the participating audience. Marcel Duchamp in his 1957 lecture The Creative Act says: "All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act."

I am engaged in two collaborations at the moment - a forthcoming show with Jacob Whittaker, Absent But Not Forgotten opening in March at The Last Gallery in Llangadog. In May I will show a piece at Rhôd at New Mill, Drefelin on which I will have collaborated on construction and technical issues with Bristol based Marcus FitzGibbon. Two very different types of collaboration. Jacob and I have worked conceptually on the show together from the beginning bringing elements to the project as a whole, the result is conjoined. Marcus is helping me realise my own concept through his construction skills, we've worked together many many times and have an aesthetic shorthand which allows things to emerge quite fluently, he will help me bring my idea into reality and inevitably bring some of his own aesthetic to the project.

I like working with other people, I like the way it forces me to let go control of my entrenched ideas. When it works well the expansive sense of realisation is sublime.

Here's a video clip about the collaboration between Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat in 1986 - collaboration or Oedipal face-off...? Fascinating.

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