Friday, December 11, 2009


about a year ago, i attended several presentations at the banff centre. the first was with paul butler, and the second was with matthew higgs. i was interested in what they had to say because paul works with collage and, in particular, has these wonderful, crazy "collage party" events that he hosts for/with other artists. he was at the centre to direct a creative residency called reverse pedagogy. i wanted to hear what higgs, who is a curator and artist (among other things), had to say because of his work with found books, artists books and text. he was visiting as part of the banff international curatorial institute's symposium, trade secrets: education/collection/history. their talks raised a number of questions for me, chief among them the questions of community and the nature of collaboration.

what struck me most was paul's statement that a primary impulse behind his collage parties was a longing for the type of community he had while in university. like many an artist (or anyone, really) i can absolutely relate. university or college (or high school) fills up so much of your day, time, identity that when you leave that social context you find yourself somewhat unmoored, afloat. it's hard enough finding kindred spirits in that context, let alone when you're removed from it. and despite many organizations' efforts, "the monthly meeting" just can't take the place of daily, ongoing or intermittent opportunities to talk about the piece you're working on, or the series you're exploring, or the brand! new! artist! you've just discovered!

he also discussed a number of alternative artists' ventures that move outside of the traditional artmaking and distribution contexts that are quite intriguing.
the upper trading post is one such venture. i'm sure there are others of this ilk. anyone?

the notion of collaborative spaces, and social spaces is an intriguing one, whether those spaces are physical or virtual. while i'm still not convinced of the virtual context's ability to foster true community (there's just something about
faces) there are ways - there must be ways - to create opportunities for community. where art is more of a communal process, or at least the communal process is an integral aspect of the finished work.

matthews higgs' talk generated ideas about how one can use forgotten or neglected spaces. small, hidden, ignored spaces that can be activated and energized by art's presence. or the creation of spaces dedicated to that collaborative impulse, where work is never finished, where dialogue and discussion and coffee and beer and wine are ever-present and ongoing.

higgs also spurred my interest in relational aesthetics (again). while that may make the art-work less 'arty', i think it's important to acknowledge that art
is relational in nature. it must be. as bourriaud states, relational aesthetics are "a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space". it may be a little passe now, but i still think the human interactive element in the art process (both while making and when experiencing) is an important consideration for the artist.

i must admit that my desire to work collaboratively, and my ability to sustain that and complete the task (assuming 'completion' is even part of the process) have not been that successful. and i find myself asking why that is. is it the lack of human presence? is it too much reliance on a shared passion for an idea, and that virtual community doesn't have the legs to carry the load? am i too idealistic? demanding? not demanding enough? even in situ, i wonder how much the invitation to add and participate can work? how does one create the conditions for that dialogue between viewer/ reader and work and viewer/ reader? creating the context can only do so much. people still have to choose to engage and "enter in".

i'd be interested in others' experiences working collaboratively, whether it worked or not. for some reason, the idea and act of collaboration, collusion, sharing, interaction, etc. is important to me. i just want to do it better.