ENGAGEMEANT – a collaborative work

Engagement letters crop

Reflections on a collaborative project – Art is Land Network (AILN)

ENGAGEMEANT. Spelt wrong. Perhaps the act of being engaged with the added emphasis of intended purpose or the idea of conveying something through engagement? ‘Engagemeant’, as an exhibition of collaborative works began when our AILN group simply picked names out of a hat to pair randomly with another (or in one case two others) we may not have previously worked with. It became a process of discovering common sensibilities, preferences of materials, willingness to compromise, diverse insights, and abilities to problem solve within a unit. My group was the threesome, working with Nicole Dextras and Marina Szijarto, both of whom have quite different art practices than my own, working largely with natural materials and socially engaged processes.

Working collaboratively involves establishing a connection of trust and respect for each other’s intentions. Meeting together is a commitment of time, coming with openness not only to each other, but also to possibilities in ways thoughts can bounce back and forth, some progressing, others being left to rest without judgment. A necessary preamble to these meetings is allowing time to let our outside lives disappear in words, for words to slowly come around to the present, as eyes peruse other spaces filled with artifacts of commonality and awe. Why we are a close net group is evident, in these homes away from home.

We started by bringing sculptural objects to the first studio meeting, bits and pieces of ideas that were never completed or were by-products of those ideas. I brought a cross-section of a Western red cedar stump salvaged from the Stanley Park blow-down (with permission), its centre carved out and the top surface sanded smooth. Nicole had left over paper pulp dyed red and blue and yellow and formed into cone shapes. She added an unfinished basket, a base of woven willow with the long vertical branches still extending freely upwards. Marina had collections of perfectly rounded granite rocks the weight of eggs in your hand, as well as bundles of dried mugwort, salvaged rope and fragments of bone. Each object had a story of finding, of keeping or altering. Objects that triggered meanings and references to other things we each held in our possession.

To juxtaposition objects, add comments, make substitutions, find resolutions, think what else might work, decide on where to push, when to hold back, is a framework for working together. There is a sense that the balance of chaos and control is not completely in your hands when another can intercept with a gesture or a phrase that sends the work off in another direction, injecting newness. Whether you decide to go this route or simply incorporate something of its insight, keeps the process tangible and fragile and confirmed simultaneously. Then a regrouping of consensus entails, of weighing progress and appreciating what is working and why, what is not. And continuing.

These works that even during the ‘final’ installation were morphing have within them a state of flux until a steady state establishes. Collaborating is a process of learning, of not taking ownership yet still risking commitment, of acknowledging each other’s input and key interventions, yet letting the whole become something more than its parts, knowledge gained lingering beyond the process of doing.


Other works in the exhibition can be viewed on the Art is Land Network website at: