Reading Response – “CAE’s Observations on Collective Cultural Action”

Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) makes a case for thought-out collaboration in an artistic, cultural, political, and social economy in which demand for the individual currently prevails.

CAE states that art schools and institutions prioritize – and in most cases, only offer – education for the individual artist. Collaborative practice is not the preferred ideological imperative in place of individual practice. This kind of education promotes the cultivation of many different skills in one person as per market demand. For example, in the current market, “a single artist must be able to produce in a given medium, write well enough for publication, be verbally articulate, have a reasonable amount of knowledge of numerous disciplines, be a capable public speaker, a career administrator, and possess the proper diplomatic skills to navigate through a variety of cultural sub-populations.” CAE relents that the need for this maximization of skills is because of the “excessive population of cultural producers” so if an individual’s focus is on specialization in a specific medium, his or her opportunities diminish.  But as most artists and producers are unable to become capable of all of those requirements on their own, CAE makes a case for maximizing their opportunities by collaboration with those who possess different skills. This results in a deviation from specialization and the ability to work in a wide variety of cultural spaces.

CAE emphasize the importance of organization and structure of a group in accordance with the size of the group. If the group becomes too large then there is risk of individuals being unable to participate in each task and different subgroups emerge, stepping towards a power hierarchy and a diminished democratic process. Under these conditions, individuals may find themselves underrepresented within the whole group.

For its own projects, CAE uses the idea of a “floating hierarchy.” The member with the most experience with a particular project becomes the leader for that particular project and while others are allowed to pitch in their ideas, the leader makes the final decisions. In CAE’s opinion, as long as everyone is satisfied with the work and with the rate at which the work is progressing, there isn’t a necessity for rigid equality within the production process. CAE does not recommend this process for large groups (more than eight people) because in large groups “members must be able to interact in a direct face-to-face manner so everyone is sure that they have been heard as a person.”

Do you agree with CAE’s suggestions for group hierarchy (or lack thereof) based on group size? Do you have any personal experiences working within groups, no matter the size, where you felt you were unable to fully participate because of  certain group dynamics/hierarchy? If so, what do you think could have been done differently to fix the issue of underrepresentation?

Would you prefer individual specialization in all areas (if you believe that to be a likely option) or to work collaboratively within a group where different individuals specialize in different areas (like CAE)? Which method would provide for the best production rate? For most personal satisfaction?

Reading Responses for CAE’s Observations on Collective Cultural Action

CAE mentions several reasons to collaborate creatively; including diversifying technical and media related skills. Media projects continue to get more complex. Much like the previous era of making films, which might have involved different people for writing, acting, camera, sound, and editing; newer media projects might involve different people for audio, video, graphics, interaction or game design and back end coding.

Question: What experiences have you had creating projects large enough to diversify creatively and technically, and what was the result? When does “collaborate with me” mean “do the technical/skilled labor I am ignorant about for free” and when does collaboration fuse the skills and ideas of all collaborators? Would you consider doing your thesis project collaboratively, sharing ideas and labor? Why or why not?

CAE writes that “Members must be able to interact in a direct face-to-face manner, so everyone is sure that they have been heard as a person (and not as an anonymous or marginalized voice).”

Question: What is your opinion on this? Have you had experiences which have supported or contradicted this?

salome: 

While reading this piece, I was reminded of something Chinese philosopher Mozi wrote in a piece about “indulgence in excess.” He  writes excess renders certain groups of people invisible and creates hierarchies based on social markers like class. And he warns that indulging in excess contradicts any sincere call for change by reinforcing power dynamics. Mozi believes that this indulgence hurts collectives and produces inequities (Book 1, Section 6).

Collective building, at the different scales described by CAE, all share a need not only for establishing trust, but also a process for self-reflection– a time to check your indulgences.  I can give an example. I was recently working on developing a public program with a small arts group where I was the only person of color/woman on the team. There were moments during our planning meetings where maybe I didn’t speak up as much because of fear and, reciprocally, the three other men felt like they had to be more vocal to be heard (sometimes even silencing each other). I had to express how the way we were communicating with one another wasn’t adding to our overall growth as a group or our planning efforts. We collectively arrived to a decision to become more self-aware as means of building trust.  For us, this process of self-reflection included sharing readings around privilege, acknowledging how much each member was talking during meetings, and making pizza together (“convivial relationships beyond the production process are necessary”). And maybe understanding excess and indulgence happens best at a cellular level because there is more opportunity for face to face interaction, but I think acknowledgement of self and others is key to working together.

Consequently, there has always been a drive toward finding a social principle that would allow likeminded people or cells to organize into larger groups. Currently, the dominant principle is “community.” CAE sees this development as very unfortunate. The idea of community is without doubt the liberal equivalent of the conservative notion of “family values” – neither exists in contemporary culture, and both are grounded in political fantasy.

By far, one of my favorite moments in the piece. While I also choose to shy away from the word “community,” I don’t completely agree with CAE’s reasons for tearing it down. I think the word is void of meaning when you use it to describe a group of people as a monolithic organization (ie. “the gay community,” “the black community,” etc). But I think people operate in multiple communities simultaneously and that a group of people can value an individual’s dissimilarity in the same way that similarity brings them together. Almost immediately, Afropunk comes to mind. Afropunk is part music festival, part zine fair, and part marketplace. This annual summer event draws crowds of folks who feel like they operate outside of what is widely accepted to be “black culture” (whatever that means) in hopes of expanding definitions of blackness. The festival has a range of attendees that identify in a multitude of ways, but all share the affinity of race. This festival provides a platform for truly different people to commune, cross lines, and celebrate their differences. Calling a community like Afropunk a “minority” just seems like giving the original issues around the term “community” a new face.

Also, I wish CAE detailed their understanding of coalition building. I didn’t really understand how a social subsystem lacks social solidarity. Moreover, I wish CAE defined what counts as “conflicting” when social subsystems are supposed to put aside “any conflicting differences” as a step towards building coalitions and alliances.

A friend once beautifully related the process of alliance building to rehearsing in an orchestra. First, the different sections– strings, brass, etc.– rehearse on their own to strengthen their sounds. Once the different sections feel confident to share, the entire ensemble comes together to rehearse together. I think different social subsystems need this time to “rehearse” because it allows for self-definition, so you are not muted out by the other instruments. So many thoughts on this.

 

Some questions I’m left with:

How does a collective anticipate reaching critical mass?

How have collectives turned down new members? Is that cool?

How can cellular collectives create formulas for new collectives to initiate?

How does a social subsystem lack social solidarity with other groups?

What are examples of conflicting differences between social subsystems?

What does it mean to be an ally?

“Indulgence in Excess.” Chinese Text Project. W. P. Mei, 10 Sep 2013. Web. <http://ctext.org/mozi/indulgence-in-excess>.

 

Reading Response – “Making Cutting Edge Animation on a DIY Homestead”

For me, the most interesting thing is that there is a strong contrast on what they are doing. They are making a very technology-based, virtual, digital animation. At the same time they are creating a unique community that allow themselves get more chance to explore to the nature. I quite interested in the idea entertainment and education medium, it is a promising technology that is under developing. We already realize it through telephone apps. For example, when we go to MOMA, we can download the museum  app, and get a lot of information of the art piece we are looking at. It is a good media to allow people to interact with the object and environment.

I do not think that commitment to sustainable ecology can successfully intersect with commercial industry and market economies in a short time. Commercial industry and market economies are quite profit-driven, sustainable ecology need advanced technology support which will gain much more cost. Just like we all know that plastic is harmful to the environment, but markets can not stop manufacture plastic bottle and costumers can not stop buy plastic bottle beverage.

Encyclopedia Pictura is extended to 18 people, do you think is it easy for them to get more people involved or not? I would think about the social meaning of the sustainable village, do you think the project really can be sustainable or not? How can people benefit from it? It can only benefit a small group of people or it can affect a large area.

I also want to introduce some fashion designers, they collaborate with different people from background , combined fashion together with technology.
They are Hussein Chalayan, iris van herpen, and issey miyake.

Reading Response – “Conceptualizing and Measuring Collaboration”

http://www.melaniecrean.com/collaborativefutures/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/ConceptualizingMeasuringCollaboration.pdf

Thomson et all argue in “Conceptualizing and Measuring Collaboration” that  from both a theoretical and practical standpoint, the meaning of collaboration has to be better defined in order to measure and, with this data, better implement collaboration. Pages 23 through 28 specifically provide a review of the theory on collaboration, categorized by the authors in 5 key dimensions of collaboration which seem very much interconnected. I personally interpret these dimensions as a possible checklist for successful collaboration. In my own words, these are the requirements for successful collaboration within the 5 dimensions:

Governance
To govern means “to conduct policy, actions and affairs”. Much like within any organization, governance within collaboration is important because without a transparent framework of rules (the policy), the participants will become uncertain on how to operate within the collaboration. Like any other part of the collaboration, the management of these rules should be a shared responsibility.

Administration
Even with great guidelines on how to operate within a collaboration, the collaboration can be unsuccessful without proper administration of these policies and actions. The administrative structure of a collaboration is decentralized because of the autonomous nature of a collaboration (see ‘Organizational Autonomy’) and because of that, it might be even more important that these structures are set up correctly and with agreement of all parties.

Organizational Autonomy
In any collaboration there is a conflict of identity and interest. Partners in a collaboration will need to juggle between their own identity, thriving to meet personal goals, and that of the collaboration, achieving the collaboration goals while maintaining accountability to their partners. This creates a very dynamic partnership (and holds, according to Innes, potential for creativity) but can lead to frustrations in the collaboration. The interest of the individual can never conflict with the goals of the collaboration.

Mutuality
Because of the autonomous nature of a collaboration (the tension between personal and joined goals), mutual beneficial interdependencies are very important for the success of a collaboration: it is the drive of the collaboration. These dependencies can happen in two different ways: either because one partner has unique resources the other party can benefit from or because of shared interests, for example missions, target audiences or culture. Is one of these reasons for collaboration better than the other?

Norms
Trust is a central component of collaboration. Even if all parties are able to keep both its personal and the joined goals in mind and the collaboration is build on solid interdependencies, the partners of the collaboration still have to trust that the other party has been truthful in providing information and will follow through on its promises. Trust can exist for short-term collaborations as well long-term ones, but it will be build on the reputation of the parties.

Although the article gives excellent insight in the theory behind the 5 key dimensions, I’m interested in the evidence of these 5 dimension in practice. Please give an example of a collaboration that was unsuccessful because of the wrong implementation of one of the 5 dimensions. Do you think that certain collaboration might not need all 5 dimensions to be successful, or do you think a certain dimension is more important than the others?

Making Cutting Edge Animation on a DIY Homestead

http://www.npr.org/2011/07/17/137680605/making-cutting-edge-animation-on-a-diy-homestead%22%3Ehttp://www.npr.org/2011/07/17/137680605/making-cutting-edge-animation-on-a-diy-homestead

What is notable about the community of Trout Gulch is not only the rural lifestyle and technological innovations but also how its residents come together with a strong focus and sticking to their plan as a group. The idea of the collective working as a unit, believing in the same values and methods of living, is important in maintaining this type of community; it seems that having multiple people all adhering to this lifestyle further reinforces the drive in each of them to stick to their personal beliefs, something that could be more difficult when in solitude.

The commitment to sustainability and community can certainly intersect with the world of commercial business, though it does seem difficult at a glance. Trout Gulch seems to have been built for the very purpose of integrating technology with natural life, placing Encyclopedia Pictura in such an isolated setting, which is why it is mostly successful in its dual endeavors.  It seems that the collective’s residents are in touch with how modern machinery works but choose to take these methodologies into their own DIY-prone hands, as evidenced by their reading of online forums to find solutions that they can agree with. The important thing is that these people know exactly how to combine their bucolic dedication with industrial enterprises through extensive research and creativity.

On the other hand, though, Encyclopedia Pictura is perhaps limited by its distance from urban life, where digital innovation is arguably thriving the most. Is it possible that the collaborators of Encyclopedia Pictura will, to a certain degree, always be slightly behind in what is new in technology? Also, what do you think is the reason why the three founders of the community chose a profession and a lifestyle that perhaps contradict each other?