Collectivity & Collaboration
We live in a society where fear is measured by a Pantone chart. If one were to apply that same, seemingly arbitrary system to contemporary art that harbors a sociopolitical agenda, the array of tonalities between “orange” and “high orange” might finally carry some semblance of tangibility. Artistic collectivism would most certainly register at the top of the chart—a candylike, doomsday-button red (Pantone 032)—signifying the avant-garde’s historical affiliation with sociopolitical dissent.
But even within the pantheon of collective practice, a continuum subsists, one that is best described in terms of ontological opacity. It would be ridiculous to lump Situationist International with gelitin, for example, although they do have some things in common: both are self-organized by constituent members allied by a shared agenda that intentionally disrupts the mechanics of polite society. Where they differ, quite obviously, is their affiliation with a coherent political agenda versus “radical chic.” In other words, while Situationist International might actually place a finger on that bright-red doomsday button, gelitin would probably rather dye Easter eggs a provocative fleshy pink and hurl them at your grandmother.
Collectivity and Collaboration, the theme of this issue of Art Lies, explores contemporary collective and collaborative artistic practice and the radically different ways in which collectives are founded, motivated, organized, actualized and scrutinized. Guest editorial contributors Noah Simblist and Michelle White came up with this theme via the serendipitous occurrence of parallel events. Simblist had just begun working with Charissa Terranova on a series of projects about collaboration and collectivity, including a course and symposium on the subject at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and an exhibition at Conduit Gallery, also in Dallas. At the same time, White was working with Franklin Sirmans on an exhibition with the art collective Otabenga Jones & Associates at the Menil Collection in Houston.
Though the general theme of collaboration was central to both Simblist and White’s activities, their primary concerns were as divergent as the compendium of art collectives currently in action. Simblist was concerned with the relationship between collecting, a solo sport based on consumption, and collectivity’s historical legacy—rooted, as it is, in the avant-garde’s resistance to the market system. White, on the other hand, was faced with the conundrum of curating an activist art collective in an institutional setting, and how to avoid letting the project slip into a didactic institutional critique.
I was impressed by the intellectual rigor of both of their pursuits, as well as the potentiality embodied in the vast difference their individual approaches to the same subject allowed, editorially speaking. The result of our collective inquiry is the document you have before you. Ultimately, in the process of putting this issue together, I guess you could say that Simblist, White and I formed our own, albeit short-term, collaborative. We have not come up with a name. Something along the lines of “the three least likely people in the world to have a weekly conference call” comes to mind, but it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.
Anjali Gupta, Editor