Collaborative Art with Mathew...

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A couple of weeks ago, I took part in one of Mathew’s collective intelligence art sessions. At the moment, I’m a bit pressed for time so didn’t take the time needed to read the liminal stage notes he’d provided in much depth, just skimming them. However, the performance started and everything then sort of slotted into place - the use of UNU to allow the group to decide the parameters of the piece (a sort of ouija board type interface) and then transitioning over to the work area, configured as per the results of the UNU decision process.

The making was divided into two halves - constructing the shape and then colouring, which resulted in the piece above (or at least this is part of it). I actually found this to be quite frustrating on two levels. Firstly, the interface used for the drawing wasn’t completely flawless on my Mac; the full “canvas” wouldn’t display, with some of it dropping off the bottom regardless of zoom level and without scroll bars. Also, I would click in a cell to colour it and sometimes a cell several rows lower would change colour. There were a few palette glitches too, not sure why. This is all stuff that is probably due to my computer setup as Mathew hadn’t heard of this problem before - being a Mac user for years I’ve become accustomed to some things not quite working properly as they’re generally written for Windows and ported over to the Mac as a sort of afterthought (MS Office on Mac has been atrocious in the past) - this has been changing in recent years with Apple’s growing popularity.

The other thing that I found frustrating was intrinsic to this collaborative art form - I wanted control. I guess being of an artistic disposition I have a certain desire to control what I am creating, I’ve not been used to any form of collaborative art making in the past (beyond the old children’s game where a figure is drawn in segments on folded paper...). Artists by their nature might be considered as having something of an ego - they make things they believe others should want to look at! This part of me wanted to remove the large sections of magenta from the image, maybe the fuchsia too... Purple and sage green together? Not for me thank you...

Reflecting though, this is absolutely part of the point. It’s collaborative - others may not like my choice of muted blues and greys (not all me in the piece - the participants could choose any colour from the palette, not just the ones they’d selected). I suppose the end result is less important than the actual creation - this is a technological take on the old Fluxus happenings - an instruction is given and people do their own thing. If a member of the audience had taken a savage cut from the clothes of Yoko Ono, the effect on the rest of the performance would have been detrimental. Whilst things can be changed with this digital happening (colours changed back and forth, etc. - nothing is “final” until it stops), the same general thing applies - you need to be cognisant of others, working with them rather than against.

If the drawing is to be elevated in importance in terms of an aesthetic outcome, perhaps a more considered group of participants might be a way forward - people with similar taste or styles might produce something more harmonic. But then this is engineering the end result, generating a hive mind - becoming assimilated into a borg-like collective. Yes, the outcome “improves” but the element of conflict is removed, and whilst this might be frustrating, it is probably quite key to the performance. I’ve only taken part in one, but I can see this might be the case. Its down to what the goals are - performance or end result, and that’s up to Mathew to tailor as he wants. It’s his performance, his rules at the end of the day.
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