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Arts Collaborations: Greater than the sum of their parts

Posted by Chad O'Connor  May 1, 2012 11:30 AM

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While collaboration in the music world and performing arts is the status quo, visual artists have been lone wolves, for the most part. Famous artist teams like Christo and Jeanne Claude or Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen are the products of collaboration and marriage where one partner’s solo works became shared works through a lifetime of team work. In the business world, collaboration is a natural result of web 2.0 tools and social media technologies that are utilized to achieve the bottom line. In lean economic times, when competition is fierce and financial resources are scarce, artists will oftentimes look for ways to work together to share resources and contacts, conserve energy and maximize teamwork to achieve more than is possible by oneself. But how can artists, who are so wedded to their own personal vision, branded by the making of individual products, let go of control and cooperatively work with each other? And what is the outcome of this type of collaboration?

119 Gallery in Lowell fosters innovative cooperation between artists, musicians, dancers, performers, video artists and creative thinkers. As part of my current show, "Two Artists in Two Dimensions: Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlein," the gallery recently hosted several notable artists' teams on a panel discussion on their experiences as collaborators. The panelists were Margot Stage and David Crane, Rick Breault and Elaine Wood, Tim Winn and Zehra Kahn, and Andy Moerlein and me. The moderator was Walter Wright, co-founder of 119 Gallery. The event host was Mary Ann Kearns, also a co-founder of the gallery.

The panel considered these and other questions: How does the team develop concepts? How do you negotiate aesthetic decisions? How do you manage work flow - responsibilities - labor? What is your team's studio arrangement? What are the advantages of collaborating? What is the team's story?

Margot Stage and David Crane each came to sculpture and the world of fine art from other sectors. For Stage, who was a radio producer and freelance writer, and for Crane, who was a woodworker, discovering the visual arts was a homecoming of sorts. While Margot Stage is primarily known as a fiber artist and David Crane is primarily known for his wood sculptures, their team collaboration has allowed each of them to push past individual boundaries while expanding their approach to materials. Borrowing from each other’s chosen medium to create new works is just one way they collaborate. They also influence each other’s aesthetic and invigorate each other’s studio practices by creating new works.

Rick Breault’s talent for making music and Elaine Wood’s facility with visual media come together in the Brood Duo. Rick Breault uses processed and unprocessed sounds in solo and group improvisation. Elaine Wood is a visual artist whose media include painting, drawing, photography and video. Their works of art are true collaborative pieces, where there is no leader or follower. Sometimes Rick makes a sounds track that Elaine creates video for and sometimes Elaine creates video that Rick composes sound to. The video shorts are often the result of an exhilarating process of risk, loss, fear, discovery and experimentation.

Tim Winn and Zehra Kahn discovered each other’s work while in grad school, and the progression of their individual works has paralleled their process of collaboration. Winn’s film background seems to blend seamlessly with Kahn’s drawing practice as they create multimedia works with multiple techniques. Her characters are created with drawings, costumes, and sometimes even her friends but they seem to populate and activate Winn’s spaces. Playing off of each other’s personalities and signature studio practices has opened the door to a new body of work for this team.

Andy Moerlein and I have independent solo careers but have also collaborated on snow sculpture competitions, public art projects and fire sculpture performances. The result of our shared efforts undertaking collaborative projects is a fusion of individual vocabularies and signature techniques. We have reached new audiences, and expanded our sculptural repertoire to include performance, storytelling and printmaking practices.

Whether collaboration is the result of accidental pairings, or intentional ones, the results were surprising for all of the artists in these teams. The panel discussion touched upon many themes of going with the flow, brainstorming ideas, sharing studio practices and blurring of individual identities in order to grow as artists and make new work. The fusions, expansions, overlaps and new creations all demonstrated the complex process of working with someone who is often very familiar in order to discover unfamiliar territory.

Donna Dodson graduated cum laude from Wellesley College in 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts. Since 2000, Dodson has been honored with solo shows nationwide for her wood sculptures. Dodson enjoys public speaking, and has been a guest speaker in conferences, panels and forums at museums and universities in North America.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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