What Does It Mean When Someone Wants To Collaborate?
Collaborating, as both word and action, gets tossed around a lot these days. Everyone seems to be collaborating with someone, and if for some untimely reason they are not, then there's definitely talk of collaborating on a future project.
I will offer the opinion up front: collaborating is extremely difficult. Or more precisely: good collaborations are extremely difficult. A juggling act of vision, skills, egos, personal growth and straight up logistics, to collaborate means to trust and release total control by all parties in favour of a unified and comprised vision—and unfortunately not many people can pull this off.
Recently experiencing three very different types of collaborations in the form of contemporary dancer/choreography Paul André Fortier with musician Robert Racine, drawing between Tim Rechner and Caitlin Sian Richards, and a mixed media visual installation by Sarah Alford, Jennifer Bowes, and Shirley Weibe, I'm left wondering about the limitless processes behind such a common yet diverse practice.
In their artist talk prior to their opening performance, Fortier and Racine made it clear that collaborating needs a single vision. Fortier, who turned 60 last year and who cites visual artist Betty Goodwin as a past collaborator (in an era when nobody gets to collaborate with Betty Goodwin), referenced the art happenings and collaborations between now-prominent artists like John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg as how dance, music and visual arts have always influenced each other. Wishing to distinguish the differences between influences and collaborations, I am unconvinced that Fortier's production of Cabane moved beyond mutual inspiration and into the realm of collaboration.
The wonder of Racine was certainly on display, and as a presence, Racine as a performer certainly triggered much of the movement; but the production was without a doubt a Fortier Danse creation first and foremost. Racine's skills have most likely inspired and benefited Fortier as an artist, and Fortier has injected new blood into the melancholic Racine, but the work created was not a collaboration of visions, but a performance of Fortier's concept of how Racine could contribute to Fortier's meticulously choreographed work.
As Edgar Degas was greatly influenced by sitting in on ballet classes, producing a series that would shape the era of Impressionism to Richard Serra's formative and vested interest in contemporary dance, channeling this perception of movement and space into post-war sculpture, these too are not collaborations, but points of research and one-sided inspiration. The question then is: does actively involving your inspiration in the process equal a collaboration?
Local figurative painter Caitlin Sian Richards premiered her new series of drawing exercises made with abstract painter Tim Rechner in FAVA's Ortona Gallery as a more democratic collaboration. With pieces created in tandem in Rechner's studio, along with pieces traded between the two over a span of four months, it is visually clear that Richards' formal techniques are heading into a new direction through the influence of Rechner's more emotional and immediate approaches. Rechner, whose work continues to be based in a harnessed intuition, contributes his aesthetic and energy to the show, but like Racine, he too serves more as a trigger and influence in the overall work.
On the same night of Richards and Rechner's opening, Alford/Bowes/Weibe's Spaces Within | Within Spaces premiered at Harcourt House. Also calling this a collaboration, the artists showcase three distinct sections reflective of each artist's practice. Since meeting three years ago in Grande Prairie, and living and working respectively between areas in Northern Alberta/Chicago/Vancouver, the three have kept in touch through periodic updates on what each is working on, and even sending in samples of materials at times. The individual works alone are indicative of each artist's heavily processed aesthetics and practices, sharing similarities in transformative labor techniques and subtractive aesthetics. With undetectable compromises engaging in quiet conversations amongst the works, the unification of the pieces solidifies their process into a collaborative exhibit. As each piece can stand on its own, it is their inclusion of each other's growth that creates the potential to mutually inform and expand each other.
*First published in Vue Weekly, Sept 17 - 23, 2009
- A.F. Edmonton