The three-day symposium Working Together Transnationally. Structures, Conditions and Artistic Practices took place from March 31st until April 2nd in collaboration with the European Dancehouse Network. Curated together with the Brussels based sociologist Rudi Laermans and facilitated by Fearghus Ó Conchúir, about 70 international guests and participants discussed and practiced models of solidarity within and between production structures and artists, investigated possible media of collaboration and explored choreographic forms of collaboration.
The first and second day combined panel discussions and impulse statements with working groups. The report below focuses on the second day, aimed to develop a glossary of parameters that facilitate artistic collaboration.
To a certain extent, every collaboration is a social experiment. In an attempt to develop a slightly more objective perspective on this particular mode of togethering, which we call collaboration, the second day focused on the media of collaboration, e.g. friendship, mutual trust, respect and recognition.
In short impulse statements, the participants presented their first approach to a specific medium of collaboration:
The following table discussions and the plenary gave the opportunity to dive deeper into the different suggestions, but also to discuss more general issues of collaboration. While collaboration very often has a highly positive connotation and usually tends to bring together likeminded people, the final group discussion of the day raised the question of how to collaborate with people that don’t generally share the same views. It was mainly connected to the current political developments and the rise of national movements in some European countries. This brought up the issue on how to work together with those you don’t like, whose ideas and thoughts are not commonly/not familiar and not shared, who are usually not widely heard and who contradict current political and social conventions. Again, it became very clear that the political and economic situation in Europe is highly diverse and that it needs deeper research and knowledge in order to understand conditions and efforts of working together in different European countries.
The following short statements build the ground for a possibly on-going glossary of media of collaboration:
A medium is literally something that lies in the middle, yet this “middle” is also something that acts as a fluid that relates and through which something can be transmitted. As such, a medium differs from an instrument or a mere resource, which may be used as a means or a quasi-device in a premeditated, calculative way. Friendship and non-sexual “love”, mutual trust, a shared personal interest, reciprocal respect and recognition (eventually sustaining a relationally circulating charisma), the capacity to relate both “professionally” and “diplomatically”, and common value priorities or cultural frameworks are some of the prime media of artistic collaboration. We tend to associate them with the realm of intimate communication, yet productive forms of collaboration precisely cut through the private/public distinction. They therefore also over-code and erode the traditional difference between work and leisure, often with negative consequences such as non-paid or even non-contractually specified labour.
Through the just mentioned media further relations of co-creation or productive cooperation in an intrinsic way, they do not necessarily do so in harmonious mode. Their principal constitutive role can never eliminate the possibility that they start to hamper or block a collaboration, which may eventually result in its destruction. Media unite because they potentially divide: they are both literally symbolic and diabolic, creating consensus because they can be as well a source of (or reason for) consensus. Thus, trust may rapidly turn into distrust because there was that much unwarranted belief in someone’s capacities. Or an artistic friendship can transform into a fierce hate relationship because there was a shared interest in all the senses of the word.
Nomad Dance Academy (2006-now) is a platform for contemporary dance and a model of self-organization that upholds rhizomatic collaborative processes. We have harmonized these processes by means of the principles of balance, invitation and open space, through which we have articulated and ascertained new politics of collaboration. These are based on taking care of each other’s needs, dealing with uncertainty, inclusiveness, taking time, having a dialogue, reflecting (critically)… NDA’s politics of collaboration are rooted in a certain contextual frame (ex-Yugoslavia and Bulgaria), which has resulted in transgressive forms of actions in order to oppose the nationalistic agendas and clientelism of the official institutions, as well as market driven politics of collaboration.
In the art world, principles and protocols are often allegedly regulative and restrictive. NDA never perceives them as given and complete, but sees them as potential processes through which diverse forces are put into constellations that are always specific. Do they regulate or form a mode, which allows diverse media (friendship, togetherness, etc.) and alternative politics of collaboration to appear? We try to use protocols and principles to structure an alternative reality of co-existence that enables us to explore co-learning, co-teaching, co-moviment, co-thinking as collaborative processes.
I have collaborated in many different constellations, as a family member, as a student, as a sportsman, as a scout, as an artist and as a performer. I want to figure out where “I” fits within “we”. Is there such a thing as “I” or do we only exist in “we”?
Building a camp or taking a walk are devices to gather people in public space. Living together, sharing daily actions such as cooking, taking care of others, making common decisions… it is the first collaborative environment. More properly, it is what we call cohabitation. Walking through the landscape, exposing bodies in a “space of visibility”, following signs provided by the environment is what we call “agency”. Cohabitation and agency are the main pillars of collaboration. Looking at both allows us to better understand what collaboration means: a practice of embodying new ways of inhabiting the world. Not producing something together, but being something different together.
What is the difference between a medium of collaboration and a general faculty of communication? What is the difference between a collaboration and a platform for sharing? Collaboration implies the necessity of a common project, carrying with it some form of common goal and perhaps expectations. How, in (and/or against) an economy and society which finances and honours pieces over processes and practices, can we make space for projects that have other common goals or expectations, such as knowledge production or research? How can we make visible and give credit – both social (recognition) and financial (payment) – to the collective labour force underneath any project or creation? Given that three types of currency support our work – money, recognition, and passion – how can we create situations where everyone involved experiences a fair balance of all three, where passion is not used as a substitute for money, where the importance of recognition is not underestimated, and where everyone is paid for their work time?
Reflection on care as a medium of collaboration does not end with a collective attempt to acknowledge and cherish trust and friendship and humanist values in artistic and curatorial practice. Instead, this proposal is aware of the poisonous potential and the Janus-faced and fragile dynamics immanent to the very idea and practice of care: the power to connect and link ideas, bodies, and people across material and imaginary differences and territories, and, simultaneously, the power to intrude and paralyse the latter. It is a proposal to think about an ethical project in the arts with the body as its centre.
I don’t have a hypotesis or indeed a theory to discuss. I simply have some observations about the importance of listening. I suspect that most people have at least one “megalomaniac” gene, and, without wishing to generalise, or stereotype, many of the creative people I know, appear to have two or more. The key to successful collaboration is making sure that one has a strategy in place to keep these “megalomaniac” genes in check. I am not sure I have yet worked out how to control my enthusiasm for my own ideas. However, I have discovered the disaster that follows if you don’t make time to listen to opinions, ideas and needs of others, who are part of a collaborative constellation or a community.
We must encourage discussion on collaboration between dance (artistic) practices and other disciplines such as metropolitan research. Collaboration means working with very heterogeneous actors. Hence, dancers could work with city planners since the latter are trained in city planning, but less in perceiving the city; choreographers could work with landscape architects since the latter are trained in designing public space, but less in how to use it. In this sense, I propose to think and act in terms of transmedia, instead of specific medium use.