Types of Collaboration

So in thinking bout artistic collaboration there are many approaches and ways to conceptualize this act.

Elements to consider:

  • Authorship – Who creates the work, who contributes meaning to it?
  • Duration – How long?
  • Depth – Different then how long, how complex and significant are the relationships?
  • Lines of Communication – How do people talk to each other? Dialogue, conversation, correspondence, call & response… are the lines left open or intentionally obfuscated?
  • Agency in Decision Making  – How are decisions made? Who gets to make them?
  • Context – What factors surround the collaboration?
  • Power – Who has it and where does it come from?
  • 1+1=3 – the sum of the whole is greater than the parts. Is the project easily reducible down to the contributing elements or are the components inherently interconnected?

In my experience looking at and thinking about collaboration I find that issues around Authorship, Power, Lines of Communication are often topics of friction and many of the other factors stem from these concepts. Often the question asked of collaboration is – who gets credit?  How this question about Authorship gets decided says a lot about the dynamics of power. At other times the question of who gets credit isn’t asked, people are just working together.


In reading the following list I would ask that you don’t read them as a hierarchy- with any one method being better than the other, and so forth. These are strategies, all of which have valuable uses.


The Sampler

A passive form of collaborating would be a group of people getting together and showing/distributing their work together. There may be a theme, which can be as simple as we are connected through some social bond, geography, gender, medium, or whatever…. There may be mutual influences amongst the group, but for the most part, besides being unified by being in the same room, book, album, or whatever… the work stands independently. The parts are not trying to be added together, they are just in a list. Because the work is in the same list the viewers may make some sort of association, but the authors of the work are not intentionally trying to create a larger message by putting their work together. What you often get from this approach is a larger Audience, because everyone functions as a magnet for other people, and with more magnets you can draw more people.

{Critical factors at play – Context}

The elementary school art show is a prime example, but any group show could possibly fit.


Open Source

Adding an element to the Sampler approach, Open Source makes the same proposition, but adds an intentional element of structure in connecting the work to a greater or lesser degree. There is some sort of prompt or instruction which structures the contributions. Often in this form the path of influence goes only one way, with the originating author making decisions about structure and parameters for participation, and then allowing others to do what they will with the content. The initiator of the collaboration may be affected by peoples input, but that may not develop into a back and forth discourse. Many Participatory take on an element of this.

{Critical factors at play – Authorship, Lines of Communication, Agency in Decision Making, Power}

Reanimation Library

From the Reanimation Website –

The Reanimation Library is an independent presence library.* The books in the collection—simultaneously prosaic and peculiar—are relics of the rapidly receding 20th century. Chosen primarily for the images that they contain, they have been culled from thrift stores, rummage sales, flea markets, municipal dumps, library sales, give-away piles, and used bookstores across the country.

*Presence library is a mistranslation of the German word for reference library, Präsenzbibliothek. In addition to being a non-circulating collection, the library encourages IRL encounters with actual books and actual humans.

The re-animation libray is an institution fun by one person – Andrew Beconne. The library began from his own practice of collage making from various books he found. Being trained as a Librarian, he then considered opening up his library to the public for use and thus the prjoect became a public collaboration. The central branch is in Brooklyn, and it sets up temporary branch libraries in various towns.

A poster from a branch library, which was constructed from images in the library{a separate note- the poster was collaborative designed by the curators of the space in Providence}


Learning to Love you More

GO AND EXPLORE THIS WEBSITE, no single photo can really convey what occured.

From the website –

Learning to Love You More is both a web site and series of non-web presentations comprised of work made by the general public in response to assignments given by artists Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher. Yuri Ono designed and managed the web site.
Participants accepted an assignment, completed it by following the simple but specific instructions, sent in the required report (photograph, text, video, etc), and their work got posted on-line. Like a recipe, meditation practice, or familiar song, the prescriptive nature of these assignments was intended to guide people towards their own experience.



Project statement –

TrendFACTORY is a community-driven, multi-participatory installation that explores issues related to hand(craft), the physicality of labor, and the repetition of memes in the virtual world through hand-manufactured objects. As the “factory” is a quickly disappearing hub for work within the country, this installation brings a focus back to labor and our need for commonality through shared physical experiences. TrendFACTORY focuses on the ways in which a controlled community, limited to specific materials, can participate in the construction and thus curation of objects, perhaps influencing and driving the installation (both real and virtual) and thus exposing the repetitive and tedious nature of trend.

The artist provided the furniture and workstations in the gallery, the raw materials for construction, and a set of instructions. Participants work was displayed on showcases in the gallery.


Thingiverse is a good example of this strategy in the art related fields of tinkering & maker culture. It is a place for people to upload and download 3D printer files. Here the invitation is totally open to whoever in the 3D printing public wants to contribute or take.


The Curated Invitation

This concept relates to both the previous two framings, with further attention to choice of who participates. It is a group gathered, but the group gathered is more specific, and what they are gathered around is unified by theme or issue.

{Critical factors at play – Authorship, Context}

Justseeds.org is a print cooperative. Their web portal showcases the members of the cooperative’s print works. Their web-portal functions under this category of collaboration, but they also do groups shows that are collaborative creations. In making their decisions they have annual meetings and share decision making power.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 1.37.52 PM


Central Architect

This method is about choice and who makes them; A few people are making decisions and then many necessary collaborators are involved in the production and outcome. This is much like the profession of Architecture where the central decision makers are the Architect and the Client, who then work to choose and give direction to many contractors and suppliers who help to execute the vision.

Power is held at the center, and while the sum of the whole may be greater than the parts in terms of scale, the concept development may only be the result of the few decision makers.

{Critical factors at play – Authorship, Depth, Duration, Lines of Communication, Agency in Decision Making, Context, Power, 1+1=3}

Judy Chicago – The Dinner Party

The Dinner Party comprises a massive ceremonial banquet, arranged on a triangular table with a total of thirty-nine place settings, each commemorating an important woman from history. The settings consist of embroidered runners, gold chalices and utensils, and china-painted porcelain plates with raised central motifs that are based on vulvar and butterfly forms and rendered in styles appropriate to the individual women being honored. The names of another 999 women are inscribed in gold on the white tile floor below the triangular table. This permanent installation is enhanced by rotating Herstory Gallery exhibitions relating to the 1,038 women honored at the table.

The project was created over numerous years with over 400 contributing labor to the project. Judy Chicago was the designer, and many help to realize that vision.


Building up

In this form of collaboration, there are many separate architects contributing mostly completed ideas, all of which add together to make a larger work. The parts connect and relate, but perhaps do not blend.  If you were to take apart the work you could reduce back down to each of the contributors discrete elements.

{Critical factors at play – Authorship, Depth, Duration, Lines of Communication, Agency in Decision Making, Context, Power, 1+1=3}


 As the Air Moves Back From You

Currently on view at the Fosdick Nelson gallery here at Alfred. From the Gallery’s website –

The Fosdick-Nelson Gallery is proud to present a performance installation created by D. Chase Angier of Angier Performance Works, in collaboration with Luftwerk, The Tiffany Mills Company, Kristi Spessard, Laurel Jay Carpenter, The Alfred Performers, Andrew Deutsch, John Laprade and Marketa Fantova. Each week is a new experience, intricately interweaving 8,000 pounds of rice, evocative movement and sensuous designs into slowly shifting landscapes.

Theatre and Performance are good examples of how this concept may function; Each of the elements – sound, costume, movement, lighting/projection, dancers/actors each contribute to the greater whole and simultaneously could be viewed discreetly. In this specific example this is visible when dance performances are not happening, and just the sculpted rice, projections, and music are on view.


Correspondence & Exchange – Emergent Creation

As opposed to building up from existing parts this is co-authorship from the beginning, generating the elements together. In this form, collaborators may initially connect out of happenstance, but continue to work together and evolve because of shared values, working methodologies, and concerns about specific issues. In this model ideas begin to blend and are not just additive. The Work becomes dependent on the contributions of both of the collaborators.

{Critical factors at play – Authorship, Depth, Duration, Lines of Communication, Agency in Decision Making, Context, Power, 1+1=3}


Future Farmers

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 4.06.02 PM

Future Farmers statement from their Website –
Futurefarmers is a group of diverse practitioners aligned through an interest in making work that is relevant to the time and place surrounding us. Founded in 1995, the design studio serves as a platform to support art projects, an artist in residence program and our research interests. We are artists, researchers, designers, architects, scientists and farmers with a common interest in creating frameworks for exchange that catalyze moments of “not knowing”. While we collaborate with scientists and are interested in scientific inquiry, we want to ask questions more openly. Through participatory projects, we create spaces and experiences where the logic of a situation disappears – encounters occur that broaden, rather than narrow perspectives, i.e. reductionist science.We use various media to create work that has the potential to destabilize logics of “certainty”. We deconstruct systems such as food policies, public transportation and rural farming networks to visualize and understand their intrinsic logics. Through this disassembly new narratives emerge that reconfigure the principles that once dominated these systems. Our work often provides a playful entry point and tools for participants to gain insight into deeper fields of inquiry- not only to imagine, but to participate in and initiate change in the places we live.

Collectively, we teach in the visual arts graduate programs at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, Mills College in Oakland, California and the joint masters program of art and engineering at Stanford University.

Amy Franceschini, Michael Swaine{Alfred Alum}, Stijn Schiffeleers, Lode Vranken, Anya Kamenskaya, Dan Allende



Coco Fusco & Guillermo  Gomez Peña – The year of the White Bear and Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West, 1992

This project is generated by two collaborators, and the developments driven by how audience responded to the work. Here’s a description of the project from wikipedia, followed by an interview quote from Coco Fusco.

For about two years, the piece was displayed in prestigious art and natural history museums around the world. In the work, Fusco and Pena put themselves on display in a ten-by-twelve foot cage, advertising that they were native to a fake island off the coast of Mexico that was untouched by European culture, Guatianau. They outfitted themselves in uncommon, outrageous costume that were supposed to be representative of “the primitive” and performed outlandish “native” tasks such as sewing voodoo dolls, and eating bananas which were passed to them through the cage by museum guards. The pair would also perform for the audience; for a donation, Fusco would do a “native” dance, Pena would tell “authentic” Amerindian stories (in a gibberish language), and both artists would take pictures with the crowd. Fusco wore a grass skirt, leopard skin bra, sneakers and a baseball cap, and braided her hair. Gomez-Pena wore a breastplate, and a leopard skin wrestling mask. The pair decided to do the piece as part of a counter-quincentenary project protesting the official quincentenary celebrations of Christopher Columbus landing in the Americas.

When we created this piece, our original intent was not to convince people that the fiction of our being Amerindians was a reality. We understood it to be a satirical commentary both on the Quincentenary celebrations and on the history of this practice of exhibiting human beings from Africa, Asia, and Latin America in Europe and the United States in zoos, theaters, and museums. When we got to Spain, more than half the people thought we really were Amerindians. Then there were others who came to watch those who were taking us seriously. There were people who were not sure whether to believe that we were real. Other people were absolutely convinced that they understood Guillermo’s language, which is virtually impossible because it’s a nonsense language. One man in London stood there and translated Guillermo’s story for another visitor. We had a lot of sexualized reactions to us. Men in Spain put coins in the donation box to get me to dance because, as they said, they wanted to see my tits. There was a woman in Irvine who asked for a rubber glove in order to touch Guillermo and started to fondle him in a sexual manner. There were several instances where people crossed the boundaries of expected sexual behavior. I think that was provoked by us being presented as objects, by their sense of having power over us . . .

– Coco Fusco


Relationships situated in Time and Place

This final category is perhaps the most nebulous. Sometimes collaboration is much easier to identify in retrospect. Inherent to collaboration is some sort of relationship between multiple parties. How are these relationships formed? We become connected through affinity, geography, romance, biology… another concept related to this is called communities of practice: 

Communities of Practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school…


Some examples from those who share social relationships –

Mariana Abrovivic & Ulay

This duo worked together for a decade, forming the collective “the other” speaking of themselves as parts of the same “two headed body.” They ended their relationship with the performance: “The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk” This work is a collaboration about ending a collaboration, and a relationship.

Project Description –

In 1988, Ulay and Abramovic decided to end their relationship and to mark this with a performance, which became the legendary endpoint of their collaboration. After years of negotiations with the Chinese authorities, the artists got the permission to carry out ‘The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk’, in which they started to walk from different ends of the Chinese Wall in order to meet in the middle and say good-bye to each other.

Ray and Charles Eames

This husband and wife duo made films, furniture, architecture, info design… they made many things. These two worked together over a life spanning career, and it would be easy to frame what elements each contributed, but at such an all encompassing scale it might be a little too simplistic.


Blaschka Glass Flowers

{yes that is glass}

Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka were a father son duo who made glass botanical models of flowers and nature. In 1886 Harvard commissioned them to produce models of 836 specimens, the collection totals approximately 4000 pieces with each specimen having various model details.

Projects based in a place{and therefor also in a time}

Project Row Houses

At different points in this projects 20+ year history it would have been described differently. Beginning as a group of local artists seeking to make a positive impact in Houston, they came across a block of shotgun houses in what was at the time a neighborhood affected by poverty and in the city’s past a historically African American Neighborhood.  They cleaned up the houses and used them as a site for public art installations over time and through dialogue with the residents of the neighborhood the project evolved to take on other facets such as developing new affordable house, providing new mother mentoring classes, and continuing to expand the “art” aspects through residencies and studios.

A complex side affect of the projects endeavors is that because of their “success” in developing new housing and drawing an audience to the art elements other Real Estate developers began to come to the neighborhood to make new condos, raising complex questions about gentrification and the challenges of “success.”

 Project Row Houses (PRH) is a community-based arts and culture non-profit organization in Houston’s northern Third Ward, one of the city’s oldest African American neighborhoods. It was founded in 1993 by artist and community activist Rick Lowe, along with James Bettison (1958-1997), Bert Long (1940-2013), Jesse Lott, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples, and George Smith, all seeking to establish a positive, creative and transformative presence in this historic community. Inspired by both the American artist Dr. John Biggers (1924-2001) and the German artist Josef Beuys (1921-1986), PRH is a unique experiment in activating the intersections between art, historic preservation, affordable and innovative housing, community relations and development, neighborhood revitalization, and human empowerment. Biggers celebrated the shotgun-style house for its dignity and simplicity of form, also representing the spiritual and cultural significance of these homes and the people who inhabited them. PRH seeks to affirm these attributes in all its work. And it was Beuys’ notion of “social sculpture” that reinforced the more conceptual idea of art as social engagement, capable of transforming the existing environment — in contrast to the idea of art based on traditional studio practice. As PRH celebrates its 20th Anniversary, it continues to challenge and stretch the definitions of art, all the while listening carefully to the community and responding to its needs.

Fort Thunder

Here’s an example of a group of friends sharing a space and having mutual influences and influences upon each other, sometimes explicitly collaborating and sometimes not.

From Wikipedia –

Fort Thunder was the second floor in a pre-Civil War former textile factory in the Olneyville district of Providence, Rhode Island. From 1995 through 2001, the space was used as a venue for underground music and events, as well as a living and working space for the artists. Fort Thunder was known for its colorful posters promoting shows posted on walls around Providence. At various times they hosted costumed wrestling and Halloween mazes. 

Collection of printed matter by various inhabitants and friends of the space.

a glimpse of part of the Interior{can you spot the people?}

the band Forcefield’s Costumes

Projects based in a time{and therefor also in a place}

The History of Avant-Garde movements of art in the early 20th century are all tied together, with one building upon and responding to the previous. What follows are two historical groups that deliberately came together and in some cases of their making incorporated collaborative strategies in their making.

The Surrealists

Surrealism originated in the late 1910s and early ’20s as a literary movement that experimented with a new mode of expression called automatic writing, or automatism, which sought to release the unbridled imagination of the subconscious. Officially consecrated in Paris in 1924 with the publication of the Manifesto of Surrealism by the poet and critic André Breton (1896–1966), Surrealism became an international intellectual and political movement.  Using Freudian methods of free association, their poetry and prose drew upon the private world of the mind, traditionally restricted by reason and societal limitations, to produce surprising, unexpected imagery. The cerebral and irrational tenets of Surrealism find their ancestry in the clever and whimsical disregard for tradition fostered by Dadaism a decade earlier.

Exquisite corpse writing and drawing activities are a form of blind collaboration.


Flux year box, containing works from various artists associated with Fluxus{a collaboration in the vein of the curated invitation.}

The Fluxus movement… developed its ‘anti-art’, anti-commercial aesthetics under the leadership of George Maciunas. Fluxus staged a series of festivals in Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London and New York, with avant-garde performances often spilling out into the street. Most of the experimental artists of the period, including Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono and Nam June Paik, took part in Fluxus events. The movement, which still continues, played an important role in the opening up of definitions of what art can be.


Hi-Red Center

A group from Japan that subscribed to the fluxus  movement.

Founded by artists Genpei Akasegawa (b. 1937), Natsuyuki Nakanishi (b. 1935), and Jiro Takamatsu (1936–1998), Hi Red Center took to the streets and executed a myriad of Happenings throughout Tokyo. The collective disavowed commercial tactics and sought to inject art into the urban infrastructure. Whether it be painting all the toilet seats red at Waseda University  or cleaning the streets of Tokyo in ironic defiance of the 1964 Olympic Games, the collective’s anti-institutional gestures made art out of the stuff of everyday life.

Hi-red Center’s Soji/Be Clean!

Hi Red Center performs Soji/Be Clean!, a subversive critique of the upcoming 1964 Summer Olympics to be hosted by Tokyo.
Just before the opening of the Olympics in October, Hi Red Center members, dressed in white uniforms, gathered in front of the Hokkaido newspaper company and then went out and literally cleaned particular streets in Ginza, the commercial center of Tokyo where the largest number of foreign visitors were expected. With brooms, rags, and cleansers: a critique of (and ostensible capitulation to) the government’s aggressive sweeping campaign to “clean up” Tokyo. Hi Red Center’s deconstructive mimicry, here and in their other events, was antithetical to the Metabolists imaginary restructuring of Tokyo. In other words, the strategic choice of geographically important sites was made in part to pervert the governmental remapping of Tokyo as the host city for the Olympics. It was guerrilla parasitism, echoing Akasegawa’s appropriation of the method of counterfeiting, to interfere with the nation’s feverish pursuit to modernize, thereby undermining its operation.




Again at the conclusion it is important to re-iterate these are some framings of possible strategies. Rarely do these framings exist discreetly, quite often they are hybrids that blend together.

And by no means is this the only way to frame ideas about collaboration. A very radical departure from this way of thinking is looking to various craft traditions that are rooted in human history before the industrial revolution and the renaissance in Europe. Imagine that instead of considering yourself creative – meaning that “creativity” is something innate, within your body and self… what if your participated in creativity, tapping into something outside yourself? Connecting with some sort of spirit. The origin of the word “genius” is tied up in this very notion. Our current understanding is very different than the ancient Roman origins. The genius was considered the spirit,  people, objects, and locations had these spirits. This inner quality unified the thing in relationship to all the other things like it, not necessarily being the same, but being alike. So in a fashion that may appear paradoxical to some, all “homes” shared a genius spirit making them simultaneously a singular thing and connected to the many of “homes.” The same could be said of people, cups, dogs, all things. This is a significantly different concept of individuality, and begins to upend the typical questions of authorship. In this manner of thinking we are always working in relationship to and with the connection to the rest of human culture, which presents us with another path to thinking about collaboration.


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