In the arts, traditionally collaboration can be found on different levels: First, in the production between functionally differentiated actors, e.g. between composers and musicians (cf. Taylor, 2016), or between composers/artists and engineers or technologists. Even though sometimes described as symmetrical (e.g. Zattra, 2018), and the same actor may shift between different roles, the roles are not equal. Second, as a question of authorship in the aesthetic result, in collaborations between artists and their audience, often as an attempt to diminish the gap between the two. Historical trajectories range from blurring the distinction between art and life in 1960s Fluxus and earlier, to the social turn in art in the 1990s, reflected in relational aesthetics (Bourriaud, 2002) or under the umbrella term of participatory art (Bishop, 2012). And third, different artists coming together on equal footing, in the performing arts perhaps through improvisation, as longer term artist collectives or duos, or by sharing knowledge in the process, e.g. in a fab lab or makerspace, or within an artistic residency, without the goal of a compound aesthetic product. In artistic research projects, we find many examples for these levels; often technologies are given the role of mediators, in some cases working environments are addressed.
We do not seek to extend the research on participatory art, but on collaborative work as a form of research between artists. Prior work of the authors includes Sublim (2016), Mäanderungen (2017–2019), and Iterations (2017–2020). Sublim is a project by the Daily Rhythms Collective (Castillo et al.), where all pieces were products of group developments; during a residency, the artists used the gallery space as laboratory, producing collective pieces in-situ. Mäanderungen is a generative radio piece and installation collectively conceived by a group of four artists (Castillo, Rutz et al.). Based on strange strategies of mapping the city in sound, image, and word, a major component was an algorithmic generator assembling the collected materials as audio pieces. An installation version was shown in festival Steirischer Herbst 2018. Iterations is an EU funded project on the future of artistic collaboration in digitally networked contexts, using residencies to explore ways of art co-production. It is described in depth in this exposition as one of the case studies. Focus of Iterations was the handover, a situation or experience where a delegation of one collective residency delivers part of the results to the next (Castillo worked as artist-researcher).
Handing over or sharing a tool or technique developed by artists participating in a collaborative process has been an element both of Iterations as well as the artistic research project Algorithms that Matter (Almat). We learned that it is unrealistic for someone to “relocate” their knowledge and be productive in a short amount of time. Tools and techniques are not impersonal stable components, otherwise one would deal with design and engineering questions rather than with aesthetic-epistemic questions. The extimate relation means the things are bound to particular personal investments and embodiments of particular long-term practices. Without them, tools and techniques may be difficult to access or outright useless.
A crucial aspect is thus how contact between participants of a collaborative process can be understood and facilitated. One can simply suggest that any aesthetic artefact should be in the public domain, arguing for the obligation that one’s work may be “touched by others” in disregard of the “integrity of the work” (Smiers, 2011). On the other end, if one accepts that an aesthetic proposition can never be fully detangled from those who made it, one can posit against “this reductive transparency, a force of opacity” that protects diversity (Glissant, 1997, p. 62). Donna Haraway and Isabelle Stengers shift the focus from the one who offers to the one who receives, condensed in the term response-ability as the capacity to respond (Haraway, 2016, p. 78). Stengers captures this in the idea of making a relay, which in order to adapt to new givens and unknowns—the relocation—must “induce a transformation” (Stengers and Despret, 2014, p. 47). This is an augmentation, where the shifted concern is “liable to be shared with those who arouse it, liable to add new dimensions” to the issue (Stengers, 2017, p. 396). Relaying is an experimental practice that implies a freedom—“Your perceptions are yours, or rather are yours to work with” (Stengers, 2011, p. 135)—which is not randomness but becoming part of what Stengers calls an inter-assemblage.