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On collaboration 

What is collaboration? Why do we collaborate? A personal perspective on acting 

These were some of the questions I was asking myself when I embarked on collaborative projects, first with fellow students and most recently with ‘external’ artists. 

In the following, a selection of what I experienced through project works and through interacting and engaging with peers on a new territory. Each time, something completely unexpected came out.

Cross disciplinary work 

To create something new, to go beyond my own skills, to complement and to respond to what is there. I experienced this in my collaboration with music student Vicky Downey concluding in a medley of visual images (Stefan) and music (Vicky) projected and performed life in London last year (Downey and Schaffeld, 2019). A lasting impression and supportive motivation as fellow student Kym Walker described that day. She herself worked collaboratively with music student Jason Kenny on a musical and painterly life performance (Walker, 2019). I was happy that Vicky and I could talk about our experiences with a wider group, organised by the Regional Group Europe in November last year. 

Other examples are being a core team member of an OCA regional group (Europe in my case) or to be editor for student led zine (edge-zine in my case). Both giving plenty of opportunity to engage and to exchange, to support and to be make a difference. 


Since my current course unit Understanding Visual Culture 2 (UVC2) as my last level HE6 unit I embraced more and more conversation with peers. Conversations either through email exchange as online video conversation, or through an engagement by responding to some of my work in progress. Each time the conversation and the view of others not only provided critic and areas to improve (what is always subjective). Most of all it allowed me to understand my work differently, get new insights, and eventually to amend my work to make it more resolved and to make it for me stronger. 


Something new for me, haven’t done it. But it made a lasting mark on me. A gathering of a group that relates back to the Fluxus movement in art. Most of all, I relate this to the initiative of Anna Goodchild who invited a group of people at her place in January 2020. Idea was to interact with materials, to interact with a theme (here it was ‘poverty’), and to work together in creating something unique (Goodchild, 2020). Collaboration as social practice and creating a shared space for experience. Experience of acting is not any longer subject to the idea of individual’s authenticity. Experience is being mutually shared. 

Power & hierarchy 

Despite all good intention I was pondering the question whether there is a leader, one who directs the project. Would this be collaborative or rather commissioned work? Can an art project be compared to a corporate project where one already hand over all rights to the company by contract? 

Although, I do embrace an approach of ‘not-knowing’ and one cannot predict the future, one might want to consider the lawsuit between Marina Abramović and Ulay who went to court to argue about agreements and credits (clearly, in their case it was about a lot of money) (Cascone, 2018). 

Bottomline, to overcome power relationships within collaborations it is essential to be honest, transparent and empathetic with others involved. It is not a guarantee but a very good base for dealing with challenges and uncertainties. An aspect I went through personally in my ongoing collaboration with fellow students. 

What is the difference to commissioning? 

It took some time for me to understand the difference. Both are project works between different people, both have a purpose, and both are based on some kind of agreements with all involved. One thing might stand out, whether all do own the copyright or just one (or a few ones), the person commissioned is paid for a job to do, credit statements will show make the contribution visible. To hire a camera person to record me in my studio in order to make an artist video (good for assessment) would be certainly fall into the commission category. 

So what? 

I really love the description given by Caroline Wright during a tutorial, that the best collaborative projects or works are those were one cannot discern the individual contributions (Schaffeld, 2020). In that sense I felt comfortable again, to agree with fellow students to collaborate, and to agree that whatever is created through our exchange and sharing will be a collaborative work. However, relevant to distinguish from my own work that is inspired by ideas from others, but not the result of our exchange. 

For my parallel project for UVC2, I continue to work collaboratively, with artists from my local region, unfamiliar practices and different background. What can I expect and how does my approach to work collaboratively with OCA students informs my approach with them? All new, and I think that ‘collaboration’ is a key aspect in my practice that I will critically review to finish my course unit and before moving on to level HE6. 

Please, share your experiences with collaborative work. What has changed and what challenges were you facing? 


Cascone, S. (2018) Marina Abramović and Ulay Are Reuniting to Write a Joint Memoir – The famed duo will collaborate once again., At: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/ulay- marina-abramovic-memoir-1278743 (Accessed 16 Jul 2020). ArtNet News. 

Downey, V. and Schaffeld, S. J. (2019) Mindful Resonance Interaction (MRI), [audio-video], 

At: https://vimeo.com/349274655 (Accessed on 21 July 2019). 

Goodchild, A. (2020) Student work: A 2020 Happening, At: 

https://www.oca.ac.uk/weareoca/student-work/student-work-a-2020-happening/ (Accessed on 19 Feb 2020). 

Schaffeld, S. J. (2020) // on collaboration //, At: https://uvc.stefanvisualart.com/?p=8111 

(Accessed on 18 Jul 2020). 

Walker, K. (2019) Collaborating magic!, At: 

https://www.oca.ac.uk/weareoca/students/collaborating-magic/ (Accessed on 28 Jun 2020). 

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Posted by author: Stefan Schaffeld
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2 thoughts on “On collaboration 

  • You might find the book Creative Collaboration by Vera John Steiner interesting – it’s rather a bible on collaboration and explores working relationships between people from different and similar fields, such as science, drama and writing

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