ON THE ROLE OF FRIENDSHIP IN ARTISTIC COLLABORATION: PERSONAL NOTES ON THE FUTURE OF WORK - RENATA CERNADAS GASPAR
As they become known to and accepted by us, our feelings and the honest exploration of them become sanctuaries and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas. They become a safe-house for that difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action (Lorde, 2007: 37). I recently finished reading a collection of essays and speeches by Audre Lorde published under the title Sister Outsider (1984, 2007). Her words – her translation of her vision – have been a major source of inspirational sustenance for me, for writing this text in the face of mourning. Roughly until halfway through the book however, I had to resist feeling further overwhelmed. How will I transform the chaos brought about by very intense feelings into an affirmative life force? How come, really, after so many years as a self-identified feminist working in different artistic contexts (formal and informal), have I not carefully read Audre Lorde’s work? I initially felt my ignorance was too much to bear; it was too late to begin to consciously enjoy feeling deeply as she proposes, especially as I am grieving my father’s death. I was stuck with the question, what do I do with this information now? And, as I carried on reading, a new constellation of interconnections started gaining shape. Slowly, my grief, Lorde’s words, and the topic of friendship and artistic collaboration on which I was supposed to write opened up to each other. I could begin to identify within myself the urgency to create ‘what did not yet exist’, the words which could translate my own perceptions. And, in this way, to attempt at following Lorde’s steps by actively taking the responsibility for acknowledging my feelings as crucial sources of power and knowledge, consciously bridging across the personal and the political. What follows then, is a transposition of Lorde’s insights into my experience – as a white, middle-class, bisexual, able-bodied, childless, late-thirties cis woman – and how they encourage the written articulation of my feminist political convictions. For a while now, I have been interested in exploring the potential of friendship as both catalyst and means to create artwork that aims to contribute to counter-hegemonic (inclusive and pluralistic) cultural practices. As I see it, artistic collaboration is a place of connections; it is a place in connection with other places, and multiple other spatial (material and sociocultural) networks. As a location of intersection and exchange of collaborators’ subjective and embodied experiences, artistic collaboration becomes a fluid territory where cultural and socio-political practices meet. The exercise of overlapping collaborative artistic practice with concerns of progressive socio-political change can enable and sustain more inclusive kinds of inter-personal relationships amongst collaborators – this premise is at the core of my belief in the possibility of radical and meaningful change enacted through artistic practice. Based on my own experience of creating artwork through friendship, my suggestion is that relations of friendship can productively mobilise sites of artistic production, connecting them to wider sites of everyday socio-political practice. By sustaining an explicit link between artistic collaboration and participation in the public sphere, relations of friendship highlight the processes by which art-making can have a direct bearing on public space and society in general. In Jon Nixon’s writings on the politics of friendship – based on the life and work of Hannah Arendt, as well as on her correspondence with her friends – friendship grants access to a continuous practice of major political ideas, which in turn have critical socio-political implications, as he clarifies: Through our friendships we learn to relate to one another as free and equal agents and, crucially, to carry what we have learnt from those friendships – by way of the exercise of freedom and the recognition of equal worth – back into the world [...] Friendships sustain us: their intrinsic promise is one of mutual sustainability within the wider world (2015: 49-50). Friendship, in this view, is a rich terrain for exploring how artistic collaboration can speak and respond to everyday cultural, social, and political practices, and thus potentially contribute to the development of an inclusive sense of belonging. In my experience, adopting a collaborative approach to artistic practice is a choice that reinforces a particular need of, and desire for, togetherness and connection. This choice is emotional and it is political. The kind of interconnectedness that artistic collaboration can help sustaining, and here considered, is a relational mode of questioning – it is an intentional pluri-vocal analysis of the power relations at stake, an acknowledgment of each collaborator’s position. This acknowledgment cannot evade affection or care. Because if the goal is to confront hegemonic ideas and practices of socio-cultural ordering and control (based on exploitation, commodification, and exclusion) then it is crucial to devise alternative modes of engagement with art-making. Specifically, we need to create pluralistic configurations which can unfold an ethical (caring) reading of socio-political interconnectedness and interdependency. As Lorde wrote, ‘Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters’ (2007: 111). As unsatisfied partakers in sociopolitical structures built on the ‘institutionalized rejection of difference’, we have to take charge of conceiving the ‘patterns for relating across our human differences as equals’ (Lorde, 2007: 115). Our work then, I believe, is to actively counteract dominant and oppressive ways of knowing (and working) by engaging in reflexive, empirical, and embodied forms of knowledge production – by recognising the epistemological strength and thoroughness of personal experience, of our feelings. As we affirm the role of personal experience in determining the development of our collaborative epistemologies – of our ways of knowing and reading what we do – we support the progressive disappearance of borders between working and living spaces of action. In merging professional with personal relationships, not only can we disrupt conventional working arrangements that follow professionally assigned roles, behaviour, and learning approaches; we also enable longterm relations of friendship to form and/or develop. And, with relations of friendship as the locus for continuous personal, artistic, and ethical-political exchange, we expand the sites of potential counter-hegemonic reach – alliance-making (through difference) becomes a tangible possibility. The making of alliances is critical to the ideas and practices which I am promoting here; but before developing this aspect further I want to address the characteristics of friendship. From the perspective of Western political philosophy which I adopt, relations of friendship presuppose that all aspects of each person/friend – her rational, moral, and spiritual components – not only shape the relation at stake but have a bearing on the individual’s sense of belonging in civil and
political society. The kind of friendship which I am speaking of is a voluntary relationship that has mutuality and equality as pillars around which the uniqueness of each individual is actively negotiated through affection and interest in the other’s perspectives1. This commitment to a person takes, in the words of feminist philosopher Marilyn Friedman, as its primary focus the unique concatenation of wants, desires, identity, history, and so on of a particular person. It is specific to that person and is not generalizable to others. It acknowledges the uniqueness of the friend and can be said to honor or celebrate that uniqueness (1993: 190-191). The distinctiveness intrinsic to friendship offers friends a place for recognising and acknowledging each other’s particularities – the ‘particulars’ of each other’s lives and of the relationship. This impossibility of generalising the relation (or the friend’s uniqueness) is important for a feminist (pedagogic) perspective on the role of friendship in artistic collaboration because it emphasises the idiosyncrasy of its approach to knowledge formation. That is, the element of uniqueness in friendship enables us to relate to difference beyond dichotomies of same/other; it productively underlines the question of each friend’s particular knowledge, experience, ability, and motivation becoming ‘equally’ important in informing the development of the relationship. Therefore, adopting friendship as the relational material upon which artistic collaboration takes place means that the characteristics of a particular friend (and friendship) can determine modes of working; it also means acknowledging the differences implicated, as well as embracing each friend’s specific set of interests and perspectives. With friendship as the vehicle (and route) for developing artistic modes of collaboration, the uniqueness of experiences (and their corresponding set of values and principles) that each friend/collaborator carries and reveals becomes decisive for enacting inclusive visions of belonging, where difference is both respected and cherished. As Lorde has put it: Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged (2007: 111-112). By means of each friend’s acknowledgement and respect for the distinct singularity of the other, friendship highlights a pluralistic attitude to social relations; according to Nixon, ‘friendship becomes a microcosm of a pluralistic world based on the equal worth of each unique individual’ (2015: 28). With plurality as one of friendship’s key constituents, we establish the basis for redefining difference, for developing, as Lorde proclaims: ‘new definitions of power and new patterns of relating across difference’ (2007: 123). Artistic collaboration based on the intertwined connection between friendship and the creative validation of the relationship enables art practice to become the epistemological translation of a particular relation of friendship. In other words, the materialisation of processes of artistic collaboration – the resulting combination of art-making and friendship – advances an ethical dimension of politics, which privileges exchange (and interconnection) as the location of power. With the personal relationship of friendship leading the transformation of dialogic exchanges into artistic outputs, and vice-versa, artistic collaboration can foster friendship’s potential for change; and, following Lorde, ‘when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile and feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives’ (2007: 127). This potential for transformation is activated in friendship’s capacity to widen one’s scope of experiential resources. Through mutuality, friendship promotes the accessibility to experiences beyond our own, which can serve as ground for assessing and updating one’s process of self-definition. Moreover, friendship upholds the latent possibility of adopting alternative, potentially divergent values than those previously cherished. The possibility of changing one’s views and beliefs through the association with a friend means that friendship can encourage a shift in normative-inspired perceptions of oneself, of one’s subjectivity, such as the idea of an independent, autonomous, and rational subject in full control of her life and decisions, as it is promoted by dominant neoliberalist ideologies. Friendship’s open-endedness – its spontaneity and ongoing capacity for self-renewal – is stimulated by the intersubjective space of dialogue and exchange that friendship provides, and through which we can nurture the connection between self, other, and the world. The space of intersubjectivity is, for me, the location where we exercise self-reflexiveness, together; it is where we situate difference(s) and acknowledge ‘built-in privileges’ like whiteness, maleness, or heterosexuality, as well as their implications for the work we do. Yet, friendship as a mode of questioning assumptions of power relationships is also an expression of the refusal to see oneself separate from others. This is important because to merge personal with professional relationships not only invites a situated dialogue with ethics and identity, it also enables sociospatial alliances across distinct territories. In other words, in the process of engaging in the co-production of knowledge, meanings and values, collaborating friends create and develop practices of shared responsibility and care. And here, I return to the question of alliance-making to speak of the role of the ally. Specifically, I want to propose that the figure of the artist/ally is the position from where we work towards pluralistic futures of belonging. In order to counteract the persistent reproduction of mechanisms of patriarchal, colonial, and capitalist exploitation, artists need to embody an ethical-political commitment towards pluralistic visions of belonging, that is, to identify one’s position as artist, to recognise and redefine difference – regarding the multiple ways in which gender, race, religion, sexuality, disability, ethnicity and so forth, variously affect subjectivities – and, finally, to assert one’s role as an ally against all forms of oppression. The artist/ally is a central figure for alliance-making, for a translocal approach to feminist solidarity. In practice, the artist/ally enacts a multi-located form of subjectivity by critically and creatively expressing her responsibility for the places she co-creates and helps transform both materially and conceptually. In practice, the work of the
My references include Heyking, J. von & Avramenko, R. (eds.) (2008) Friendship & Politics: Essays in Political Thought; Nixon, J. (2015) Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Friendship; Friedman, M. (1993) What are friends for?: feminist perspectives on personal relationships and moral theory; Gandhi, L. (2006) Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-de-Siècle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship; Badhwar, N.K. (1987) Friends as Ends in Themselves. 1
Owela - The Future of Work, a publication curated to critically & creatively reflect on labour & worker struggles. This is a special and rad...
Published on May 2, 2019
Owela - The Future of Work, a publication curated to critically & creatively reflect on labour & worker struggles. This is a special and rad...