How artists in collectives conquer new spaces

Since the 1960s artists have increasingly joined together not just as artists’ groups but also as teams to develop a common work. Vera Leisibach and Chris Regn explain what it is to work in a collective.

Samuel Herzog: Today artists feel a need to get together as a collective to realize projects. What are the advantages of such cooperation?

Vera Leisibach: You are so much less stewing in your own juice. One must be open to the input of others. Cooperation is always full of surprises.
Chris Regn: Because the individual position in a collective is not that ambitious and myopic, new ideas emerge and discussions can happen in a space. However, it is only recently that cooperation is also accepted as a form of artistic work at universities. That was not so before. The collective poses questions about the evaluation of the work and processes.

What do you mean by evaluation?

VL: At Lucerne University of Applied Sciences, Design & Art, for example, students can choose whether to be graded individually or as a group when judging a collective project.
CR: The collective also asks our own view of the work – both our view as an artist as well as a recipient.
VL: The authorship changes. You have to think about how you want to appear, whether you name yourself as a group, and so on. The appearance as a group is often difficult, for example when it comes to claiming financial aid.

What distinguishes art collectives?

VL: For me this is primarily about flat hierarchies and about the roles that are constantly being renegotiated, like being turned over and over again in a washing machine.
CR: They are flexible systems that determine the appearance and authority through decisions. But co-operation can happen on many different levels, which can be very loose and then can suddenly become condensed.

Has the way of cooperation between artists changed in the last few years?

CR: Artists are now ready to emerge in a variety of structures and to organize themselves again – because they can no longer rely on existing structures such as art schools and other institutions. But they use these structures naturally. And, today we can use energy and synergies much better than we could in the past.
VL: Our goal is to create spaces and possibilities with the help of the collective itself. I feel an urge to do something. If you are at the beginning of your career where should you go where you can experiment, where experiences can accumulate? In the collective one can conquer spaces much better than on one’s own.
CR: Exactly. Free spaces are becoming less and less in the city. We artists are compelled to claim back the city if we do not want to be ousted completely, or we have to occupy it. Both can only be managed collectively.

That sounds very serious, almost a bit bitter.

CR: In the 70s and 80s I experienced a time when you could be very playful and generous with authorship and the collective. Trench warfare as in the past, was rare. Today we are working with great seriousness on current topics. One is generally very friendly but never loses sight of the goal.
VL: The playfulness is very important to me today. It makes dynamics possible, it is easy and loose but it follows rules and creates new logic.
CR: Exactly. As Hamburg-based artist Durbahn says: ” Make up your own rules, if you don’t others will set you rules“

Based on that a collaboration is not primarily about production of art, but rather about the framework of its creation, the place it can occupy?

CR: There are simply many more ways to express, produce, show works, create things, lead discourses …
VL: … to think aloud …
CR: … and make inventions that are useful to all of us.

The conversation was conducted by Samuel Herzog. It is part of a series of talks about contemporary art, curated by Sabine Gebhardt Fink, professor at the Lucerne University of applied Sciences and Art.
This conversation was first published on SRF KULTUR, see also here: