Maria Lind: The Collaborative Turn

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Lind, Maria. “The Collaborative Turn.” In Taking The Matter Into Common Hands: On Contemporary Art and Collaborative Practices. Edited by Johanna Billing, Maria Lind and Lars Nilsson, 15-31. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007.

In “The Collaborative Turn,” Maria Lind, one of the most sympathetic critics and curators of contemporary collaborative art, formulates a useful albeit surface catalogue of art groups, a project quite different from the one specified in the introduction to this text. Instead of considering the methodologies of artistic collaboration (a daunting task by anyone’s measure), Lind identifies characteristics of various groups as well as sociopolitical and theoretical influences on their work. She also considers collaborative structures and trends in art criticism, specifically the reassessment of socially engaged practices informed by or aligned with relational aesthetics. Overall, this text offers a good summary of the core concerns propelling well-recognized, contemporary Western art groups. Lind’s extensive lexicon of collaboration and her generous footnotes also make this text valuable.

Lind begins by discussing Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno’s No Ghost Just a Shell as an exemplar case study of recent collaborative activity. Situating this work in relation to both the neo-liberal logic of networking and outsourcing and emergent trends in identity production and consumption, she argues that the complexity and contradictoriness (the work’s push and pull relationship with the art world in particular) makes No Ghost one of the most notable collaborative projects in recent history. Recent history, we learn in the subsequent section titled, “Collaboration now and then,” means circa 1990 [read: relational aesthetics]. After offering a brief genealogy of collaborative practice beginning with the studio system of baroque Europe and ending with the contemporary theory and practice of “group work,” Lind addresses the structures and motivations of collaborative activity by differentiating the significance of four key terms: collaboration, cooperation, collective and participation. Significantly, she aligns “collective” with “collective action,” giving the term a political thrust. Indeed, collaboration as a political gesture is an important if problematic sub theme in Lind’s text, a focus considered further below.

The title of the following section, “Come together, be together, work together” considers the ongoing but shifting significance of “community” from a theoretical point of view. Skipping through Benedict Anderson’s notion of imagined communities bound up with feelings of belonging and methods of repression; Jean Luc Nancy’s idea of community as something that happens in the wake of society; Gregory Sholette and Blake Stimson’s reflections on two trends in collectivity (1) the Islamist yearning for anti-capitalist, idealized solidarity, and (2) the broad church of DIY e-collectivism; Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s concept of “the multitude” as a replacement for “the people,” and Chantal Mouffe’s political notion of agonistic pluralism, Lind furthers her contextualization of collaboration by addressing pros and cons of interdisciplinarity as yet another way of coming together. She also identifies the strong relationship between strategies of artistic collaboration and strategies of sociopolitical collaboration, as in the case of creative collaboration used in the service of anti-globalization protest. Also considered is the influence of the post-fordist paradigm of immaterial labour on collaborative art practice, something that French economist Eve Chaipello explores in richer detail in her text, “Evolutions and Cooptation: The ‘Artist Critique’ of Management and Capitalism.” By charting various sociopolitical influences on collaborative art practice, Lind situates this group work within the anthropological system of which it is part.

Lind returns to the sociopolitical relevance of collaborative art in the final few paragraphs of her essay when she asserts: “Today we have reached a point where culture and art are not only used as instruments in the political arena, but they also produce a potent force, something that is palpable in this current strong interest in activism in contemporary art.” Activism in contemporary art? Certainly, the trajectories of art are manifold, with activism being one path among many. But it has not been my observation that activism has greater purchase on current contemporary art than, say, experimentation, entertainment or some other telos. Consider, for example, the recent Re-Imagining Asia conference at Chelsea College of Art and Design (March 18-19, 2008). The antithesis of politicized discussion, PC rhetoric—manifest in both the art and the surrounding discourse—effectively neutered critical debate. One possible reason for this sterility is the tremendous pressure placed on contemporary Asian artists to make politicized work, a pressure that all too often neutralizes the potency of their political agency by pressing them to tow a geopolitical line. I suppose I worry that Lind’s alignment of collaboration with activist art could have a similar consequences insofar as it may overdetermine this approach to art making.

Lind’s claim that “a fair number” of collaborative practitioners are “at home among self-organized parallel initiatives” is also worth considering. Is, as Lind seems to suggest, “collective autonomy” (to use Brian Holmes’ term) really what this maneuvering is about? Could not careerism also be at play? I have personally observed more than a fair number of groups mobilize in a spirit of professional solidarity, with Vancouver artists Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham and Ken Lum being a poignant case in point. Some savvy artists even cultivate the tension between their participatory and independent art practices. By using one form of production to feed the other, they not only enjoy greater visibility but often more provocative and profound creative outcomes as well.

This observation points to another curious dimension of Lind’s discussion: her vague understanding of artistic collaboration as practice. Collaboration by her definition is “an umbrella term for diverse working methods that require more than one participant.” One wonders, however, if “more than one artist” would be a more appropriate description given the limited scope of Lind’s examples. There is little consideration, for instance, of practices such as Maurizio Cattalan’s intense collaboration with his dealers, curators and critic friends. His is effectively a collaborative effort marketed under the authorship of an individual artist. As such, it caters to the art word’s preference for independent (preferably male) creators. Similarly, Lind does not address the ways in which parallel collaborative activities feed creative practice, as in the case of Wall and Graham’s rock band and the art criticism they offer on one another’s work. Lind’s limited notion of artistic collaboration as involving artists working together consequently discounts the many extraordinary and truly creative arrangements that participants (artists and non-artists alike) have brokered to meet their respective needs. Trends in inter/trans/extradisciplinarity and the outsourcing of art production are only two of many reasons why Lind’s specific notion of collaboration needs to be rethought.

Another limitation of Lind’s discussion is her failure to address what makes the process and expression of collaborative art different from so-called non-collaborative forms, something she acknowledges in the final lines of her text when she states: “…the motivation to collaborate is that is has to result in something that would otherwise not take place; it simply has to make possible that which is otherwise impossible.” That Lind closes with such a specific statement raises questions about her understanding of what artistic collaboration entails. But that she refrains from addressing what this “something” might be makes sense given her chosen orientation to collaborative work. Instead of identifying her role as a critic and curator in framing and disseminating this kind of art as collaborative, she positions herself as an outsider, external to the multifarious process that brings the work into being. Said differently she does not understand herself as a collaborator of the work she promotes. This explains why she writes from the point of view of “objective” observation (critic) instead of participant observation (collaborator) or some other perspective that more directly implicates Lind in the work’s production.

Let me close on a more affirmative note by acknowledging Lind’s useful digest of relational aesthetics, new genre public art, connective aesthetics, Kontextkunst and dialogical art as established examples of “the collaborative turn.” Animating this description is her discussion of Claire Bishop and Stephen Wright’s critiques of Nicolas Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics as well as brief mention of Christian Karagna’s four-part typology of interaction. Helpfully aggregated in one place, these ideas provide a key point of departure for my own literature review, making “The Collaborative Turn” is a useful touchstone for the practical, theoretical and conceptual underpinning of my research into authorship and collaboration in dialogic art.



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