With or Without Me is an interview project, investigating the dynamics of various collaborative practices and collective ventures in the field of contemporary visual arts, as perceived from the standpoints of the artists and cultural workers taking part in them. By laying stress on the specific subject positions of the interviewees, as taken in relation to their positions within the group or collective, on one hand, and to the art system and the system of social exchange on the other, it explores the conceptual, libidinal, emotional and practical aspects of joint creative work, which is grounded in shared intentions and collective authorship, but avoids failing into the routine of acting out of rationalized conformity of jointly constructed group values.
(quoted from the foreword to the With or Without Me book)
When I started thinking of interviewing people from the art scene – mostly people I personally knew, have worked or showed together with –, about their frustrations and satisfactions related to collaborative/collective artistic work, I was driven first of all by the wish to challenge what I perceived as a basically simplistic and ‘sloganistic’ discourse around such type of work, rarely digging into it deeper than what immediate political messages required or implied. On the other hand, it was also a kind of therapy for myself, as shortly before the artist group Big Hope I was involved in for about six years with artists Dominic Hislop and Elske Rosenfeld, had split and I was soul-searching a lot, trying to find my place in a radically different setting. Thus I felt I was as much interviewing myself than my friends and colleagues who were willing to contribute with their opinions and remarks – for which I’m very grateful to all of them.
“(…) I think, on a more theoretical level, there’s a way in which collaborative work actually amplifies the normal differences between individuals – in other words quite the opposite of unifying people, it actually tends to concentrate what’s dissimilar, at least in the current social situation, let’s say. I think that condition leads to difficulties cooperating, but it also provides, simultaneously, a tremendous energy for the group to work with.”
“Despite the fact that everyone is in the same group and working together, it becomes clear at some point who has had better schooling, who is more articulate, who can afford to take more time off their regular job to work in the group, and so forth – and these things really play themselves out, underneath the surface, often causing serious tension within the collective.”
“To me collaboration is much more about touching my insecurities – because it might be easier to construct my individual image (…), to construct my individual security. I need the group more to risk with things we don’t know than to find the strength in it that then would allow us to be radical.”
“’Before you can be nobody, you have to be somebody’. That means, before you can collaborate, you have to be someone. And that’s what the danger is, that you are nobody when you start to collaborate and then you become even more nobody – just like TV makes clever people more clever and stupid people more stupid.”
“In my experience when you have to stand behind your work and assume responsibility – there I don’t know how democracy can help. Actually, in collaboration too, you have to find a way how to struggle, as there are different persons and different position. But what makes collaboration possible is actually a moment when you understand and recognize how those different ideas and different persons can fit together.”
“In collective working tolerance is the most important thing. I’m very much interested in Chinese-Japanese ideograms – the ideogram for tolerance is a double one, composed of two separate ideograms: it’s a blade against a heart. That’s tolerance! For me that’s very interesting. Because in collective work you have to suppress your ego. That’s what I like about it.”
“Unless you work with people that you know very well and you have been developing ideas together for a long time, you can’t take the complete risk with your ideas, because the other person takes the risk with you – when you’re not so confident about it or you are still experimenting, so you have to neutralize it a little bit.”
Mai Abu ElDahab
With or Without Me exists as a comprehensive on-line documentation/ audio edit and as a book, both launched/published in 2006. In 2006 November it was on show as an interactive installation (see photos) in the Galerija Skc, Belgrade.
With or Without Me contains interviews with tOmi Scheiderbauer, Oliver Ressler, Gil & Moti, Eva Egermann, Jiri Skála, Henrik Mayer, Djordje Balmazovic, Lasse Lau, Mai Abu ElDahab, Tammo Rist, Milica Tomic, Gregory Sholette.