The Double Face of Collaborative Art: The Exchange of Theory and Practice | LAIA GUILLAMET & DAVID ROCA




1. Introduction

The collaborative art is an aspect of contemporary art whose earliest manifestations can be located in the sixties of the last century. Its origins are drawn in compromised political art proposals, together with the proliferation of ‘performances’, quite remarkable in Britain and the United States, in the late sixties and early seventies. The performance art as a form of protest and social criticism was welcomed by different social protest movements, such as feminism, environmentalism or minority groups at that time were being organized. In either case, its evolution is defined under a strong social and political commitment and the art was geared depending on the context. To do so, it was necessary to move the art works from the art galleries and museums to open environments, linked to what is traditionally known as public art.

From its beginnings is evident the interest of these artistic proposals in participating in the resolution of conflict situations related to those groups that may require this type of intervention to overcome the problems in which they are involved in.

The collaborative art can participate in this process through different means. You can choose to raise the visibility of these groups, promote their social integration and strengthen the self-esteem of its members. In either of the above cases, the aim is to establish a support at two levels of identity: values ​​and individual and group representation. In relation to this objective, one of the most relevant consequences of collaborative art interventions is that they allow the possibility of providing a body of knowledge and tools that should enable them to identify and critically position regarding social constructions, both in cases in which they take part in directly or in cases in which there are other actors involved in the social environment they belong to.

Such notable and ambitious goals should involve a rethinking of the role of the artist, the audience and the artistic work, considerably dismissing the traditional conception – maybe outdated – of art. If it is intended that these goals convert into real influences, it is essential that the artist chooses to lose his ‘ivory tower’, to be placed on an equal footing with viewers. Some of these viewers, those involved in the project, should modify their passive receptor status – ie those who simply accept or reject a particular proposal artistic – to actively integrate in its development and resolution.

This paradigm shift also entails a new perception of the resulting work, transferring most of its importance to the creative process defined by the set of its actors. This entails that the resulting work from being a goal[1] to become direct evidence showing a convergence of multiple individual creativities. This could lead to an assertion that, in this type of procedural art, the work is not anything but a concrete answer to a problem, more or less complex, necessary to produce this creative dialogue.

The dialogue established around this process involves not only a methodology but also an end in itself: it is this environment which should facilitate social improvements attached to them such initiatives. For this, the model must define a learning environment that transcends those instrumental skills complexion. This means that to achieve this goal is so important that all participants can collaborate in the execution of the project and that, for instance, build or improve strategies for interacting with all participants, whether or not they social group that enrol. In this lies the uniqueness of the artistic proposal methodological: active intervention placed on an equal footing fosters knowledge building may occur rarely in environments where a hierarchy has been implemented, although it may seem small.

Often these power relations are not evident, though they are not harmful to this work methodology. In carrying out these activities special attention should be paid to this condition, as it can become a major constraint to the project. Although it may appear as a politically incorrect criterion, it is easy to accept for many – since it involved a certain logic – that the reasoning of an artist is more appropriate than those that do not have the privilege to take on this label[2]. A sincere equal environment should allow the development of knowledge and tools that contribute to the ’empowerment’ of the group to which these efforts are directed.

Finally, it is important to stress the fact that collaborative art projects not only shy away from the emotional aspects of learning, but also foster them to allow the efficient development of a network of relationships between members of different groups that coexist in a given social context but which are subject to significant constraints that prevent them relate differently to imposed by tradition and stereotypes.


2. The conceptual limitations

The analysis of different collaborative art projects related to the conduct of a short course monograph devoted to this topic[3], enables us to note that in most cases it is not easy to harmonize theory and praxis.

First of all some brief reflections related to the complex field of the sociology of art are worth noting. On the one hand we understand the possibility that agents who define the theoretical framework – historians and critics, mainly, – intend to influence the practice of collaborative art projects. That is, not only influencing the theoretical framework but also in inherent artistic production. Similarly, we must also consider the trend-o-human weakness to a certain reductionism which means developing compulsive patterns and labels to systematize a set of individual and differentiated experiences.

Both attitudes could justify the distance we have identified between the theoretical definition and exercise of these artistic practices. For this reason it may be surprising to identify that, although various authors present the ’empowerment’ as one of the main features of collaborative art, it is not found in most of the studied projects developed since there is no documented evidence of continuity.

We must bear in mind that with this we refer to both a literal appropriation and depth, understanding the surface first as an appropriation of different resources developed, while the second consists in adapting the original model to the new needs of the group or community which exploits it. In any case, rarely projects transcend disabling of the various actors responsible for its start (educators, artists, volunteers, political, social and patron, etc..).

To illustrate this behaviour we can imagine a project in which some social workers identify a need or problem related to a particular group. Regardless of the acuteness of his analysis, they are responsible for designing the project that later will be solved by all participants. As noted above, this implies unidirectional hierarchical models in the process that inevitably determines the direction and purpose of the proposal.

Certainly, this example can enable creativity of the different participants, since they depend on the outcome of- for instance-a wall painting that conveys the values ​​of respect and solidarity with foreigners and immigrants. The technique, style, composition, colour selection, selecting text messages or selecting graphic symbols are some of the many issues open to negotiation among the participants. But it should be borne in mind that they are still decisions guided by an established pattern in advance, that is, a determined topic with a strong ideological orientation (promoting respect for foreigners and immigrants), using a particular artistic expression technique (painting), in a given medium (a brick wall), located in a particular place (the outer wall of a municipal library). As this example we can find many projects in our environment or in the international arena with a similar profile. In all cases, the decisions of those who participate in it can be reduced to accept the proposed model or not to participate in it.

In short, this type of collaborative art projects involve a working team -qualitative- separation into two camps: on the one hand those who choose what to do and, at the other end, everyone else. Therefore, and due to the lack of a true horizontality, there is a tendency to generate projects closer to participation than to collaboration, regardless that the original intention of the project is to be included in the collaborative art group.

3. Some reasons that may justify this situation

Undoubtedly we are in a peculiar historical context. Technological advances and Western[4] hegemonic ideological positioning allow widespread access to information and communication capacity hard to imagine just a few years before the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

So it is easy conclude that we are immersed in the ideal context for a full development of this kind of artistic practice. So, what can justify that distance between the theoretical and practical collaborative art? It would be understandable that both fields they have been in accordance, or at least one progressive correspondence with each other might be identified.

As the theoretical framework expands, mature projects and new initiatives appear. However, we realize that it has a strong idealism – in which the authors acknowledge participate in much – in definitions and theses published related to this topic, somewhat negating an important part of collaborative and participatory practices that are currently underway .

Factors contributing to this ‘décalage’ should be possible to explain by any one or combination of the hypotheses that we propose below. On one hand, it is clear that there is a lack of research that illustrates the collaborative artistic practices conducted. Although it is possible that the authors are unaware of related material, there is little point that there is a ‘corpus’ deliberately or inadvertently remain hidden under an avalanche of information, since it does not participate in the enrichment of that theoretical framework and prevents it from practice art can avoid the errors detected before.

Ignoring their existence, it should be noted that the development of this material should lead to a major difficulty, since this type of experience, as also occurs frequently in education-are reluctant to be reduced and evaluated with quantitative methods. Regarding the qualitative assessment as proposed from participatory research, it involves a degree of difficulty that can only deal with a competent and experienced, should get translated since the specificity of the experiences in models that can be applied in contexts different from the originals.

Apart from the difficulty and slowness of the research that would lead an investigation like this, it should also be borne in mind that we should add to those potential errors deliberate falsification of results that are produced in any field of research. By this we note that, with most of the readings documentary project, it is clear that the authors leave out any critical approach to the process or the results. Of little use to the community of critics and historians, or set of agents that promote or participate in the implementation of collaborative art projects that are documented other proposals if ignored the weaknesses and threats that must be addressed for best results.

We must not forget that those (artists, educators, etc.) That promote this type of community experiences are dependent on public funding or private initiatives involved in the development of these activities (museums and foundations, mainly). Therefore, it is somewhat understandable that they do not intend to show to their sponsors its limitations and failures collected during the experiment.


4. Some final remarks

Although we have the following hypothesis hinted in previous paragraphs, it is pertinent to mention it again to point out that the main reason that justifies the collaborative art malpractice is found in the funding mechanisms of the system itself. Since a significant portion of such projects depend on institutional grants[5], proposals with a strong procedural and flexibility, necessary for a purely collaborative approach, they are not usually accepted. Like most things, this attitude can be explained by refractory market logic: Companies invest in social projects to improve their image and increase their symbolic capital, local authorities and other public institutions obey a similar logic, designed to effectively manage the budget they have available and try to get as political performance, maintaining its ideological line or a political strategy appropriate to each historical juncture.

Although it is clear that the two environments pursue different objectives, they share a focus on the performance of their actions. Government agencies usually require scheduled and programmed educational justification of the artistic projects to which they will allocate their funds, just as they expect tangible results and materials. This behaviour also implies a paternalistic character, where the resulting message may reveal that the institution-public or private-meets the needs of a particular social group and invest efforts in order to minimize the problems identified. There is therefore the possibility that the proposed projects from these institutions fully or partially ignore the needs of these groups, prioritizing political or advertising performance that these interventions can report them.

Moreover, the figure of the artist still participates in a controversial position. Due to strongly reminiscent of romantic imagination that still retains despite being immersed in a completely different society, some responsibility in relation to the other actors involved is imbued with. To some extent, the artist plays the role of the nowadays entrepreneur. In other words, the artist tends to think in specific projects, to debut, which implies an absence of horizontality, which is the condition that validates the interest and effectiveness of the project as it evolves.

In short, the intentions of collaborative art contribute to building a more supportive and encouraging society. However, the general ignorance of the real needs of the groups that is usually set aside, has significant gaps between what is intended and what ends up being. Given that the experience so far has shown that the promotion of such practices has resulted often in a manipulation by investors, it is important to continue to work in other directions. A good alternative would be based on new forms of financing current as rabidly as crowd funding. Thus, through a donation system neutral but committed to the cause, we would achieve more transparent cooperation with the ‘alma mater’ of collaborative artistic practices.



Blanco, P. (2005). “Prácticas artísticas colaborativas en la España de los años noventa”. In: Desacuerdos 2. Sobre arte, políticas y esfera pública en el Estado español. P. 188-205.

Casacuberta, D. (2003). Creación colectiva : en Internet el creador es el público. Barcelona: Gedisa.

Ivern, Joan. (2010). Pràcticas artísticas colaborativas. Análisis de tres casos en el contexto educativo españo. Master Artes Visuales y Educación: un enfoque construccionista.

Ricart, M.; Saurí, R. (2009). Processos creatius transformadors. Barcelona: Ediciones del Serbal.

Rodrigo, J. (2011). “Políticas de colaboración y prácticas culturales: redimensionar el trabajo del arte colaborativo y las pedagogías”. In: Inmersiones 2010. Proyecto Amarika y Vitoria: Diputación Foral de Álava. P. 230-249.

Sánchez, A. (2010). “Prácticas artísticas y pedagogías colaborativas: paradojas productivas del trabajo desde la diferencia”. In: Jornadas de Producción Cultural Crítica en la Práctica Artística y Educativa. 18 de Junio, MUSAC, León.


[1] Although we are in a period with a pronounced tendency to the dematerialization of the artwork, it still has a central role.
[2] There is a certain inevitable respect from those who are not familiar with a particular field. Analogies should not be drawn with other professional fields-for instance, considering that a mechanic is the best person to solve a particular problem with a combustion engine. We should avoid it, firstly because artistic expression can not be compared to any technical profession, without forgetting the fact that the aim of the practice is not to generate a work of art of a certain quality but encourage creativity of a particular group of people with different qualities and attributes.
[3] We refer to “ArtHUB: Participatory and Collaborative Artistic Practices”, held at Nauart on the 13th , 20th  and 16th  July 2013, led by Laia Guillamet and David Roca.
[4] In an entertaining at the same time lucid essay, David Casacuberta (2003) highlights a fact that is just easily ignore: Internet is a free communication structure and decentralized because those people and institutions that have participated – directly or indirectly – in its design have decided so. That in the future this has to continue like this just depends on the political, social economic and decide to keep the current paradigm. There is a possibility that it is intended to correct the model in favour of a centralized system for the competent authorities, hindering the production of new content or censoring content based services and appropriate criteria at any time.
[5] Under this term we grouped all types of institutions, public or private, as may be local councils, neighborhood associations, foundations linked to large multinationals, museums or galleries, etc.