How did we get here?

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Marsha tells a tale about her hand in Ecoes

Once upon a time there was The Market of Ideas (March 2008), Critical Practice’s (CP) contribution to The Festival of Europe. This bizarre bazaar addressed the question: What’s cultural about economics? In response a bunch of CP launched a mixed economy of knowledge/information/culture/money/etc. to consider the ways in which resources circulate. My own contribution to this market was two fold (with the help of many collaborators): the reFREsEmenets Café and a (proposed) video “doc-you-mentary” exploring the memes moving around FoE. At the same time these enterprises were taking shape, two other dynamics came into play: (1) Jem Mackay and I were developing a proposal for a panel discussion for the Networks of Design Conference (focused on Actor-Network Theory or ANT for short); and (2) CP was organizing the ResourceCamp as part of Disclosures, a program facilitated by Gasworks (March 2008). These projects soon synergized and Jem and I made two decisions: we’d work together to create the Ecoes video (partly through SWARM TV) and we’d invite Cinzia Cremona, Corrado Morgana and Michaela Ross to collaborate on this two-part project, a video output and conference "presentation". Informing these decisions was a three-fold assumption about the project's "themes." It would explore the interplay between (1) ANT, (2) video editing as medium (?) for (re)representation, and (3) The Market of Ideas.

It was a gray night at a corner pub in Shoreditch when Jem threw down the gauntlet by asking: How might ANT be used to edit the video footage from The Market? Cinzia was quick to pick up this glove and Corrado and Michaela soon pulled on their own (boxing) mitts, tugging and tightening them up around their wrists.

And then we battled. We battled over SWARM TV (how to use it), we battled over who was editing and how, we battled over the ways in which the project related to either The Market or ANT. Sometimes we wondered what we were fighting over; other times we wondered what we were fighting for--or at least that's my sense on it. We drew many lines in the sand and crossed them; we catapulted all kinds of complexity into our own camps; we staked our respective positions with some of us forging avant and others taking up the derrier…and the skirmishes continue. There are many controversies, to use Bruno Latour’s turn of phrase.

And my own gauntlet cum battle? It's taken several forms. First, it was a surgical glove designed for hygienic and exploratory probing. I’ve always understood Ecoes as part of my PhD research (into dialogic art as collaborative art practice). And the project coalesced around the same time I was coming to terms with my own participant observation in the projects comprising my research. I was struggling with my dual role of collaborator and a researcher; I was uncomfortable with the different dispositions and competencies these roles entail. While I believe in flat hierarchies in theory for structuring collaborative projects, in practice I found myself yearning to control the direction and result of Ecoes by setting the terms of the operation. And then Jem said something provocative. He talked about collaboration as a process/practice/product where each and every collaborator is the leader...the head surgeon..., a useful spin on flat hierarchies because it engenders more individual agency. This seems to be the way the project is developing…slowly…as we slice and dice our respective editorials for the video outcome as an assembly of (dis)assemblies (more Latour speak). A monstrous body....The biology of collaboration...

In the interim, I traded my surgical glove for kid gloves, which proved an enlightening experiment. The expression “to wear kid gloves” assumes one’s handling something with extreme care. But I realized in my case it was also about encasing something "precious": my own ego. It's not easy to make oneself vulnerable. But more and more, I appreciate this as a core constituent of deep collaborative engagement. Having said this, I’ve sat here looking at my gloved hands folded comfortably in my lap for several weeks now. I've worried, if I’m being honest, that I might break a nail—my own or someone else’s—by really engaging in the project. This risk aversion hasn’t been productive; I’ve contributed very little--thought there's been lots of guilt. This inertia's nothing if not protestant.

Here ends my (self-moralizing) confession and begins something else. I’ll say this quickly: returning to my researcher/collaborator conundrum and holding fast to Jem's touchstone idea of everyone being the leader, I’ve decided to hang up my kid gloves and experiment with wearing different sensibilities, one on each hand. With a gardening glove I aim to tend and grow my contribution to Ecoes and by extension the project more generally. With a catcher’s mitt I'll try and collect at least some of the projectiles flying past. It will be awkward to keep my sights fixed on the ground and the sky at the same time. But, with a little practice, these different activities might just engender a hybrid subjectivity that strikes a passionate balance between different types of touching, turning, grasping, passing, throwing, gripping, clasping, shaking, kneading, holding and so on.

I could end this extended and mixed metaphor with something about the collaborators all holding hands or make some other (reassuring) reference to our general togetherness. But I’ll dispense with such clichés to offer a slippage instead. Corrado wanted to "get into my head". Rather, I’ve given you my hand. At least that's been my intention. I've tried to unpack a little of the messy and personal side of collaborative art practice with the aim of better understanding my own engagement--or lack thereof.

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