Collaboration: Cherished Child or Frankenstein’s Monster?
Contributors: Susan Askew; Janet Davies; Jill Fairbairns; Deborah Masters; Di Story.
We are five students studying Undergraduate Degrees on Drawing, Painting and Fine Art at levels one and two with OCA. We have been meeting for a number of years to support each other with our studies. Last year we agreed to work together on a collaboration project, none of us had tried this before. We were inspired by the work of fellow students in The Dare-To! Collective featured in Edge-zine magazine (edge-zine edition 11 “Catalyst”, 2021; 37-41).
Parameters were established and an exchange timetable set out based on our (roughly) six weekly meetings. Each person was to start a work, contribute to a work that had been started, and ‘complete’ a piece of work. At each handover a word or phrase would be provided to suggest or inspire the next iteration.
There were some concerns (not necessarily openly declared or discussed at the start):
It might eat in to time that could otherwise be spent on course work
Worries about whether the standard of our own input would be ‘good enough’.
Concerns about our own work being altered and altering others’ work.
Some of the group were happy to plunge ahead and see what happened, others would have liked more discussion about aims and outcomes.
Progress, process and outcomes
We were all diligent in our commitments to make, exchange, add to and complete the five works. A range of mediums, techniques and interventions were employed including: painting, drawing, monoprint, collage, digital, changing supports, the removal of Donald Trump and even running over one work with a car! The images in this article are the first and final images of the works produced.
A full account of the stages and contributors can be seen by OCA students on Di Story’s Spaces blog (Story, 2022).
The project took us all out of our comfort zones. Some embraced it more than others but all learned something. Here are some of our individual reflections.
Susan: Working within constraints, including a given word or title, set by other people is useful because it makes me consider new responses. Sometimes the next step seemed obvious – even thought it might change radically what had come before. But I didn’t have attachment to the works because I felt they lack coherence in relation to communicating an idea and using specific processes to manifest that idea.
Janet: I suggested the collaboration but I didn’t feel that I contributed as much artistically as others did. However, I enjoyed seeing what others had done and didn’t mind my input being changed, though I didn’t find it easy to make drastic changes to others’ work. I missed having an agreed theoretical or conceptual underpinning to the works.
Deborah: The process was easier in the early rounds but as someone whose work is quite observational it was interesting to be given something that you needed to find an inspiration from and decide where to take it. It allowed a certain amount of play and experiment in the process sometimes that was as simple as finding out what will stick to what.
Jill: It gave me insight into the creativity and ingeniousness of everyone in the group. I enjoyed seeing how one thing led to another between us in an unpredictable way. I could summon creative responses in double quick time – by making do and building on wherever that took me. But I didn’t always feel easy changing the work of others or others changing (or even obliterating) mine.
Di: Each time work was exchanged I became curious as to how the next in line could possibly add to it. Excitement built as I waited for the next meeting. I was keen to know how work had been progressed and what I would receive to take forward. I became so enthusiastic I took on extra stages because I wanted to see the result of at least one piece that had been worked on by all five members.
So was it a collaboration?
When all five works were finished we met to reflect on what we had achieved, the process and how we might share our learning and works. We agreed that our discussions post-collaboration were probably as useful as the works we had completed. In particular we questioned whether the way we had worked was truly a collaboration or more of a series of linked individual mediations.
Maria Lind (2009) defines collaboration as ‘an umbrella term for the diverse working methods that require more than one participant’ and that ‘ambiguities [can] appear because concepts like collaboration, cooperation, collective action, relationality, interaction and participation are used and often confused’. She discusses the benefits of cross-fertilisation of ideas, particularly between different disciplines, but also the fears that this may cause a dilution of individual skills and concepts.
We felt that ours was a collaboration in the sense that we all felt a commitment to complete our parts. Perhaps the fact that we were already an established group and met regularly helped with this. However, we too expressed some doubts about our approach and whether it would have been strengthened if we had spent more time agreeing underpinning ideas and a clearer joint concept of what we were trying to achieve.
So did we produce any Cherished Children – works that were better than the sum of their individual parts? Well others may judge differently but we think we did. As to the Frankenstein’s Monsters – there are a few pieces that would have benefitted from a more coherent approach no doubt but we love them equally. After all even the Monster had a heart.
Issue. 2021. edge-zine edition 11 “Catalyst”. [online] Available at: <https://issuu.com/edge-zine/docs/edgezine_11_issuu> [Accessed 19 July 2022].
Lind, M. (2009). Collaborations; On Collaboration, Agency and Contemporary Art. Public, (39). Retrieved from https://public.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/public/article/view/30385
Story, D., 2022. Collaboration – distoryUVC1. [online] distoryUVC1. Available at: <https://spaces.oca.ac.uk/distoryfineart/category/category/collaboration/> [Accessed 19 July 2022].