Posted in CF Writing, Sited work, Texts by chrisfremantle on April 20, 2007

Oren Lieberman, at a dinner during Wendy Gunn’s Making Places workshops in 2002-03, offered an interesting analysis of collaboration. I was reminded of this and encouraged to actually note it down by Tony Beckwith (from Gunpowder Park) phoning up and asking me to remind him about it – I had offered Oren’s thought up during the Bright Sparks Seminar (9 March 2007).

So back to the point, Oren’s analysis of collaboration. He said there is Multi-disciplinary practice. This might be characterised by a group of different disciplines (architects, engineers, planners, perhaps even artists, sitting around a table, each addressing their area of responsibility within a project. Having them round the table is useful, but collaboration is functional. Then you have Interdisciplinary practice. I would understand this to be when the people around that table are interested in understanding each others roles, skills and tasks. I might further suggest that they draw on each others roles skills and tasks through interest. Finally Oren offered Transdisciplinary practice – when people change roles and start doing each other’s jobs. I would offer Michael Singer and Linea Glatt’s 27th Avenue Waste Transfer Station project in Phoenix Arizona as an example – as I understand it they had been employed as artists to decorate the building, found their were decorating a basically bad building and persuaded the commissioner to allow them to redesign the building as a public space which in the documentation, looks like the hanging gardens of Babylon (case study at publicartonline).

The first thing to say about Oren’s analysis is that it is not an increasing scale of good: Trans- is not better than Inter- which is not better than Multi-. They are different. Trans- is more difficult than Inter- which is more difficult than Multi-.

Given that they are more difficult, and probably in the context of any form of collaboration, we need to think about how to achieve collaboration. To achieve collaboration you cannot start around a table in an office. You can only do it by constructing shared experiences, relevant to the project and characterised by conviviality.

Here I would point at John Maine’s tactics at the beginning of Place of Origin (for more on this project follow this link). He insisted that we (himself, Brad Goldberg and Glen Onwin and myself) go on a road trip. We went to Lewis, via Clava Cairns and Assynt. Ostensibly we went to look at the interpretation centre at Callanish, but in fact we went to get to know each other and to develop a shared visual language. Interestingly, though John and I had been to Kemnay Quarry on a number of occasions, this road trip happened before either Brad or Glen saw the site. I suspect the result was that when they saw the site, at the end of the road trip, we all had a shared experience to interrogate it from. What was averted was each artist arriving at the site and immediately going into a singular “what do I do here?” and instead, what occurred was “what do we do here?”. I think this latter point may be very important – it certainly resulted in an amazing collaboration over 10 years.

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