Collaboratively Minding the Gaps

After an eight-hour conversation that Anthony and I had several years ago, which I wrote about here, we came to the conclusion that we should somehow continue. Throughout the day of our extended verbal (and physical) meandering, we realised that conversations are not only a mode of exchange but that they are incredibly conducive for and a major part of both our practices, no matter how different they are.

Ideas are funny things, certainly in the art world, where many still hold on to the notion of the artist as the one who somehow conjures up fully formed ideas that the rest of us simply ‘receive’, mediated through exhibitions or other forms of making public. Contrary to this popular belief, ideas are rarely crystallised right from the get go; most of the time they need honing, fine-tuning, shifting, and sometimes starting from scratch again. And it is precisely through conversations that rather vague ideas, seeds, become more concrete, come into focus differently, start to grow, or can shift into something else entirely that is nevertheless, if not more interesting than the original idea. And as they become more fully formed, they are often more compelling when they become shared ideas. The text on this blog is one we both have a stake in because of our extended conversation over the course of its writing, editing, tweaking and eventually preparing it for publication and dissemination.

Collaboration is defined as ‘the action of working with someone to produce something’ (from Latin collaboratio(n-), from collaborare ‘work together’) (Oxford Dictionaries online) and fully applies here. This definition hinges on the idea of individuals, people, working together. In our exchanges of pieces of text and ideas, it became clear that concerns around collaboration (or its failing), was not only a key aspect of the content of the text, but also a major force in the process of its production: the writing was nurtured by the conversations. These conversations were littered with metaphors, including the notion of ‘minding the gaps’, which subsequently changed how we thought of what the text could be. This use of metaphors in turn resulted in a sketch that visually captured the process Anthony tried to describe in words, but once the sketch was drawn it also influenced the direction and form of the text again. In the course of the process it became clear that it wasn’t ‘just people’ who helped determine things, but also seemingly invisible forces beyond our individual batting back and forth: it was the combination of the different tools and modes of talking, thinking and writing and their interaction that could be argued to be collaborating too.

When Anthony and I considered how the text might or could be read and by whom, it was initially conceived as a booklet or pamphlet, as a printed text that would be distributed among a selected range of professionals. After that option through for various reasons, we considered how it could be disseminated digitally. Having maintained various blogs, we were familiar with the concepts of pages and posts, and the possibility to categorise and tag, and to the potential of embracing open-endedness and interactivity through functions such as ‘comment’, ‘like’ and ‘repost’. All of these individual mechanisms helped develop the final form of the text: they contribute to how the multiple strands can be read, allowing for different configurations and combinations, but also for a continuation of the process of reflection after it goes live. As Anthony suggests, form and content are intertwined in what you encounter here, more so than it could ever have been on paper, while it can now also continue to be written, collaboratively. Or, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the medium of dissemination has shaped the message.