LivingArts: Conscious Collectiveness

If you’ve ever written a personal bio or artist statement, you know how difficult it can be to include all the most important things about yourself, your art practice, interests, philosophy, the inspirations you draw from, and key themes in your work, while adhering to an arbitrary word limit. Now imagine writing a statement that combines all those things for several people at once, and you’ll have an idea of one of the first potential major challenges of creating an art collective.

For those unfamiliar, an art collective is a group of artists working together towards mutually beneficial goals, which might include sharing resources (materials, equipment, space), or may be based on sharing similar ideologies, political views, or complementary aesthetics. Members share equal ownership and risk, and any benefits that arise from well-received work.

In late 2015, following in the path of many Hamilton artists before us, two other media artists and I formed a collective that we lovingly refer to as DAV(e) – pronounced just like the name. We’d previously worked together in different capacities and were friends, but the main motivating factors for us were digging each other’s creativity, sharing similar views and work ethic, being annoyed and frustrated by the same things, and most importantly, the substantial levels of respect and trust we share.

After some healthy back and forth, we wrote an artist statement that includes the following sentence: “We’re interested in film and video, site-specific installation, storytelling, visual art, soundscapes, photography, interactivity, sculpture, collage, diverse representation, community engagement, sharing our angst, chipping away at the patriarchy, supporting women in general, and amplifying other female voices in the arts.” Which is to say that between us we have lots of interests and multiple disciplines, and we’re open to creating work together in many different ways.

We completed two funded projects together last year – the first was a visual art workshop and exhibition resulting in a short documentary. The workshop involved women who are survivors of domestic or sexual violence, engaging them in art-making activities that provided an opportunity for reflection on their past, present and future. The second project was a collaborative video installation with sculptural elements focused around our personal female experiences. We’re pretty happy with our first year, and beginning to get the hang of this feminist art collective business. We’re not the Guerrilla Girls yet, but these provocative and iconic pioneers have certainly helped pave the way for us.

We’re strong-willed and don’t always agree on everything, but ultimately, we’re good at listening, and collaborating, and compromising – and talking things out over beers. We’re also good at recognizing that other people’s ideas can add to, and improve – not cancel out – our own. The benefits of doing work that we’re all interested in, while encouraging and elevating each other, definitely outweighs the challenges.

There are several other local artist groups working as collectives or maintaining collaborative or co-op art spaces in the city – check out the diverse and interesting work coming from The Assembly, CASINO, (F)NOR, HAVN, Shake-n-Make, and TH&B.