Frances and I were the only students on the course  to do our project collaboratively instead of individually, and  I think for my part I drifted into that without really questioning whether it was the simplest, the easiest, the most efficient or the most creative option (no, no, maybe and yes!). I think it added levels of complication that we were unprepared for. Yet working through the challenges that collaboration brought has given us a project that is richer and more far reaching than it might have been and ‘something that  could not have been achieved alone’ (Ravetz et al., 2013: p21).

Pablo Helguera talks about the ‘limitations and potentials’ of productive  collaboration (Helguera,  2011: p52). Amanda Ravetz, Alice  Kettle and Helen Felcey, writing collaboratively, speak of the ‘balance between certitude and risk’ and the frictions that arise in  collaborative partnerships (Ravetz et al., 2013: p6) and note that ‘Attempts to undertake material collaborations can unsettle or discomfort participants, leaving them aware of what they do not know and cannot do.’ (p5). Our ‘material’ was the intangible material of social understanding and interaction, not the physical material of craft, but we also found this to be true. We are very different in experience and in personality  and we had to work extremely hard and sometimes painfully to reach solutions that preserved our individual integrity  (which is not the same thing as doing it the way we originally wanted!)

I think we made it work because we were both ultimately committed to the course and to the project and because we persevered in struggling to communicate until we were able to communicate, until we both learned to see the other’s point of view. This experience showed me that it may not always be possible in a collaboration to reach the kind of compromise that combines elements  of two opposed viewpoints; to quote again from Ravetz et al. ‘working closely with others may require a willingness to temporarily give up possessiveness towards materials, objects and associated skills’ – and I would add, towards ideas and even values. Only when I reached the point where I understood my values and was confident that Frances understood them and that I understood hers was it possible to make that kind  of  ‘temporary giving  up’ decision with a whole heart and open eyes. And getting there is an arduous  and exhausting process, but the rewards are huge.

Frances  and Fiona
Frances and Fiona, by Sophie Isaacson

Lesley Millar makes an interesting distinction between collaboration and teamwork, describing teamwork as ‘pragmatic working relationships with those who have the necessary skills to facilitate the smooth running and success’ of a project. Collaboration ‘requires a different approach based on mutuality of benefit from  the  process and the  outcome; a willingness to “let go” of ownership and to share and act on one another’s ideas’ (Millar, 2013: 24). Contributing our different skillsets to execute the project well was easy enough – pure teamwork. But it was in the conflicts and the frictions of sharing and acting on each other’s ideas that growth took place and we experienced the work as ‘not so much mine or yours as ours’ (Kelley, 1995: 147). We saw the boundaries of ownership dissolve and coalesce into something new:

‘Questions will come up around collaborative projects. Where did the original idea come from? How was it transformed by the conversation? Who had more of a hand in the final execution? The answer to all of the above is, “Who cares?” While artists each deserve fair credit and compensation, openness, humility and commitment to the output or product are most important.’ (Gupta, 2013)

Gupta, A. (2013), Artist Collaboration Fuels Creative Exploration, Accessed 24/11/2013.
Helguera, P. (2011), Education for Socially Engaged Art, New York: Jorge Pinto Books.
Kelley, J., (1995), ‘Common Work’, in Lacy, S. (ed.), Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art, Seattle: Bay Press, 139–148.
Millar, L (2013), ‘Collaboration: A Creative Journey or A Means to An End?’. In Ravetz, A., Kettle, A. & Felcey, H. (eds), Collaboration through Craft, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 22-30.
Ravetz, A., Kettle, A. & Felcey, H. (2013), Collaboration through Craft, London: Bloomsbury Academic.

‘Limitations and potentials’ – working collaboratively