This essay was written as part of a residency at Art Works' Minor Works Building in Adelaide from April-August 2018. ART WORKS is an initiative delivered by Guildhouse in partnership with the City of Adelaide at the Minor Works Building.
To participate in an understanding of collaboration that has appeared within this site, and of which the basis of this essay is tethered to, we must broadly look at the cultural-historical ideas that creative activities are social and that thinking is not confined to the individual. The construction of knowledge is embedded in the cultural and historical milieu in which it arises. It is a dynamic interdependence of interactional and individual processes – the language of thought – that leads to the co-construction of knowledge, tools and artifacts.
For artist Kaspar Schmidt Mumm collaboration and cultural communities are an intrinsic and ongoing reference point embedded within his artistic practice. He is a multidisciplinary artist who challenges the complexities between high and low art, distorting boundaries between practice and performance and the role of the artist as informant or instigator. At the core of his practice Schmidt Mumm’s collaborative approach to art making is a multifarious system of intuition, perception and translation.
By marrying poets, writers, musicians, photographers, artists and more, Schmidt Mumm has produced an evolving body of work that handles a wide range of media. He constructs elaborate stories, structures and environments through characterisation and his own process driven art. Audiences and voyeurs are welcome to augment, extend or dismantle the direction of his piece integrating their own knowledge and language from numerous cultural sources.
As an extension of collaboration within Schmidt Mumm’s practice, culture and its hybridisation in contemporary society are at the fore of his artistic thinking. He insists in the belief of conceptual and metaphorical designs within ready-made environments appearing as a new form of cultural representation.1 These representations can be realised as a system infiltrating and identifying newness; finding balance whilst avoiding cultural alienation.
The anthropological study of culture historically and academically is determined by a common and persistent truth of diversity and change. A constant touchstone that extends across micro and subcultures is the recognition of ‘being other’ and the adaptive skill to acclimatise and transform when faced with the need for survival. This act of identification and realisation, slipping between differing states of existence opens a myriad of possibilities for Schmidt Mumm. His investigations harbor on folklore, creating a subset of unidentifiable creatures and beings traversing untouched territories and narrating tales of uniting cultures.
Schmidt Mumm’s ongoing project IMMI - itself a sequence of visual code universally understood yet confounding - is a cross collaborative experiment encompassing different modes of practice from theatre, design, sound, poetry, craft and community based projects. The manifestation of IMMI materialises throughout Schmidt Mumm’s work echoing its ethos as a hybrid entity encapsulating the languages, behaviour and customs of the past and possible future.
While on residency at the Minor Works building Schmidt Mumm was given the opportunity to solidify elements of his evolving IMMI theory. He invited collaborators and outsiders to sit and discuss, make work, theorise or lament art practice, cultural history, identity and more. Community engagement is an ongoing point of research and testing site for the artist. He has led numerous workshops and events fostering strong connections with his participants. His reflections are weaved into his investigations of hybrid cultural identity additionally contributing to IMMI’s development as a prototype for assimilation.
The limitations of a residency can become apparent when experimentation and artistic production is stunted. Space, time and materials are constant concerns when recreating an artist’s familiar working environment in an unfamiliar space. To the artist’s credit, Schmidt Mumm refocused his concerns to the community he was surrounded by. The occupants and passerby of this CBD building were a source of motivation in their inquisitive nature and presentation of contemporaneous communal living. In return, Schmidt Mumm hosted a public dinner for the residents whilst making enquiry (through questionnaires and conversation) of their cultural value systems.2 Their contributions to the shared meal were stylistically photographed heightening their value as an offering and fragment of a collective’s artistic product.
These investigations whilst at arms-length all contribute to Schmidt Mumm’s pursuit of acclimatising hybrid cultures and injecting IMMI into a recognisable world.
Through a recent film developed by Schmidt Mumm IMMI emerges as a masked, costume clad nomad, wanderer or vagabond exhuming and amassing knowledge and material from its surrounding environment. Visually, Schmidt Mumm constructs intriguing settings – sometimes based in reality, sometimes surreal yet constantly unworldly and imaginative in its presentation. The film’s eeriness and liveliness is suggestive of artistic movements from our collective past; learned histories reevaluated and reinterpreted as a heightened duplication encouraging the diversification of high and low art.
Members of the Dada cultural and artistic movement began to experiment with film as a means to disseminate formal preconceptions and cultural values through a new medium free of cultural decorum and aesthetic pretentiousness.3 Much like the surrealists who would follow, the dadaists sought to liberate their audience from the cultural allegiances, prejudices, and norms of thinking that, in their view, had been largely responsible for many social and political catastrophes around the 1900s.
Recalling Fernand Leger’s collaborative Dadaist, post Cubist art film Ballet Mecanique (1923-24) we can see the sort of imagery that reverberates in Schmidt Mumm’s practice. This radical film incorporated surreal imagery (painterly and photographic) with intense sound and action. Cinematographer, Man Ray, encourages the viewer to read the film like an oppositional experience as opposed to an artwork. The art movement insisted on embracing that ‘dada means nothing!’ it disvalued criticality, the bourgeois and all formal sensibilities. The manifesto claims:
The new painter creates a world, the elements of which are also its implements, a sober, definite work without argument. The new artist protests: he no longer paints (symbolic and illusionist reproduction) but creates directly in stone, wood, iron, tin, boulders—locomotive organisms capable of being turned in all directions by the limpid wind of momentary sensation. All pictorial or plastic work is useless: let it then be a monstrosity that frightens servile minds, and not sweetening to decorate the refectories of animals in human costume, illustrating the sad fable of mankind^4
Unlike surrealist film, dadaist film did not seek to lure its viewers into the cinematic illusion. Instead, dadaists employed unconventional methods in order to alienate the audience members and to provide them the distance with which to reflect upon the meta-artistic (and anti-artistic) quality of their productions. Film enabled the dadaists to distort reality, motion, and perspective; it revealed familiar things in radically unfamiliar but persuasive new shapes.
Kaspar Schmidt Mumm and the dadaist share a profound value in the importance of working interminably in the pursuit of creating or perhaps revaluating established austere notions of art making. Intrinsic to this process was working collaboratively and reactionary to the environment around them. Schmidt Mumm’s collaborations appear more as a sum-of-parts as opposed to an accomplished piece emphasising that each participating artist is adding to this growing theory rather than offering a conclusion.
In IMMI we hear a poet (Adelaide writer Dom Symes a frequent collaborator of Schmidt Mumm) read ‘we’re only always one mask away from being truthful’. The puzzle of IMMI here implies his motivation is to act as truth or utopian pursuer edging closer to a definitive realisation, but of what? Symes further declares ‘the experience is to display experience’ suggesting the mirroring of culture and classification with its degrees of difference in itself is an act of understanding. Through IMMI the effort of identifying one’s self and another is akin to a ceremony. Here, the spirit of collaboration is truly a free one. Contributors experiment within their own practice but make an offering to the theory of IMMI furthering its position as a catalyst or facilitator of hybrid culture.
For the Dadaists performance, play and collaboration remained vital and central elements to their work. Dadaists claimed to believe that the value of art did not lay in the actual work being produced, but in the process and collaboration instead; the idea of collaboration was to create and bring new visions of the world. Post War, the movement took a more political stance, but the idea of collaboration remained a critical and fundamental component throughout. A large part of the works created within the Dada movement was heavily based upon the participation of the audience, one of the most basic and simplistic ways of fostering collaboration.
It must be made mention that throughout any discussion of artistic collaboration, past and present the question of authorship is almost always raised. Who is the original owner? Who has initiated innovation? Foucault remarked about the death of the man as the author of thought or the creator of new forms and culture (Foucalt 1969). Barthes further explores this in Death of the Author (1967) distilling meaning between text and author, in turn, liberating text from interpretive totalitarianism.
Barthes, Foucault and others claimed the author-function to be an imposition of the web of interactions and contributions that is our shared experiences, discourses and cultures, replacing them with discipline, commodity and control. The escape from, or resistance to, such power relations has been the project of a rich history of artistic practice, flowing in a trajectory through Romanticism, Neo-impressionism, Dada, Surrealism, Situationism, Fluxus and onwards to the participatory and collaborative currents in contemporary art today. We can now look at collaboration here not as an act of co-creation between authors/artists, but co-creation beyond the author, beyond the artist/viewer, performer/audience dichotomies, to a point where the function of the author begins to be dismantled, approaching a situation in which everyone participates in our shared cultures.5
Integrative collaboration appears to be an appropriate ‘label’ for the practices discussed in this essay. These artists are attempting to transform both the field and its participants through collaboration. In a form of suspension, each artist contributes their knowledge without embedding their style or signature. Unlike the complimentary collaborations of the Minor Works building’s previous iteration where the division of labour assisted in the shared outcome of a joint endeavour, integrative collaborations are truly creative. They are motivated through a visual dialogue that hopes to alter existing knowledge and paradigms into a new vision.
Rather than being read exclusively as a material end-point, artists posses the power and potentiality to reimagine our world. The action of collaboration is an essential apparatus for artists to deepen their understanding of their own practice while enhancing another. To see themselves in a new light whilst working more weightlessly sharing the responsibilities and opportunities with partners. It is a chance to make lasting connections and create new futures.
Rayleen Forester is an Adelaide based, curator and arts writer. She co-curated the long established Artists’ Week symposium in 2014 with Lars Bang Larsen (DEN) and Richard Grayson (UK). She writes for national publications and is a founding member of initiatives FELTspace and fine print magazine. She recently curated Playground a multidisciplinary exhibition of local, national and international artists presented at JamFactory, Adelaide, SA and FX Harsono: Beyond Identity at Nexus Arts.