what does collaboration look like?

by Erin

Kalina and Erin discuss Kalina's work
Discussing Kalina’s work last August (photo by Galen Olmsted)

Kalina and I met only last summer through a mutual professor and immediately  felt a kinship between our art practices and personalities.

Soon after, we began to visit each other’s studios to enjoy other’s energy, and exchange ideas, techniques and feedback. When Kalina revealed to me that she was beginning to explore paper and wax in her work, I invited her to my studio to show her some of my previous experiments and give her samples of materials I’d gathered over the years. The little packet I made for her was soon bursting with tidbits of studio ephemera: gampi (silk mulberry paper), snatches of fibers, mulberry bark, Tyvek, insignia cloth, waxes and resins, along with recipes, sources, books, notes and a heat gun. She waited patiently while I found the proper string to tie the packet together and teased as she left saying I was an urban artist shaman sending her home with a medicine pouch.

When she left my doorstep I felt full of  inspiration, reinvigoration for some of my own ideas that I’d discussed with her and wished to pursue. It’s remained the same each time we’ve met since.

Weeks later when we met again, Kalina had spliced some of those tiny grains of possibility I’d give to her along with seeds she’d found elsewhere to the root of her own work in cultivating new large drawings with wax and sculptural pieces of melted Tyvek.

Friendship, professional exchange, critical evaluation and conversation: does this function as collaboration in the broadest sense already?

Though I ask the question, I do not believe it an accurate definition of collaboration. However vital this kind of cooperative support remains to engaged art making, the goal of helping each other create better work is too broad to be considered true collaboration.  Kalina agrees and expands:

“I think that collaboration is something more, or maybe more specific.  Collaboration relies on a bond or connection between people bringing their personal experiences, different ideas, and distinctive modes of labor to build. The root of the word collaboration, lies with the Latin con- (“with”) + labōrō (“work”), is WORK which means a mutual act, a sort of exchange of actions that happens between at least two individuals to create something. Also, I would suggest that those actions must ultimately be in response to the other’s actions. This process requires that each one be attentive and involved in the “labor” conversation as much as each one would be in the monologue character of one’s individual work. In collaboration we have one goal, and even though there are different approaches, they become combined into one joined effort toward that goal.”