AC collective research
The research concerns of the Anonymous Collaborators circulate around the possible constitution of collectivity through exchange, dialogue and debate within and outside the arts. What is the significance of contemporary collectivity? How is the concept being utilised within current practices of art, curating and writing? How do temporal and spatial configurations affect the process of collaboration? Does the sharing of knowledge entail a compromise? Is there a shift in communication in collaborations from the word to the gesture? How does the idea of a score enable a reading of collaborative practices and exhibitions? Is collaboration the joined activity of individuals who collect their ideas to form a sum of them or does collaboration require abandoning the individual and thus supposes a radical production of new and collective ideas in the sense of what the curators of Manifesta 8 describe as a process of deliberately making oneself lost and finding oneself again?
This inquiry is shared by the three curatorial collectives that organized Manifesta 8, Murcia, Spain October 2010. Manifesta 8, specifically, seeks to expand beyond continental demarcations and change the spectrum of its established practice. This shift in strategy is remarkable not simply due to the newly situated understanding of post-colonial politics that it implies, but in that it ushers in new ideas about global collaboration for artists and curators alike.
In this context it was pertinent for our research group to do field research and to organize a workshop directly in Murcia to collectively ‘read’ the exhibition within the framework of questioning the role, method and relevance of collaborative efforts in art practice.
THE AC SALON IN MURCIA
The AC Salon took place on 26 Oct 2010 in Murcia, Espacio AV. Apart from the six AC members, it was attended by seven participants from various professional art related backgrounds, specifically art education and curation, and one member of the curatorial team of Manifesta 8. Together with this group we discussed possible meanings of the term “collaboration” in the context of contemporary art practices.
In the first half of the salon we introduced a word game through which the group playfully uncovered and constructed various possible meanings of the acronym AC, selecting, combining and interpreting terms from two word-pools containing terms such as: accentuated, ambivalent, anonymous, agonistic, affiliated; cross, coalition, conspiracy, coincidence, commitment, etc. This game resulted in a discussion and clarification of terminologies - and their combinations - that continuously identify, qualify and challenge individual ideas of community, collaboration, and collectivity.
Continuing from the AC game we shared our findings and impressions of Manifesta 8 with the workshop participants. Prior to the salon the AC research group had visited every exhibition venue of Manifesta 8 in Murcia and Cartagena, examining the Biennial specifically in regard of its own objectives and themes, namely: the “dialogue with northern Africa”; the concepts of the three separate curatorial projects involved: ACAF's (Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum) “Overscore”; CPS's (Chambers of Public Secrets) “The Rest is History?” and Tranzit.org's “Constitution For Temporary Display”.
We were also looking in particular at the investigation of these themes through the individual artworks and at the dialogues occurring between them.
Overall, AC was trying to trace a possibility for an alternative form of knowledge production, deriving from processes of collective practices, and made perceptible in the format of the Manifesta 8 exhibition.
The discussion in the group initially took a critical stance towards the readability of the curatorial concepts of Manifesta 8, fully acknowledging their high ambition and the complexity of their realisation. Nevertheless, the underlying feeling seemed to be that the curators' emphasis on collaborative practices and intercontinental exchange had not been perceptible in the exhibition in an outstanding, poignant way, and that there seemed to be gaps left in Manifesta's curatorial argument as a whole, as far as this could be judged from experiencing the Biennial in the separate exhibition venues and on the way between the venues. The question arose then, whether a new 'technique' for reading biennials such as Manifesta 8 might be needed.
The workshop group subsequently discussed the idea of a score as a potential alternative format for the reading of collaborative curatorial projects within a main framework, such as “In Dialogue with Northern Africa”. Participants were invited to expand the notion of a score, and later to attempt to create a collective score through which a collective reading and performing of Manifesta 8 might become possible.
A possible version of such a score was created collectively on three long strips of white paper hung along the walls of the workshop space. We were using visual materials as initiators, reminders and placeholders for the artworks and spaces in the exhibition - e.g. projected installation shots and photographs taken by AC members of their Manifesta exploration, cut out images from the catalogue, fragments from other published materials of Manifesta 8, threads of wool and differently coloured pens were supplied. The score was developed simultaneously on a variety of levels; contributors making comments, contributors connecting other contributor's comments with their own as well as weaving in some of the terms discussed before during the AC game. Notions of mapping, rhythm, polyphony, improvisation and direction, performativity, intentionality, and landscape emerged. Both exercises carried out in the morning gave us a strong vocabulary to explore the second part of the Salon on Collective Knowledge and Collaboration.
Time pressure meant that the score had to remain in an unfinished state, but in the afternoon we moved on to a critical analysis of the score itself and of the ideas and questions it had brought up. The conversation was repeatedly cross-examining the potential of a collective score as a tool to enable a reading of an exhibition, a collective score as a device for the discovery of collective performances.
The group agreed on the possibility of the construction of different scores and potential readings (each visitor 'curating' his/her own exhibition) within the frame of the Manifesta 8 Biennial, whose collaborative curatorial concept, it was felt, was particularly open to these different navigations. We concluded that this was not only due to the different curatorial projects, but also to the fact that each curatorial project was already the result of a collective endeavour; even if in the end the conversations between different individual works (no matter to which project they belonged) appeared stronger than the conceptual groupings intended by the curatorial teams.
Questions about the meaning of collaboration within art practice were raised, especially doubts about the integrity, or the relevance of the word “collaboration” regarding the way the different collectives worked internally and with each other towards creating the Manifesta exhibition. Ethical issues were discussed regarding the incorporation of community members in the creation of particular art works in the Biennial, and the potential quality of relationships thus formed between individual artists and the communities and spaces they were working with were critically examined.
Towards the end, the discussion took a self-reflexive turn, and questions were posed about the necessity and meaning of video-documenting the workshop and what the product or residue of such documentation could be or should become. We also reflected on the purpose of the workshop as a process and practical research activity, and on its relation to the materials gathered through the meeting and communicating with the participants.
We concluded that within the Salon the collective thinking process and the experience or knowledge produced could not be reflected in the materials or products that the workshop created, and that in many senses, presenting those would close the discussion, and contradict its very ontology.
Following the research Salon in Murcia, AC is currently preparing a symposium at Goldsmiths College in London to be held in February 2011, on the topic of collaboration in contemporary art. Our experiences at Manifesta Biennial will play an important part here: As we concluded in Murcia that the knowledge produced through the Salon cannot be presented, we intend to run a new version of the Salon in the symposium in London in order to re-examine our conclusions in a different environment.
Alongside the symposium we intend to put together a small publication that will examine selected ideas and questions raised through our research collaboration as AC; it will present an experiment in collective thinking through the processes of reading, writing, editing, publishing and distributing.