Ása Richardsdóttir and Lene Bang Henningsen, It starts with a conversation. Question your knowledge by sharing. 2017.
I have nothing against the premise of this book and believe that collaboration in various forms is a part of every practice -and life in general- the style in which the book is written is of the type that I tend to find frustrating due to the authors over-simplification and presentation of basic knowledge of how approach something like collaboration. However, if both or all parties prior to collaborating read this book and decided to approach their collaboration by applying the tenets proposed here by Richardsdóttir and Bang Henningsen it could be helpful in contributing to a more fruitful collaboration.
The first, and probably key point, the authors make in their introduction is their friendship that grew out of a collaborative project and in turn has led to additional (this) collaboration. According to the authors the conversations of the collaboration should governed by the parameters (principals) of curiosity, openness, willingness to share, and the ability to listen. What is important to remember is that these principles are the same as those governing conversations between friends, and as the friendship grows these principles become stronger within the relationship. This would occur in conversations of collaboration … but like friendships, the development of these principles within the collaboration is a matter of time and not all collaborations develop equally, at the same pace, or for the same duration. It is clear not all collaborations lead to friendship, however, I think it becomes very important to remember, if we are looking at the conversations of collaboration using similar principles as those that govern conversations occurring within friendships, then we must acknowledge the following: 1. Friendships cannot be forced, sometimes they aren’t meant to be, or they might have an expiration date at which point it is okay to withdraw 2. Friendships are two-directional -dialogs not monologs, ‘potlucks’ where everyone brings something to share and helps out with the tasks of organizing, setting up and cleaning up; if or when the friendship becomes one sided, no longer based on the four principles mentioned by the authors, then it is okay to end it, and 3. Each friendship is unique because each member in the relationship is unique and the circumstances of the moment in their own ways impact the friendship as well.
I think it is important how the authors address the point of view, the perspective -personal and/or cultural- not just from which they write, but also that exists within the conversations wherever they occur. Identifying the differences as well as the similarities in perspective, and how this impacts the four principals, is the second key point to recognize here.
The authors state that “...collaboration is the essential way to secure valuable results” because it makes one aware of his or her own processes. While I agree that collaboration does make one more aware of his or her own processes -after all, you have to understand what it is you do, how you do it, in order to communicate this to others in a collaborative relationship - but I do not agree it is ‘the essential way’ or the only way to secure valuable results. There are many ways to achieve ‘valuable results’ and to develop awareness of one’s own processes, collaboration is not the only way. This sentence exemplifies what I find frustrating in the way the book is written, the language that is used to present the author's’ idea for how to start the conversations of collaboration. Although they follow it with a section on ‘Inspirations’, citing others whose ideas have contributed to the development of their own, thus showing there is more than ‘one way’.
“We have chosen to work collaboratively and internationally because we are curious and strongly believe larger networks can lead to new possibilities for individual artists and enable development of their artistry. Co-produced, co-funded, co-created productions strengthen the art community by bringing new work opportunities, parameters and models. It widens the horizon of everyone involved.” (12)
I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. I also interpret it to exemplify that parts of our practice extend beyond the processes we engage in, therefore the larger networks may lead to the development of smaller fragments of our practice that otherwise might stagnate or remain underdeveloped. This is also where TI fits into the greater scheme of collaboration, as a place to develop tools of collaboration that carry across to other parts of the practices and processes of community members.
“You simply need to build a foundation fitting your needs and the stories you wish to share with your audiences.” (12)
“Net- working and working in networks is about sharing knowledge, being clear about your capacities and aspirations and securing successful matches with collaborative partners.” (12)
“research, meet and follow up” (13)
“An artist or a producer your own age can become a lifelong collaborator, as you move in the same circles. So, we advise you to start meaningful conversations now rather than later.” (13)
I don’t disagree with this, but question the age group the authors are addressing here. Am I included? And perhaps collaboration with all ages groups is a better goal as there is much to gain from collaborating with colleagues that are younger, older and the same age… particularly for those of us who are in-between/mid-career.
“Establish for yourself what it means to you to have a “good conversation”. “(15)
I agree this is very important. What is necessary for a ‘good conversation’ for me is stated in the second paragraph of this reading diary. Add to that the ‘40% on preparation, 20% on the actual meeting and 40% on the very important follow up and evaluation’ model applied by all conversation participants and I believe the potential for a fruitful conversation is at hand. It is frustrating when there is not a balance in these things… one person does all (or none of) the prep, one person dominates the meeting and one person does all (or none of) the follow up. There was a time I would bite the bullet and ‘go with the flow’ but I eventually realized it was not a ‘good conversation’ for me, so I have become clear with myself what is important for cultivating a fruitful conversation/collaboration.
“Give yourself the space and time for this important analysis. The very first step is analysing your own artistic practice and what you stand for.” (17)
Yes, and with the analysis comes the realization of not just what one’s practice is and what one stands for, but that there is only so much ‘time’ and it is important to understand how to best divy it up. I enjoy conversations and collaborations that are fruitful, but abhor when these become black holes of lost time.
“Understand where you can develop and progress and stay true to yourself.” (17)
This is important, and at times hard when staying true to oneself is incomprehensible to others. This is where it is important to have the ear/understanding of another to support the decisions one makes even if they might make different ones.
“Foremost, you need to speak your mind and heart. We encourage you to raise your voice and let people understand what you offer, look for and desire.” (18)
“... the essence of any strategy is choosing what NOT to do.” (18)
“practice making clear choices; nurtures a working culture - an environment that identifies what a clear choice is to you and your team. Invite constructive feedback from your colleagues and peers and make sure you set aside time for such conversations to develop. Not everything needs to be explored in a “square” format meeting. Sometimes a conversation is far more constructive than a meeting.” (21)
“Artistic skills are hugely undervalued in our societies.” (24)
The authors aren’t even living as women artists in 21st century USA or other parts of the world with much less support than they have in their countries of origin. I have a hard time with this, not because what they present from Andrew Simonet which help artist thrive...they do...but the reality of the situation is challenging.
“Besides Andrew’s four checkpoints we wish to add that a very important and on- going task in your daily work is to find and maintain relationships with people, who understand and support your vision.” (25)
This is most important and echos what I mentioned above in relation to values and remaining true to oneself. The idea of naming five people is good, and helpful in stressful times. The order and degree of support changes depending on the circumstances/situation. I do try to be as supportive to those five who are supportive of me … see the second paragraph above… this is high on my list of values.
“The maximum impact occurs when a shared narrative is embedded strongly in the team and when the timing is right!” (27)
“It depends entirely on where your focus lies, when it comes to collaboration.” (27)
This is the ‘it can’t be forced’ part of paragraph two. It can take time, and multiple conversations, to identify just what the shared narrative is, the values and perspectives of the other potential collaborators, what everyone might bring to the conversation/collaboration, and even that what seemed promising at first is not a good fit.
“In each meeting and conversation, it is important to be alert and aware of the culture you are engaging with. Don’t assume that two artists or two companies or an artist and a presenter think and work alike. Make sure you allow time and opportunity to explore the differences before you enter collaboration. This can save valuable time and effort.” (28)
“...we strongly encourage you NOT to engage into a collaborative project unless you have a sense you can indeed trust the person or company you are working with.” (29)
Still, there are times when things go bust anyway.
“In your daily work, the reality is always collaboration or a presentation of a collaboration. You are constantly preparing to meet your peers and colleagues to investigate questions and possible solutions. Once you are in the middle of it, the success of the collaboration will depend on how well you are prepared. We need to underline: If you go into collaboration unprepared, the likelihood of it failing is much greater. Pose questions and walk through the different scenarios that might happen during a process. Describe the ultimate disaster scenario and the ultimate success. Knowing this will help you navigate and hopefully avoid stupid mistakes. A valuable tip in the business is to always get a local colleague to walk you through the most important do’s and don’ts in the culture you are about to visit and collaborate with.” (34)
“It’s our experience that a “NO” is only dangerous if you have not managed expectations. You and your team need to be aware of what you expect and how dependent you are on a YES or NO in certain situation.” (35)
Even when one thinks there is clarity on the expectations at the start the project can still be torpedoed.
“...does feedback create value? The value we aim for? How do you make sure that feedback and evaluation serve a worthy purpose? For whom is it valuable?” (37)
See paragraph two.
“When feedback works, it provides opportunity to improve your impact, development and delivery.
Feedback takes time, and you are taking that time from others as well, to focus on a specific concern of yours. How do you secure an equal basis for a feedback conversation?
We wish you to step away from a hierarchical conversation, and focus on creating an equal conversation. A learning environment where you thrive, stay curious and develop.” (39)
This is where really knowing who you are working with, clarity of expectations, and what your own values, processes, and goals are is vital!
The ‘Tips On’ section (45 - 53) is best, summing up what was stated throughout the rest of the book.