Basically, what I learned from Japan is that creativity isn’t solely the domain of individual artists or inventors. Groups can be creative too. It took me a while to realise this, but when I did it made me happy, because it resolved an apparent conflict between two of the things I hold most dear: collectivism and creativity. I think you can say that Japan is capable of producing both the cliches of the manga industry and the originality of someone like Yuichi Yokoyama, whose quirky abstract mangas depend for their impact on twisting the conventions of mainstream manga. It’s not like Yokoyama defies manga, or appears courtesy of divine lightning.
– Momus, The Rumpus Interview
This feeds into a number of conversations I’ve been having recently, through which I have unearthed the roots of my own understanding of a meaningful life in the diet of socialist-approved children’s books my generation grew up on in Croatia; books in which gangs of smart children come together and make awesome things come through, generally accompanied by either a complete disinterest, or active sabotage, of adults (Vlak u snijegu, Družba Pere Kvržice, Junaci Pavlove ulice, Emil i detektivi, Blizanke, Koko i…). This, to me, ties directly to the fact that the most interesting initiatives in art, politics and design in Central Europe (not merely post-socialist, but all of Central Europe) are collective pursuits (art, design and curatorial collectives, magazines, festivals, movements, protests), as well as to the fact that contemporary young Australia is woeful in all of these categories. Coming together to work on a bold, brave project is shrouded in a kind of sublime poetry over there. Here, people shudder and say I hate group work, and ‘arts management’ is understood as the art of midwifery for many individual little geniuses.
I’ve just discovered your awesome blog! I agree with that post – on the value and thrill of collective arts pursuits. There is some degree of interest for the concept here though: I published a piece on the question in “The Emerging Writer” this year, and overall, at this year’s Emerging Writers Festival, people were discussing collaboration a bit, I found. Maybe not so much in the visual arts scene? Or maybe it’s just that particular festival?
I’m curious – you probably know about the Italian group Wu Ming – a collective writing experiment. Do you have any names of arts collective in Eastern Europe, like them or different, that you would recommend following??
Hello, Julian! It is a pleasure and an honour to have you here. I am sorry for tardiness, also – busy, in a foreign country and language, and working tremendously offline.
Funnily, I have known Wu Ming for years, and yet I have never read any of their books (I even own Q!). But-
I think collaboration is more frequent in every artform other than writing (or, story-telling, more specifically). Designers, architects normally work in studios (e.g., NUMEN/FOR USE are a group without that being much of a scandal). Visual artists have had teams since the Middle Ages, and they still do (e.g., Patricia Piccinini). Theatre can rarely even be made by one person, and then it’s an oddity. Films require large teams. Music, of course.
In Croatia, additionally, I am used to curatorial collectives (WHW), dramaturgical collectives (DK), art collectives (e.g., BADco). Elsewhere in Europe, people work as two-person teams, as designers, directors, screenwriters, playwrights. I am used to movements with and without manifestos, ‘scenes’, platforms, organisations. I don’t think collaboration is quite the right word: I am experiencing this as collective creativity.
But not in story-telling.
Even to me, Coen brothers have always felt a little strange: certainly one must be the genius!… I don’t know any writing collectives in Croatia – or any, other than Wu Ming/Luther Blissett. Screenwriters yes, playwrights yes (at a tiny stretch), director-writers yes (if uncomfortambly, especially when they swap roles). Writers, no.
Without getting glib, I think that has to do with our perceived sense of ownership over stories and style. Groups can have group stories, and groups can have groups styles, but I think we are generally uncomfortable with the idea of a story-plus-story-telling-style belonging to more than one person.
Do you think the influence of other artforms might change this? Sibling groups, such as White Stripes or Coco Rosie…?