On the nature of collaboration and collectives: what is non-understanding and desire in musical practices – Tina Krekels
“I distinguish between collaboration in research into art and collaboration in making art. I am at ease with the two being one thing; but that requires a degree of finesse involving knowledge of the needs of each.” (Upton, 2011)
In this short statement I would like to draw and expand from Upton’s distinguish between ‘collaboration in research into art’ and ‘collaboration in making art’. I would also like to argue that collaboration in the academic art world is a representation of capitalist realism and prevents an experience of non-understanding in collaboration in making art.
Collaborations and collective works have in recent years become keywords in the socio-economic world, somehow trying to incorporate Marxist theories into the capitalist market. Probably an irony in itself, but as Mark Fisher outlines capitalist realism is everywhere (Fisher, 2009) and therefore even those unions, collectives are a product of capitalism to support the system further.
“The collectivisation of land in the domain of agriculture; centralised industrial development; the formation of a new military apparatus; the struggle against religious obscurantism; and the creation of new cultural and artistic forms – in short, the whole transition to a collective ‘new world’ created powerful conflicts on every level’ (Badiou, 2013). Badiou outlines further that those collectives, which initially were seen as the disruption of the upper classes by the working class, are now supporting the system, they keep the economic market a moveable and flexible apparatus.
It does not surprise then that also academia (a business in itself) has to support this kind of approach. Music and art collaborations or collective work is presented to students as a ‘social’ and ‘freeing’ way of creating something in a given framework. Furthermore, as the ‘real’ world is now based on these models of collaboration it seems that the academic world needs to prepare its students.
What I like to criticise here is the fact that I don’t believe that this is the true nature of collective work, neither do I believe that imposed collective work can emerge into a unified aesthetic action. Entering a course that requires us to work together within a given structure and brief obviously functions on a different level as to what the nature of collectives or collaborations are.
In order to come to the core of my critique I am going to outline the idea of eros and non-understanding in collaborations, which is related to collective work as a natural desire as well as the communist/anarchist idea of revolutions. This is opposed to the business-like structures – such as this particular course – which by their nature cannot offer a non-understanding of creative practices, they fulfil a certain step in the production process with the finalised product being a degree or specific course outcome.
Simply put, this course imposes an aesthetic, it tries to merge different people with different aesthetic into one. It wants its workers to produce a product or value that can be analysed, criticised on academic criteria. The result obviously is not a natural flow of exchange but a linear scanning of the possibilities within that given frame. This is probably the most simplistic way of using Marx critique on capitalism to outline the problems when artistic approaches are imposed rather than desired. My major critique of courses is, that they are presented to us as a ‘social’ ‘let’s all work together’ approach, but really they are not.
Undeniably music is a social and collaborative practice, but for me there is a difference of committing to my own desire or practice and how I like to share this and what I need to experience in order to creatively work. This is where I see the difference and will try to explain this by using the concept of non-understanding and Eros.
Similar to how I see improvisation, collaborative approaches are dependent on a situational, reactive and transitory exchange of desire or eroticism. Meaning natural and essential experiences.
Collective work can only work if people allow a path of non-understanding, where no one feels superior to the other; when a constant process is happening; where no fixed architecture has power over the other. Non-understanding, similar to non-music often related to the composer Helmut Lachenmann, is the process of thinking or experiencing ‘without borders’ (Ahrendt, 2013). Summarising, non-understanding means to allow a path of pure experience. Non-understanding is the flow and the core of collective work, but it is almost impossible to experience these things within a given framework.
Therefore collective work – at least for me – has to be a constant move forward, where no architecture is established and where old ones are constantly broken down. Collective work, which I see similar to improvisation is – as I interpret Bataille’s concept of eroticism – the unstable, dangerous, momentary ground (Bataille, 2012) of unified action. This is where ‘true’ or honest action can be found. As a human being I am not linear, I can create various relationships depending on the situation, space and time. The question remains how and who triggers what in that process of creative practice? It is not academia nor a particular person telling me to do certain things, but what – during that exchange of either playing or communicating – has triggered or started a process of creative output. Why is that certain path followed? That is where desire and eroticism can be found (Lawrence Upton). Eroticism, Eros, desire those are all always present when collaborating, making music, thinking, writing etc. It has nothing to do with sexual desire nor with fantasising about the others in a sexual way, but for me the most interesting bit is that through eroticism unities can emerge, this might be on a personal level, artistic and so on, they momentarily exist, but will break as soon as those moments are over. Those moments are described by Bataille as the moments of danger, where life and death meet, because they are not and cannot represent knowledge (they are happening in the process of non-understanding) in the scientific way, neither can they be a product that can be sold in our capitalistic world. They are dangerous simply for only allowing the person to experience something without the safety of knowledge.
Academia cannot provide this feel of danger or spontaneous action, neither can it create a framework of artistic outputs. It is purely impossible, similar to how democracy presents itself as ‘speaking for the people’, academia presents itself as an open platform for creative practice, but instead it replicates the existing architectures of our socio-economic world. It doesn’t allow a path of non-understanding or pure desire.
Certainly collective work seems to be the future for music, not only because working together is a human act but it is economical probably the only way of producing and performing your own art if you don’t want to fall into the trap of being a ‘bought’ and ‘paid’ artist.
This is a pure ideological, self-centred, egotistical statement.
 Upton, Lawrence: 2011, ‘On collaboration in art and in research into art’, epc.buffalo.edu/e-poetry/2011/papers/upton-On-collaboration-in-art-and-in-research-into-art.pdf
 Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism. Is there no alternative? Zero Books, 2009.
 Badiou, Alain, edit. Slavoj Žižek. In The Idea of Communism 2, ‘The Communist Idea and the Question of Terror. Verso, 2013.
 Bataille, Georges, Eroticism. Penguin Classics, London, 2012.
 Arendt, Hannah. Denken ohne Geländer. Piper, München, 2013.