Opening on Sept. 6 and running through Nov. 2, CoLabratory at Columbia College’s Glass Curtain Gallery dives deep into an examination of collaborative art. Jettison sat down with the show’s curator, Annie Morse, for five questions on the subject of artistic collaboration, and the nature of collaboration between the artist and the viewer.
Jettison: In curating CoLaboratory, what impression did you want to give visitors?
Annie Morse: The formal presentation of the exhibition was a secondary consideration. What seemed interesting to the artists and to me was the structure of the collaboration—how each group would interact among themselves, and as a discrete entity in collaboration with another group. It was important to leave a lot of breathing room for the piece to evolve out of those discussions and clarifications.
Jettison: How were (f)utility projects and ED JR. selected? What about their particular styles of collaboration interest you as a curator?
Annie Morse: I knew some of the artists in each collaborative and I trusted their instincts in constructing collaborations. As a curator, one of my primary goals is to work with people who value the effort of those who support them, and this was an exhibition opportunity that allowed full acknowledgement of that part of artistic practice. Neysa Page-Lieberman and the exhibitions advisory board at Columbia were also interested in working with these artists and together we found a way to bring the exhibition into being.
Jettison: Why is collaboration in art interesting to you, both between artists and between artists and their audience?
Annie Morse: So often, Western culture presents the artist as a lone wolf, a rugged individualist, a solitary figure against the crowd—all these clichés spring from the idea that art has to confront societal expectations to be relevant, to innovate, or to bring something new into the world. My feeling is that art can do all these useful things but that artists don’t, and don’t have to, do it alone. I think that collaborations happen inevitably and fruitfully even when artists work in relative isolation—whether they are collaborating with abstract or conceptual sources of inspiration or with the person who puts a plate of food in front of them every so often. And, in my opinion, the audience is absolutely essential. I really don’t think a tree falling in the forest makes a sound if no one’s around to hear it. And I think it’s tragic when ideas don’t find a thoughtful response. So, creating points of contact between artist and audience is very important to me. That’s one of the reasons we’re having so many opportunities for people to interact with the artists and the work by painting right there in the exhibition, engaging in discussion, and making things move and change in the gallery space.
Jettison: How does the show collaborate with the actual gallery space?
Annie Morse: I don’t think there can be a collaboration among inanimate objects, but I do think the exhibition successfully engages both the way artists and visitors interact with the space, and with the expectations of curatorial authority that many people bring to an exhibition. To say that I have been a hands-off curator is an understatement; the show grew out of the interaction of the artists in the space and the specific gifts and skills they brought with them. I had no idea what would be seen on September 8 when I helped ED JR. and (f)utility projects propose the show last spring. My job has been to support Neysa, the Director of Exhibition and Performance, and the gallery coordinator, Mark Porter, by acting as a liaison, when needed, among all these parties. What we ended up with is a thing of beauty that is site-specific but also visitor-centric. Visitors will make the show happen as they interact with the space, the structures, and the projections they find in the gallery. If I were a different kind of curator I would use the word “reify.” It’s an exhibition with durable conceptual foundations but it relies on the way people will handle it, photograph it, and change it for its identity.
Jettison: Are (f)utility projects and ED JR. collaborating together with their projects?
Annie Morse: Yes, from the beginning the idea was for ED JR.’s videos to respond to the space created by (f)utility project’s site-specific structures, and vice-versa. There has also been an amazing willingness on everyone’s part to pitch in and help each other do what needs to be done to achieve the common goal. The collaborative spirit is also a spirit of cooperation, and there’s been a refreshing absence of drama or ego-driven narrative in the whole experience.
Jettison: Give us your top five collaborations (past or present).
Annie Morse: I’m interested in the theoretical context of collaboration largely because of Adelheid Mers’ longtime investigation of its potential. She’s a friend and we collaborated on an exhibition called Early Adopters at the former 3Arts Club space. I loved working on Robert Amft, Paintings for Particular People at the Hyde Park Art Center with John Corbett in 2005; we didn’t really know each other at the outset but the work was a great pleasure because we brought different sensibilities to the show and learned a lot from each other. As an instructor in the Arts Administration and Policy program at the School of the Art Institute I taught a class called The Collaborative Project and one class took that title literally and collaborated to establish a student development fund that exceeded everyone’s expectations and is still going strong. They were awesome in the original sense of the word. I feel that the work I do in Museum Education at the Art Institute is a collaboration with the public, who volunteer to join a conversation about art and seeing with incredible generosity, insight, and passion. Finally, my partner and I, like a lot of couples, are really not very good at working together, so the fact that we are still trying after 20-odd years is very encouraging to me.
Annie Morse has worked with Museum Education at the Art Institute since 1996. As Senior Lecturer in the Adult Programs Division and liaison to the academic community, she coordinates the Graduate Student Seminar and an artist lecture series, Artists Connect. Morse graduated from the Master’s program in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism at SAIC and received her MS in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is an independent curator who has worked with the Contemporary Arts Council, The Three Arts Club of Chicago, and the Hyde Park Art Center. “CoLaboratory” is her first exhibition with Columbia College Chicago.