[-empyre-] Free Cooperation
John Hopkins wrote:
>It is one model that resonated with my experiences of inter-human
>dynamic. Although I find that other models more fully circumscribe
>the phenomena of human presence and interaction -- phenomena that,
>once stripped of soul (or whatever you want to call it), IMHO are
>empty of most everything...
In this context Buber's idea of religious socialism could be useful.
For Buber "religious socialism means that man in the concreteness of his
personal life takes seriously the fundamentals of this life..." And he
underlines that the goals of socialism need to be mirrored in devoted
Presence and energy are aspects of collaboration but the danger of this
focus is to leave out the social context in which the collaboration is
situated. Talking of flows of energies is vague and dissipates the political
as it assumes equality of the people engaged in the dialogue. It does not
acknowledge hierarchies of power and economic inequalities.
The structures that we set up when working together hinder or enable our
collaborations. In aggressive, competitive contexts so called "tiger teams"
are (often forced) collaborations based on several competing groups of 4 or
5 individuals who are given the same task. Each group strives to solve the
given problem best driven by prospects of financial and career gain.
Critical Art Ensemble suggests groups of two to solve one task.
Let's hear some examples. Founded in 1981, Paper Tiger TV is another
consequential model of collaboration. Paper Tiger creates and distributes
often collectively produced activist video work that critique the media. The
New York City-based chamber orchestra Orpheus works without conductor and
rotates all functions among its musicians. Another organizational structure
is the national network of alternative spaces such as micro-cinemas,
not-for-profit galleries and others that exist all over the US. Examples are
Artist Television Access in San Francisco and Squeaky Wheel in Buffalo, the
Robert Beck Cinema in NYC to name just a few.
But for me, the most powerful collaboration took place on February 15, 2003
when millions and millions and millions of demonstrators worldwide
simultaneously mounted a collective "no" to the war in Iraq.
In art history the most ready association with collaboration is the Fluxus
movement, with artists like George Maciunas. In 1961 Allan Kaprov wrote the
influential essay "Happenings in the New York Scene" laying out ideas of
interaction that were mainly associated with the happenings of the 1950s and
1960s. A happening according to Kaprow is "an assemblage of events performed
or perceived in more than one time and place." Fluxus focused on the
Do-It-Yourself-aspect of art (you too can be an artist), and the interaction
between the artist and her audience.
More recently, with web-based art we question the ownership of the networks
in which collaborations take place, and also critique the politics of online
visibility. Search engines like Google list websites that are linked to by a
high number of sites which themselves have high popularity and link ratings.
For this reason power remains largely with the websites of the mainstream
media. To whom do we link from our websites? Lesser known directories like
the Open Directory Project build an alternative. The Open Directory Project
is the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web. It is
entirely reliant on globally collaborating, volunteer editors.
For the last nine years more artists have taken on networked spaces as the
context for their work. Networked communication on laptops, small wireless
devices like cell phones or PDAs lead the focus away from the art object and
the individual author becomes less significant.
One of the early Internet-based artworks was Douglas Davis' "The World's
First Collaborative Sentence" of 1994. Everybody can add to an ongoing
sentence, but nobody is allowed end it, to add a full stop. Tens of
thousands of people have contributed to it. The changes of the piece over
the past ten years reflect the changes of the World Wide Web.
Bret Stalbaum designed a program called Floodnet that overloads a site with
calls to load its pages. In an attack in support the Zapatista rebels the
Mexican government's official site, returned the message "human_rights not
found on this server. (Stallabrass) If a sufficient number of people
launched attacks the action became a virtual march.
Recent art history lists many collaborations including Art & Language,
General Idea, Gilbert & George, Guerilla Girls, Group Material, REPOhistory,
PADD, Art Workers Coalition, Critical Art Ensemble, Rtmark, Temporary
Services, Komar and Melamid, Berna and Hilla Becher, Fischli and Weiss, and
Collective Actions Group.
It is often assumed that collaboration is by default valuable, alternative,
and politically progressive. I disagree. Collaborations between artists can
be quite profane. To be relevant and consequential artist collaborations
need to focus on social needs instead of the needs of the art world thus
questioning all of culture.
The cooperative vision of groups like Group Material changed curatorial
practice and provided new art activist models. Group Material collectively
saved money for an entire year and then rented a space in New York City, a
storefront gallery. Here the group put on the exhibition "People's Choice"
for which they asked homeless citizens to bring in objects that they thought
were beautiful. Another significant exhibition was "AIDS Timeline."
Graduating art students frequently form art collectives because of the
positive implications of shared resources such as knowledge in the areas of
(art) history, (cultural and media) theory, literature, and science. The
more they know the broader is the specter of issues that they can address
(Critical Art Ensemble). Cross-disciplinary efforts can be supported because
individuals have different skill capital (from video to programming,
performance, and writing).
Free Cooperation in the art context means that the artist stays in control
of her work. Institutions of the art world are not interested in free
cooperation, and are not supportive of them. The model of the artist as 19th
century genius and as exemplary sufferer is alive and prospering. Often an
articulate, attractive individual out of the group is selected and promoted
by institutions and (main stream) media.
The logic of the art world and that of technology-based art, created on and
distributed via computers are opposed to each other. The art world focuses
on the romantic idea of the author who creates an auratic art object that
can be distributed by its many institutions. Technology-based art is
variable, often ephemeral, existent in many copies, collaboratively authored
and can often be distributed online.
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