Three texts that I have been studying have helped me understand where I sit within my practice and specific projects with regards to authorship. I contrast these texts; unpicking roles artists can play in collaborative or collective modes of working and define my own boundaries.
The first text is an interview with Oda Projesi (or Room Project), an artist collaborative made up of three women; Özge Acıkkol, Günes Savas and Secil Yersel, they are based in Istanbul and were formed in 2000. 1
Maria Lind states:
“…they are not about showing or exhibiting a work of art but about using art as a means for creating and recreating new relations between people through diverse investigations and shaping of both private and public space.” 2
In this interview all of the artists’ voices are present and respond to the questions and engage in the conversation as individuals, sharing their own point of view, yet are present as a collective. Their role as a collective appears closer to that of a community facilitator, enabling and supporting individuals to develop stronger relationships with each other and pushing the boundaries of how people relate to the space they live, work in or traverse. Derya Özkan identifies artistic authorship and spacial authorship to be areas the collaborative are problematising, and that authorship implies some form of authority, and that Oda Projesi are dealing with spacial and relational forms of authority. 3
The second text is an interview with Mata Aho, who describe themselves as:
“…a collaboration between four Māori women who produce large scale fiber based works, commenting on the complexity of Māori lives. Our conceptual framework is founded within the contemporary realities of mātauranga Māori. We produce works with a single collective authorship that are bigger than our individual capabilities.” 4
The first thing that struck me with this interview is that all four artists responded as Mata Aho (MA) throughout rather than individuals within the group. They are read as one voice, united, in the same way that they work as four artists, four collaborators on their art projects. This collective arrangement allows for them to support each other, share responsibility and the labour of making. Mata Aho also speak to intentionally working to maintain a functioning collaboration through communication, and that collective authorship is their strength. 5
In the interview, Mata Aho describe gathering stories from friends and whanau for Kiko Moana, 6 project that seeks to understand the concept of taniwha, and that this gathering informed part of the conceptual basis for the work. 7 This feels very similar in practice to I say a little prayer for you, while Mata Aho created a textile work, and asked for stories, I asked participants to make work and share stories. This began a process of response and exchange between myself and the participants, various installations and performances connected with the project, continuing the conversation. Mata Aho explain that assembling and sharing multiple voices and stories gives them “…an appreciation for a multiplicity of understandings.” 8 A similar collection of multiple experiences, differing views and life experiences is also present in I say a little prayer for you.
The final text is an interview with Maureen Lander, where she speaks about her project and exhibition Flat-Pack Whakapapa, while it was installed in Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. She speaks with the director of the gallery, Priscilla Pitts, the interview discusses “…the influence of place on Lander’s work, her use of materials, and her interest in engaging with local communities.” 9
I visited Flat-Pack Whakapapa at Te Uru, in 2018. The process Lander describes is a role of leadership, designing the project, providing instruction, in the form of workshops and outsourcing the making of the work to other weavers. Then in turn drawing all the work of many hands together in an installation. During the interview, Lander places value on relationships, stating, that is what interests her. This may be relationships with her materials, her whanau and the various communities she engages to work with her. 10 This seems to add a durational quality to the work, not only in the process of making, but that these relationships do not necessarily end when the work ends, there is the sense that the dialogue continues, some of the connections formed may be strengthened, while others may well slip away. With a project like I say a little prayer for you, there is potential to push out and expand the duration of the work, as it exists in the objects which are slowly increasing, and the stories as they also increase in number and I continue to read and respond to the work via the community radio station and as podcasts. This is almost a test of the boundaries of authorship, when a project begins to take on a life of its own, I still provide a kind of support structure; the process with the collaborators is still the same, but the radio broadcast seems to exist in it’s own right. Especially as it can be accessed as a podcast, the listener can connect with it and listen wherever they happen to be, this situation and potential for multiple contexts of experiencing of the work is out of my control.
I had some questions of my own work.
Whose work is it anyway and does it matter to me? What is my role and what am I asking of my collaborators?
I was wondering about authorship.
In I say a little prayer for you, I invited people to work with me, I gave them specific instructions, and a process to follow. An unexpected outcome of this were personal stories and reflections which were then shared with me. These stories became the most important part of the work, the process drew them out and also created objects as traces or documents.
My role was providing instruction and some idea of an expected outcome (the objects) but was responsive enough to be able to embrace the stories women shared and see those as having value. It is important to me that I am the author of the work, this is partly because the work is based on trust between myself and my collaborators; I have an agreement with them around anonymity and they allow me to use their stories and the portraits they produced. In turn they appear to have had a meaningful experience, some participants are still engaged in a conversation around this work.
The ‘use’ of the work produced by my collaborators includes reading their stories, combining their cloth portraits into books, a quilt, embroidering, hanging and re-hanging in various situations. I use their work to expand the dialogue which grew out of the process. In these instances I am collector, curator and a kind of conduit for story telling. This collaboration is solidly based in the individuals trust in me, and while I acknowledge the participants, by calling it my work I take responsibility for these relationships and care for the work.
Importantly, this gives me creative control over what happens to the outcomes, written or oral stories or cloth portraits. Therefore authorship is important, and I feel like it allows me to both recognise where the heart of the project exists, and to honour the agreement I made with my participants, maintaining a role of leadership based on trust.
[1.] ‘Montalvo Arts Center | Oda Projesi’, accessed 19 June 2019, http://montalvoarts.org/artist_groups/oda_projesi/.
[2.] ‘Maria Lind: Actualisation of Space: The Case of Oda Projesi | Eipcp.Net’, accessed 19 June 2019, http://eipcp.net/transversal/1204/lind/en.
[3.] Derya Özkan et al., ‘SPATIAL PRACTICES OF ODA PROJESI AND THE PRODUCTION OF SPACE IN ISTANBUL’, n.d., 21.
[4.] ‘About’, Mata Aho Collective, accessed 19 June 2019, https://www.mataahocollective.com/about.
[5.] Tim Corballis, ‘Mata Aho: Mana Wāhine in Contemporary Art’, no. 5 (2018): 69–78.
[6.] ‘Taniwha Tales’, Taniwha Tales, accessed 19 June 2019, https://www.kikomoana.com/.
[7.] Tim Corballis, ‘Mata Aho: Mana Wāhine in Contemporary Art’, no. 5 (2018): 69–78.
[9.] ‘Maureen Lander: Flat-Pack Whakapapa | Govett-Brewster Art Gallery | Len Lye Centre’, accessed 19 June 2019, https://govettbrewster.com/exhibitions/maureen-lander-flat-pack-whakapapa.