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  • Writer's pictureJamie McCarthy

Collaboration and Its Double.

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

31st July 2015


Collaboration is a word that gets used a lot in the arts. Having over a long period of time been involved in many processes that have been described as collaborative, it seems clear to me that the radically non-hierarchical implications of the word are often ignored.

Collaborate – to work with or together – not to work for or to serve.

I’ve read and heard people talking about how collaboration can have many different degrees of inter-twinement in the making process and I think that’s true. A collaboration could be the equivalent of a quick fuck, a one-night stand, a long-term relationship or even a group sex session in a dark-room – the thing that makes it qualify as collaboration is that it’s consensual – only if everyone is giving and receiving in the ways that feel right for them, can it be called a collaboration. For it to be truly collaborative there mustn't be the non-consensual exertion of power of one person, or a group of people over others. I’m not saying that people can’t, for example, have different roles or different levels of control over certain aspects of the process, but it can’t be that that’s decided as a result of who’s paying or who has the most power.

Too often though, I’ve been drawn into supposedly collaborative situations where, in fact, the person organising things is really looking for someone to service their vision. It may well have been prefaced by something like: “I love what you do – I’d really like you to come and do what you do on this project.” In fact, what is often meant, is that this person has heard one aspect of what I do and wants me to produce something similar to support what they make. Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with bringing in someone to do a job in that way, but to me, that’s not a collaboration – it’s employing someone to use their skill to give you something you want.

For me a truly collaborative partner is someone who does what they do in the light of where they’re at, at that moment in time as a human being and an artist and gives others the space to do the same. The word ‘collaborative’ is often used in a way that doesn’t consider the radical implications of that way of working and thus gets used wrongly. I’m also not saying that a collaboration is always all sweetness and light – there can be lots of disagreements and pulling in different directions along the way and it can be that the role that has been agreed upon for one person, is to make certain types of decisions in certain situations, but for me, for it to be collaborative it has to be a consensual thing.

Why is that important to me? I guess it’s because personally I don’t work well in a non-collaborative situation and when the term is used inaccurately it means that I can think I’m getting into one type of situation because the word collaborative is used, when in fact I’m getting involved in something very different – something I wouldn’t have chosen or at least, I would have approached in a very different way if I’d known what I was getting into. Of course, I’m getting more experienced at sniffing out when people talk about a collaborative project but they mean they want to buy my services, but sometimes I can still get caught out.

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