It is this backdrop of “collaboration” that I would like to offer as a backdrop for discussing collaboration might actually be advantageous for an artist working today.
But first there is a catch: the very idea of the artist subject — the archetype of the creative individual with a unique vision of the world and who makes a signature kind of work — generates particular conditions for “collaboration.” After all, this conception of the artist-subject is structurally very close to the contemporary individual-as-brand. Yet it is interesting to consider that this ‘creative individual’ artist archetype dates back to at least the early modern period, with the myth of the artist alone at work in his studio or the 19th century cosmopolitan dandy, trading his unique personal taste for social power.
So in addition to the two aforementioned notions of collaboration, I want to also float a third: It is a sense of “collaboration” motivated by neither the aspirational ideals of team-building retreats nor the financial motivations of high-profile co-branding, but rather by a refusal of the aforementioned artist-as-‘creative individual’ myth. Rather, it is one we know from activist groups such as Tiqqun and artist collectives such as Bernadette Corporation, Dis, and K-HOLE, or even, more recently, the fad of masked EDM DJs standing in for groups of anonymous producers or Gen-Z’s widespread use of ambiguously authored group accounts on traditional social media so as to avoid individuating profiles and streams. In each of these cases, the constituent collaborators seek cover behind a veiled group identity. By opening production to other people, such collaborations create a collective buffer zone between their personal identities and the public-facing demands of the wider network. In each of these cases we see “collaboration” as a way to protect a creative personal space, while still productively interfacing with the market at large.
Yet ultimately, perhaps the definition of “collaboration” in any given context is contingent on the power relation it describes. Indeed “collaborate” is used when the two parties working together are equal or (more cynically) when the more powerful of the two feels that the gesture of naming the other is somehow advantageous. Fashion gives us many examples across this sliding scale of power, especially with the rise of streetwear as a form of high fashion and the disruption of traditional codes of luxury.