Together screening at no.w.here
I wanted to write something short about a screening I curated at no.w.here recently. The title of the evening was 'Together', and I wanted it to act as a space where ideas around the collective creation of work might be explored. We screened three films, then I briefly asked some questions to the film makers who were in attendance, and after that there was an open discussion about ways in which moving image work can be made in a collaborative structure – both between artists, and amongst a community – and the benefits of doing that.
I'd picked the films because of a similar ethos running through each, but also because of their differences – each explored, or so I'd felt, a different point of the spectrum of collaborative work.
The first was Studio één's Vitaal Filmen, a collaboration between artists in the same collective, working separately to create a piece about that supposedly indivisible thing: the human body. Karel was in attendance and projected the piece from its original super8, which was quite an honour.
Second we watched Fleming/Bower/Plewis' More Cooks, a film made by a collective of artists who frequently work together. It was made whilst on a residency in a very unusual, and special, place – Cristiania, the collectively-inhabited living experiment in Copenhagen.
Finally, we watched Helen Hill and Paul Gailiunas' The Florestine Collection – a collaboration between two people, made in collaboration with their adopted community in New Orleans and later, a network of friends and supporters from across North America. The film was initiated by Helen Hill before her tragic murder in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and finished by her husband Paul Gailiunas, not a film maker himself, after her death. As well as being a memorial to an individual, if that's the right way of putting it, the film is a beautiful poem to a way of living. Rooted in community; placing others above oneself; with the film maker (Hill) working and taking risks so as to reconstruct and preserve the story of another person – the African-American seamstress the film is based upon – and Gailiunas undertaking a painful process to do the same thing for Hill, in finishing the film.
It's hard to write about the evening without just writing about the films, all of which were fantastic. So a few themes, or areas of consensus, both from the films and subsequent discussion:
The film makers strongly rejected the idea of a particular working method, that could be replicated or in some sense codified and 'signed up to'. The right of collective making to be an organic process was keenly felt.
Mat repeated something I've heard him say elsewhere, and always found interesting: that collective making (like collective action of any kind) rarely makes the 'best' decision, but it almost never makes 'bad' decisions either. Bad ideas aren't supported by enough of the group to happen, and there's always someone who's prepared to speak up whenever a bad idea gains too much currency. Conversely, the challenge of anyone making work in this way is to avoid mediocrity – producing something that no-one really objects to, but for which no one would fight either. Having seen enough work produced under individualist structures, or adhering to the 'auteur/visionary' story so tragically common in film and art, I think it's fair to say that mediocrity is a problem everywhere.
Humour is important to working together. It was striking that comedy played such an important part in all three works – even Hill/Gailiunas', which was at other times deeply sad. The scene where Hill attempts to photograph their son, Francis Pop, as he lies on the floor and keeps rolling over, is hilarious. Likewise some of the discussions around collective making in More Cooks, or the 'bum' section in Vitaal Filmen – undoubtedly the comedy scene of the night. I don't think I would have said anything about humour and collectivity prior to the screening, but it's true – laughing is a moment where we let our guards down, become un-self-critical for a second, express a shared experience without even needing words. It's perhaps similar to crying, but a lot more fun.