Sunday, 19 July 2015

Magic or Misery? The art of collaboration

One of my passions is throwing dinner parties.  I like all aspects of the activity: planning, shopping, cooking – and most of all, finding ways to delight my guests.  This week I brought together two artists at my dinner table because they had an interest in collaborating with each other but really didn't know each other as people.  However, they both knew me.  So, I thought it was time for me to work a little magic: create a comfort zone that both of them could inhabit.

It just so happens that the week prior I had written a book review for Cahiers métiers d'art about a relatively new release from Bloomsbury/Berg publishers in the U.K. titled, Collaboration Through Craft.  To top it all off, I am also watching my son navigate the waters of collaboration through a series of musical projects in the field of electronic composing.  If I am staring through a window and thinking, you can bet it is about collaboration.

If anyone is looking for a good textbook about collaboration, I sincerely recommend Collaboration Through Craft because it is exhaustively researched and clearly written.  It manages to say profound things in simple terms and it is a great balance between theory and case studies.  It also acknowledges the importance of skill and materiality that craft can deliver to almost any field, whether it is plastic surgery or environmental management.  You put a textile artist with a background in dress making with a cosmetic surgeon and you get the best damn tucks you can imagine.  You put a furniture maker and a high tech guru together and you get kick ass "calm interface" exhibition design.  Don't you love that term, "calm interface"?  It is used to indicate technology that allows interactivity without being obvious.
Cover of my catalogue for the show
 In an Ancient Garden.  Potters Debra Kuzyk and
Ray Mackie are stellar collaborators.

Collaboration, in order to be successful, must get both parties (or several parties) to a place they could not have reached on their own.  I also firmly believe that it must be more than an exchange of skill sets.  This is not subcontracting.  It is a lot more like parenting with the work of art or product being the child. 

Collaboration or working together has an element of risk to it.  It is unpredictable and cannot be entirely controlled.  Think back to those school day exercises where you were forced to work in a group.  Do you remember that dreadful feeling of surrender?  Knowing that you could not make your partners do something but realizing that you will be graded on a collective performance is a horrible sensation.  But with the right partners the results can be stellar.  Learning how to balance hard work, cooperation, frustration and reward is a great life skill.

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