Collaboration can happen between two people, communities or an entire group. Typically, it involves the participants bringing together their individualised skills, disciplines, media and knowledge to make a united piece of work. Collaboration can also bring together different subject areas to create a unified outcome across different ways of learning/making. When finishing a collaboration, all members have joint authorship over the work, and typically all parties must decide on what happens with the piece following its creation. For my first year, this was my knowledge of collaboration and how I perceived it.
“Collaboration unites differing ambitions, temporalities, work rhythms, goals, locations, styles and media.”(Murphy, P. 2011)
The basis on which I started collaborating felt like fate – it was within a project titled Copy and Mutate. All students received a random image that they had to distort to their liking. By coincidence, my two bodies received similar photos taken at the Barbican Conservatory. This alone inspired me to produce joint work, although collaboration wasn’t a central point of interest; it just felt appropriate to experiment. Peter Murphey explains how some artists feel like “[…] Collaboration is an important and even indispensable way in which they initiate acts of curation or reenergise themselves when inspiration has been lost.” (Murphey, P. 2011). Producing work together, stimulated my bodies and allowed me to have a fluidity within my own work that I didn’t have prior. Although my two bodies had worked collaboratively with others previously, this collaboration felt more natural. At this point, collaboration was just a part of the brief, that I understood to be simply working with others and having joint ownership of an artwork.
Similarly, to Peter Murphey, I understood collaboration to unite the different aspects of people’s practices/skills to create a piece where all individuals worked equally. Figure 1 features the collaborative finished piece that I produced. Within this collaboration, my two bodies brought a literal number of different tools and skills, providing a clear divide on what each ‘individual’ did. Although the final produced piece is not aesthetically pleasing; I continuously reflect on the piece as a turning point in my bodies practice without necessarily realising. The piece makes me realise how fast my two bodies ‘clicked’ and how organic it was for them to work together and share a space to work. Even at this point, my two bodies were already becoming increasingly close and helping one another produce numerous works.
Sociologist Howard Becker’s book on collaboration has heavily influenced the way I currently view collaboration. “All artistic work, like human activity, involves the joint activity of a number, often large number, of people. Through their cooperation, the artwork we eventually see or hear comes to be and continues to be. The work always shows signs of that cooperation. The forms of cooperation may be ephemeral, but often become more or less routine, producing patterns of collective activity we can call an art world.” (Becker, H. 1982). Delving deeper into collaboration made me realise since my initial collaboration in my first year, I never truly stopped. I didn’t give my two bodies shared ownership of all the work. Both bodies continuously shared their opinions, lent a hand, took part in and even produced work for the other from this point on. I lacked the understanding to keep calling it on ongoing collaboration.
Feasibly, you can’t credit every single person who has ever influenced or worked with you on all occasions. However, my two bodies were often influencing, helping produce and supporting each other within almost every piece. It went past the point of being ephemeral help and into a direct collaboration which deserved joint authorship over artworks. For example, during the 1960s, multiple couples were working collaboratively such as Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and Nancy and Ed Kienholz didn’t attribute the work to both artists till long after the initial collaboration. “At first, Ed was the only one credited for creating this work, but in catalogue essay for a show at Zurich’s Galerie Maeght in 1981, he announced that any art produced since the pair married should be attributed to both of them, under the single name Kienholz.” (Stoilas, H. 2019). Comparing this to my bodies, they too only credited one person to each practice, even though the work should have been under joint authorship.
At this point in my practice, collaboration is no longer about a balance of work, but having the essence of both artists. Some believe that collaboration can only truly happen between two living artists; however, “Arp continued to ‘collaborate’ with Sophie after her death, for instance by tearing up some of their duo-drawings in order to reassemble the pieces into collages.” (Hubert, R. 1993). Even though Sophie Alps was deceased, Hans was still able to continue the collaboration with her. Hans was able to do this by physically re-using her work but also through the fact she had inspired and produced work cooperatively up until her death. This is an excellent example of how you can work collaboratively with someone without them physically being there, Hans needed the influence and past work to continue.
In my opinion, the work of Sherrie Levine is also an act of collaboration. “Sherrie Levine reproduced as her own work other works of art, […] Her aim was to create a new situation, and therefore a new meaning or set of meanings, for a familiar image.” (Tate. n.d.). Appropriation is the act in which artists uses objects/art they don’t have authorship. As a result, Levine is indirectly collaborating with the original artists. Figure 2 shows ‘After Walker Evans’, and the piece is Levine’s photography of Walker Evan’s photography. Although Levine gives new context to the artwork, her work relies on an ‘original’ meaning it can only coexist. Regardless of Sherrie Levine’s classification of herself as a collaborator, her work contains the essence of a cooperative practice; whether granted authorship or not.
Going into my second year, artist duo Gilbert&George had a massive influence on why I wanted to delve further into collaboration. They were the first collaborative duo that I came across, and the realisation that a collaboration could be the main aspect of two practitioners work was inspiring. Their physical work didn’t influence me; however, I was intrigued by how they looked and presented themselves – specifically through photography. “We do believe that we can speak through how we cloth ourselves, as well as through how we do our pictures.” (Gilbert&George. 1993.). My two bodies occasionally wore matching articles of clothing at this point. By seeing Gilbert&George’s interest in the way they present themselves through clothing, I planned to explore this aspect further in my second year.
Although, my initial plan for second year was my two bodies exploring collaboration more directly, the fear of failure by producing work entirely together delayed my bodies from committing at this stage. Instead, my bodies opted to do separated practices – this was due to not knowing the broad nature of collaboration suggested by Howard Becker and the fear of failure. My two bodies continued to separate work moving into second year.