Guest Editor’s Statement

Fall 2010: v.06 n.02: Dynamic Coupling

Jessica Westbrook + Adam Trowbridge
School of the Art Institute, Chicago


Every collaborative scenario involves negotiation and communication in terms of direction, sharing, and understanding. These negotiations may have more to do with flexibility, commitment, and trust than the traditional processes and materials of art making. How are these critical skills taught and learned? How are collaborative scenarios modeled and referenced, and how is this interpersonal information accessed and shared with our students?

This edition of Media-N, Journal of the NMC, looks into the fundamental nature of collaborative negotiations by presenting a collection of dialogues with accomplished new media practitioners. The “Dynamic Coupling” duos involved in this edition have agreed to share and describe their working relationship and motivations, as well as the projects they have produced or will produce together. Structurally, each dialogue features a single project, followed by a set of questions including: Are there philosophical motivations in the decision or inclination to work as a couple/collaboratively? Do you keep your personal/professional lives separate? Does your shared practice extend into the classroom and/or inform your teaching philosophy?

Participants were emailed the list of questions, and were encouraged to “take whatever voice you are comfortable with” and “respond together as one entity, respond in turn, go back and forth, interrupt one another, invent a third party, etc.” The duos returned their dialogue with an image or images representing some manifestation of their shared art practice.

The publication of these dialogues seeks to provide insight into collaboration in practice and can be used as a reference for those of us who have abandoned the myth of the author, those of us who work together, and those of us who teach and encourage our students to work together in pairs and groups. We hope this publication can serve as a toolkit or a set of familial examples of collaboration scenarios that do not borrow heavily from a popular use of competitive sport, military, and corporate language. As we develop histories and theories recognizing that it is friendship, and not competition, that defines sustainable art practice, this edition of the Media-N offers cartographies of living human intersections. In breaking with conventional analogies and metaphors, we can now begin to ask bigger cultural and pedagogical questions: What responsibility do we have to encourage experimentation in collaborations as our 21st Century students come of age in the culture and economy they have inherited: post-author, post-structure, post-material, post-market, and potentially pre-collapse? What can we share? How much existing structure do we need to revise or throw out so that artists as groups can go about inventing a place for themselves and establish their own diverse and sustainable art worlds?

Finally, in recognition of the defining place academia currently holds in the art world, how are art departments and schools following suit? Is progress being made in recognizing a shifting definition of practice, and how are these shifts impacting traditional guidelines for hiring, evaluation and tenure? These questions should be addressed collectively and in detail, but having read the dialogues presented here and co-existing with many of the participants in the same precarious balance, hoping to remain working together rather than falling back into prescribed roles, we call upon progressive institutions and those who have the ability to create change to take steps towards fully recognizing and supporting collaborative practice.

Jessica Westbrook + Adam Trowbridge