Collective cool

A look at the art scene's leading collectives

© gelitin, Kunsthaus Bregenz

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From Fluxus to the Guerilla Girlz, collectives hold an important place in the history of recent art, and today's scene is particularly noteable for the variety and number of its creative partnerships, which range in size from two-person teams to networks of hundreds, if not thousands, of collaborators.

Frequently political in nature, the relative anonymity of the collective allows for a high degree of confrontation and challenge, while the union of diverse and multiple talents lends itself to ambitious projects beyond the scope of most individual artists.

From lo-fi to hi-tech, pranks to propoganda, we take a look at some of the best current coalitions in art.



contemporary art collectives - Gelitin
image © gelitin

The collective known as gelitin (and as gelatin until 2005) is a group of four artists from Vienna, Austria, who first met in 1978 and started to collaborate in 1993.

Their practice, which consists largely of performances, installations and interventions, varies widely in scale and ambition, but is always characterised by a cheekily subversive wit, often involving members of the public.

Examples of their work include Zapf de Pipi, 2005, a giant icicle created for the Moscow Biennale from samples of vistors' frozen urine, and Tantamounter 24/7, 2005, a "gigantic, complex and very clever machine" (in fact a sealed living quarters/workshop in which the artists took up residence; objects placed through a slot by gallery-goers were promptly returned as makeshift 'copies' pieced together from materials on hand.

Probably the collective's best-known work to date is Hase (rabbit), a 55-metre pink knitted bunny installed on a hill in Tuscany, Italy (above left). Slowly decaying, it is to be left in situ until 2025.


Bernadette Corporation

artist collectives - Bernadette Corporation

The Bernadette Corporation was founded in New York in 1994 by core members John Kelsey, Antek Walzcak and Bernadette van Huy.

Focusing at first on the production of spontaneous art events in public space, the collective evolved into a quasi-corporate organisation behind a succession of ambitious projects.

These included an edgy haute couture label (which, despite its success, was at least partly a parody of the fashion business), a magazine publishing company and producer of movies including "Get Rid of Yourself', (2002) a focus on the anti-capitalist protests at the 2001 G8 summit interspersed with cameo appearances from leading French actress Chlo‘ Sevigny.

One of the collective's best-known actions, a three-year incursion into the world of fiction writing, involved the collaboration of 150 writers on a novel which was published in 2004 as Reena Spaulings.

Loosely modelled on a rags to riches, chick-lit style narrative, the fiction charts the life of the eponymous central character, whose "thoughts and actions are not spanned by any author's mind" as she engages in a multitude of experiences that shed light not only on Reena herself, but provide multiple perspectives of New York City, where the story is set.



artist collectives - 0100101110101101.ORG: NikePlatz information box

Consisting of a duo of artists, Eva and Franco Mattes, 0100101110101101.ORG is primarily concerned with what the team call "media actionism", although the blurring of boundaries between fiction and reality is also a major interest.

The collective's first major project was to fabricate a mysterious Serbian artist, Darko Maver, whose fictional basis was only revealed after his widely publicised 'death' in 1999.

This was followed in 2003-4 by a further hoax, Nikeground, an apparent move by the sportswear giant to rename some of the world's most important thoroughfares: "Nike is introducing its legendary brand into squares, streets, parks and boulevards: Nikesquare, Nikestreet, Piazzanike, Plazanike or Nikestrasse will appear in major world capitals over the coming years".

Accompanied by a spoof website and, in Vienna, an 'official' information centre, Nike soon stepped in threatening legal action for unauthorised use of its brand.

0100101110101101.ORG countered with the statement that "Art has always used symbols of power from the society of its time as its subject. Nike invades our lives with products and ads but then forbid us to use them creatively". As it quickly became apparent that press and public tended to agree, Nike eventually backed down, allowing the performance to continue.


artist collectives - 0100101110101101.ORG: most beautiful avatars
images © 0100101110101101.ORG

More recently, the Mattes have used the hugely successful online environment Second Life to explore the potential of virtual reality.

Their 2006-7 series of portraits of avatars - the customizable personas that participants inhabit in virtual worlds - was shown both in a virtual gallery in Second Life itself, as well as a real world gallery space.

The ongoing project Synthetic Performances uses the artists' own Second Life avatars to re-enact classic performance works, such as Gilbert & George's The Singing Sculpture or Chris Burden's Shoot.


Paper Rad

artist collectives - Paper Rad

Established by three young artists in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2000, Paper Rad is known for quirky, brightly coloured works with a strongly DIY, retro aesthetic.

The collective's early production of 'zines, plush toys, online and installation art inspired by '80s computer graphics and cartoon characters quickly earned a following amongst the MySpace generation, subsequently attracting attention from major galleries and institutions.

Music-fuelled events have always been an intrinsic element of the collective's youth-oriented output: Paper Rad members are involved in various bands and its founders have extended their practice into commercial music video, producing distinctive vehicles for leading artists such as The Gossip ("Standing in the Way of Control") and Beck ("Gameboy Homeboy").


artist collectives - paper rad installation
images © Paper Rad

Claire Fontaine

art collective - Claire Fontaine
images © Claire Fontaine

Created in 2004 by lifting the brand name from a manufacturer of popular school notebooks, Claire Fontaine is envisaged as a single entity, a 'readymade artist' whose activities are masterminded by the Paris-based collective behind her persona.

Working in neon, video, sculpture, painting and text, Claire Fontaine's highly conceptual practice can be seen as an interrogation of the idea of authorship and identity as described in the collective's own manifesto:

"The construction site of the self has always been a collective matter, a matter of interference and resistance, of the distribution of competencies and the division of tasks. Marks of inferiority, sexuality, race, and class are inscribed on the self by a series of focused interventions on the part of the principle relays of power, which act in depth and leave often indelible traces."

A constant motif in Claire Fontaine's artistic production is the possibility of surmounting such inevitabilities through the notion of what the collective terms the "human strike":

"Each gesture and each constructive activity in which we invest ourselves has a counterpart within the monetary economy or the libidinal economy. The human strike decrees the bankruptcy of these two principles and installs other affective and material fluxes."

Very French, somewhat flawed, but certainly fascinating.

Limited editions by Claire Fontaine >


Artists Anonymous

artist collectives - Artists Anonymous
image © Artists Anonymous

An international collective of artists based in London and Berlin, Artists Anonymous was founded in 2001.

Working across a variety of disciplines including video, sculpture and installation, the collective is nevertheless best known for its highly distinctive painting.

Often utilising the kind of colour effects typical of photo-editing software, Artists Anonymous have developed a painterly idiom that reflects the new visual possibilities of the digital age (we've included their vibrant work in our list of top painters of the moment).

Exactly as the collective's name implies, all members collaborate under conditions of strict anonymity.


art collectives today > continued

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