On Collectivity

The terms collective and cooperative need to be clearly distinguished from “collaborations” of individuals who work together to realize a specific project, as in film or architectural production. In the same regard, a collective is not a “community”. The basis of any collectivity is actual participation to a variety of degrees, an activity is only possible when members are together and propelling things forward. This is different from any club membership or belonging to a hobby group or an artist utilizing (claiming to be a collaboration) other artists… Here our aim is not to mystify, or naively radicalize collectivity itself. We think that like any form of artistic production, the outcome of a collective has to be checked and critically engaged.

In recent years, there is increased interest in collective artistic productions. There have been series of meetings, exhibitions and symposia dedicated to collective production, like the one we are did in Berlin for the Istanbul Off-spaces exhibition. In every instance of these gatherings, when the collectivity is posed as a question, we felt the necessity to re-articulate our position not just for the sake of communication with others but because this creates a moment to pause and rethink what we do and why we do it. In fact, discussing different forms of collective practice is extremely productive to reformulate our position.

Working together is not a habitual act, it requires constant re-adjustment. Phone-calls, e-mails, online meetings, physical gatherings: working as a collective is based on endless dialogue. We have to be open, honest and as articulate as possible. In each instance, we need to double-check our agenda against “the facts on the ground” in direct relation to our conditions of operation and where and how we activate our works.

As xurban_collective, we are aware of the fact that our task is extremely complicated because of the delicacy of the subject matter that we tackle. We indeed specifically work on politically charged domains, and question issues within territories in constant transformation. This specific undertaking requires that we abandon pre-packaged approaches presented by the art establishment. We discuss every single detail, continuously exchange ideas, and critique our approach to the issues at hand. Framing and layering is possible through textual articulation which also serves as a scheme.

The art establishment functions though selective categorization, bundling, packaging, labeling and marketing methods of conventional art production. This institutional model is not compatible with the collective production, simply because the notion of “success” is defined with respect to individualist notions of artistic production…
In short; a collective is not an individual or an institution, it is not a legal entity. A collective is a multiplicity of multiplicities. A collective is not a subject, but multiple subjects who constantly and independently define what it is, what it should be. There is no representation. It inherits conflict. Without conflict there is no democracy.

OK, But why?

Collective production provides a breach, an opening, and an opportunity for new ways of artistic production. As xurban_collective, we are not part of the commercial network, we don’t negotiate with collectors, we wouldn’t list gallery affiliations in unrelated exhibition press releases to generate income. Compared to our EU counterparts, we do not have a great deal of public funding possibilities either, therefore working together is one of the most logical steps for us, making life much easier, more pleasant. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that there are many “successful” art collaborations from the Anatolian scape.

How can one work together with others?
Any collective requires a common base; shared intellectual interests, agreed tools and methods, aesthetic sensibilities, sense of humor but most importantly care and love for each other. We believe that without caring support and love, any form of radical activity is destined to fail, to dissolve and disintegrate. Love and care provides an opening, a resisting position against all the pressure and provides a constructive moment not characterized by direct antagonisms but by productive engagement with each other. Only love can transform conflict and disagreement: friction can turn into a creative process.

We have to make a distinction, now… Artists, such as Beuys, who spoke about the virtues of collective production did not mean the same thing as working within a collective. Those individual artists, who are utilizing [exploiting] other qualified labor and talking about collective engagement seem to be more like a capitalists talking about the virtues of communism. This usage of collectivity functions more like a self promotional activity; an artist leading the crowds, teaching, organizing, but eventually capitalizing these engagements into product based works which can be collected and stored.

We have nothing against 'individual' artists. There are many extraordinary examples that we utterly respect. However, we have to identify a historical moment and learn our lessons; the failure of the western individualist model of production becomes visible when one considers the various modes of success-oriented individual artists. There are hundreds of thousands of artists, filling global cities. Scared, vulnerable, and anxious, these artists perfectly fit in the neo-liberal re-structuring of societies. To be precise, corporate frameworks (including the art establishment) requires competitive exploitable individuals. Only after an artist becomes successful, thanks to conventional art historical/curatorial-promotional enterprises, he/she can play the hero, talk freely and be expressive. Otherwise too much risk is involved…

When it comes to the appreciation of artistic production from the “Middle East” such as Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, etc., we increasingly see an ethno-racial categorization; there are many exhibitions that are unsuccessfully bundling various artists together based on their place of origin, but with a limited engagement with the work itself. This is one of the symptoms of “political correctness” which reduces the free subjects into pre-defined negative spaces. In other words, these somewhat charitable efforts reduce subjects into given stigmatized victims. Instead of this charitable moral construction, one should aim an active re-cognition of the Other via critical engagement.

We extremely value cultural exchange, but we think that a genuine cultural diaologue is only possible among equal subjectivities. Tourism industry on the other hand is the antithesis of possibility of a salient cultural exchange as it actively constructs an asymmetrical relationship with the tourists and local seasonal workers. The consumption is hysterical and tourists demand absolute exploitation of resources; an orgy of food, drinks and sun… This unbalanced organization of space and labor is perfectly compatible with the conservative separatism within local and global realm. There is no form of actual cultural conducts, but rather culture is packaged in a certain way to be quickly, sold, bought and consumed, like a collector consumes art; tourism, as it is practiced in industrial level, is a violent act.

Current modes of international, mostly EU funded, cultural exchange programs does not provide substantial vision for a salient alternative. Even though most funding are geared towards collaborative activities between cultures, nations and localities, it seems that the outcome is a specific form of cultural professionalism which negates the contemporary artistic production, and it transforms artistic gestures into any other professional convention, as in design and architecture. These newly emerged cultural producers (artists, curators), who are capable of filling out the governmental application forms, arranging partnerships and organizing events, presentable enough to negotiate with the officers are characterizing certain terrains of cultural scapes today.

We believe that beyond any forms of tourism or professionalism, one need to find as many alternatives as possible. One has to look beyond current models of cultural exchange in order to generate substantial and meaningful understanding between people.


July 2009


Presented as part of the Istanbul Off-Spaces exhibition at Kunstraum Kreuzberg, Berlin