Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Collaboration -- second thoughts

I wrote last month about a project that I was involved with, where one artist started a piece, then turned it over to a collaborator to finish.  I wish I could say that everybody who participated was thrilled with  what happened, but that wasn't so.  I've thought about this and talked about it with some of my cohorts, and it seems to be an object lesson in expectations.

As I review my own experience with the project, I realize that when I worked on part one, I visualized too far ahead.  In effect, I completed three-quarters of the piece, leaving one-quarter blank for my collaborator to fill in.  I expected her to work in that space, and perhaps add some extra stuff in the emptier spaces of "my" three-quarters.

What I did not expect was that she would work not only in the empty space but over the top of "my" spaces.  Nor that she would remove some parts of my composition.

At first I was annoyed to see what had happened to the piece.  But 24 hours later I had revised my opinion and decided the finished piece was satisfactory.

I also decided that if I were to participate in another such project in the future -- which I would be very happy to do -- I would do a few things different.  First, I wouldn't finish so much of the piece before handing it on.  Second, I wouldn't get so clear a picture in my mind of how it might be finished by somebody else.

A wise therapist once told me, "The key to happy parenthood is lowered expectations."  In the context of art collaborations -- especially blind ones, where you don't have a chance to talk to your co-worker -- I think the key to happiness is to have no expectations at all.

One of the most successful pieces in the show, I thought, was this collaboration, started by Sarah Duncan, who simply provided three landscape photographs printed onto fabric, without mounting them, sewing them together or doing anything else to indicate how the piece should be finished.  In other words, she made raw materials for her collaborator.

Here's what Jacque Parsley did with the photos:

Here's another success, in my opinion.  The part-one artist, Keith Kleespies, turned in a paper construction with images printed or drawn onto different kinds of paper.  Although he hadn't thought of this as "making raw materials," that's the way it turned out.

To his surprise, Karissa Moll took apart the construction and saved only one bit of it, the red page at the left end.  She scanned in the rest of the images and put them on an old window.

But other collaborations weren't as successful -- at least if you asked the part-one artists.  I'll show you a few in a subsequent post.


  1. I don't see how this was a collaboration. I like Wikipedia's definition which begins "Collaboration is working with each other to do a task. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals..."

    You didn't get to work with the other person and there was no recursion (revisiting and reworking). It was more a serial thing where one person started and one finished. I think "collaboration" in the case of your project is a complete misnomer.

    I wonder what the outcome and learnings would have been if you had truly collaborated with the other artist.

    Also, so much of this reminds me of the workplace where people have things they think someone else will mindread their way to completing according to the originator's vision. Lots of conflict ensues!

    Sue in Calgary

  2. Sue -- I agree with you on all counts. I use the C-word because that's how it was described in our project communication. I would have enjoyed it a lot more if we had done true collaboration.

  3. I did something like this with a group of six some years back. It was called "Exquisite Corpse" after the method of art( It too was successful for some and not for others. We did three rounds, each consisting of a quilt work in a certain size which was then covered all but about 1/2 inch on all sides. The next person was supposed to take off from that half inch and incorporate her own small quilted piece from that. After six rounds it was returned to the original artist who then took off all the coverings to reveal the art piece. You can see my first round here: and the second round here:

  4. It has been interesting to read about this project and your experiences. My thought is that the part two artist "should" have had some respect for the part one artist's work, whether altering or deleting bits. In the case of yours, while it's very different, the core of your work can still be seen. I think an artist would be justified in disappointment if 90% of their work had been thrown away. I guess it is all about lowering (or changing) expectations!