A Loose History of Art Collectives
Today feels more
threatened and threatening today than at any time since the 1960's. Terrorism,
nuclear proliferation, the prospect of war on
In the 1960's,
comparable tension, excruciatingly amplified, produced a big response: the
spread of a counterculture, one that began with political protest movements and
became an alternative way of life. Among other things, it delivered a
sustained, collective "no" to certain values (imperialism, moralism, technological destruction), and a collective
"yes" to others: peace, liberation, a return-to-childhood innocence.
The collective itself, as a social unit, was an important element in the 60's. Whatever form the collective concept took, its implications of shared resources and global implications made it a model for change.
The collective impulse has never died in American art and now it is surfacing again. An old countercultural model, often much changed, is being revived, in some cases by artists barely out of their teens.
Computer-savvy collectives are starting to gain attention. They are housed in apartments, storefronts, art schools and minivans. Their members — who often support themselves with day jobs as designers, programmers, teachers or temps — are identified by a group name, like rock bands. And their art is often a multitasking mix of painting, sculpture, printmaking, design, digital art, video, zine production and musical performances.
Such Net-centric collectives are electronic descendants of earlier American groups that cohered and dissolved from the 1960's through the 1990's: PAD/D (Political Art Documentation and Distribution), Colab, Group Material, Guerrilla Girls, REPOhistory, Act Up and General Idea, which originated in Canada, to name but a few. The full history of this phenomenon has yet to be written, though a few art historians are now working on it.
I would like to give a quick overview of some of the more notable art collectives and focus on the politics of each.
Fluxus (from "to flow") is an art
movement noted for the blending of different artistic disciplines,
art but also music
Fluxus was loosely organized in 1962 by George
Maciunas (1931-78), a Lithuanian-American artist
who had moved to
Among its associates were Joseph Beuys, Dick Higgins, Nam June Paik and Yoko Ono who explored media ranging from performance art to poetry to experimental music to film. They took the stance of opposition to the ideas of tradition and professionalism in the arts of their time, the Fluxus group shifted the emphasis from what an artist makes to the artist's personality, actions, and opinions. Throughout the 1960s and '70s (their most active period) they staged "action" events, engaged in politics and public speaking, and produced sculptural works featuring unconventional materials. Their radically untraditional works included, for example, the video art of Nam June Paik and the performance art of Beuys. The often playful style of Fluxus artists led to their being considered by some little more than a group of pranksters in their early years. Fluxus has also been compared to Dada and aspects of Pop Art and is seen as the starting point of mail art.
Most notorious are the Fluxus performance pieces or "Event Scores" such as George Brecht's Drip Music. Fluxus artists differentiate Event Scores from "happenings" which they called Flux Events. Whereas Happenings were meant to blur the lines between performer and audience, performance and reality, Fluxus performances were sometimes one-liners and sight gags. The performances sought to elevate the banal and dissemble the high culture of serious music and art.
Archigram was an avant-garde architectural group formed in the 1960s - based at the Architectural Association, London - that was futurist, anti-heroic and pro-consumerist, drawing inspiration from technology in order to create a new reality that was solely expressed through hypothetical projects. The main members of the group were Peter Cook, Warren Chalk, Ron Herron, Dennis Crompton, Michael Webb and David Greene. The pamphlet Archigram I brought out in 1961 proclaimed their ideas. Committed to a 'high tech', light weight, infrastructural approach that was focussed towards survival technology, the group experimented with clip-on technology, throwaway environment, space capsules and mass-consumer imagery. Their works offered a seductive vision of a glamorous future machine age, however social and environmental issues were left unaddressed.
The works of Archigram had a Futurist slant being influenced by Antonio Sant'Elia's works. Buckminster Fuller was also an important source of inspiration. The works of Archigram served as a source of inspiration for later works such as the High tech 'Pompidou centre'  by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini.
famous projects of Archigram are Ron Herron's "
Plug-in-City, Peter Cook, 1964
Plug-in-City is a megastructure with no buildings but just a massive framework into which dwellings in the form of cells or standardised components could be slotted into. The machine had taken over and people were the raw material being processed, the difference being that people are meant to enjoy the experience.
The Walking City, Ron Herron, 1964
Ant Farm was a group of architects who produced experimental works on the "fringe of architecture" during the period 1968-1978. The group's works include:
· Media Burn. In which a glorified cadillac was driven through a wall of burning televisions.
· House of the Century
· Eternal Frame
· Citizen's Time Capsule
a collective of three Canadian artists, Felix Partz, Jorge
Zontal and A.A. Bronson, who were active from 1969 to 1994. Pioneers of
conceptual and media-based art in
General Idea's work inhabited and subverted forms of popular and media culture, including beauty pageants, boutiques, television talk shows, trade fair pavilions and media. Their work was often presented in unconventional media forms such as postcards, prints, posters, wallpaper, balloons, crests and pins. Their work also often illuminated gay-related themes, including the AIDS crisis.
The Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF) is a Sacramento, California-based art collective founded in 1969. The initials "RCAF" originally stood for the "Rebel Chicano Art Front"; however, confusion with the Royal Canadian Air Force prompted the name change to the Royal Chicano Air Force as a humorous gesture.
Members of this always wear gorilla masks, miniskirts, and fishnet stockings while appearing in the "Guerrilla Girls" context. They proclaim that no one, even their husbands, boyfriends, and families knows their identities. They also refuse to state how many Girls there are in total. Judging from photos, there are at least six but it is commonly estimated that there are 20-30 permanent members.
Cacophony Society is “a randomly gathered network
spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society.” It was started in 1986 by surviving
members of the now defunct Suicide Club of San
Francisco. According to self-designated members of the Society, “you may
already be a member.” Particularly well known amongst its members is the
novelist Chuck Palahniuk, who has mentioned the Society in
both his writings and interviews. He used the Cacophony Society as the basis
for the organization Project Mayhem in his novel Fight Club.
Palahniuk himself was pranked by a gang of Cacophonist waiters at one of his book readings in
The anarchic nature of the Society means that membership is left open-ended and anyone may sponsor an event, though not every idea pitched garners attendence by members. Cacophony events often involve costumes and pranks in public places and sometimes going into places that are generally off limits to the public. Cacophonists have been known to dress as Santa Claus and drink all weekend (SantaCon), or dress in animal suits and go bowling. Usually the events and participation criteria are such that it is easy to identify others who are participating, but perhaps difficult to identify them later in ordinary circumstances.
The San Francisco Branch of the Cacophony Society was involved early on in the annual Burning Man festival after Michael Michael attended the event at Baker Beach in 1988 and publicized the 1989 event in the Cacophony Society newsletter. Other significant events created by the Society are: the Atomic Cafe, the Zone Trip, the Chinese New Year’s Treasure Hunt, the picnic on the Golden Gate Bridge, Pet Cemetary Bingo, The Crucifixion of the Easter Bunny, the Brides of March, Urban Iditarod, and the Sewer Tour. After a lull in activity in the late 1990s and the cease of publication of the Society’s newsletter Rough Draft, a group of subscribers to the practically defunct society’s email discussion list became active under the Cacophony Society aegis following a mock Pigeon Roast in San Francisco’s Union Square in 2000 proposed by Drunken Consumptive Panda. This latter group is occasionally referred to by its members as Cacophony 2.0 and emphasize their chaotic, ebullient spirit with the motto “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your [bull]horn.” The Society’s newsletter was briefly revived under the name 2econd Draft.
Cacophony could be described as an indirect outgrowth of the Dada movement. The Society has links to the Church of the Subgenius and the annual Saint Stupid’s Day Parade held on April 1 in San Francisco, sponsored by Bishop Joey (AKA Ed Holmes) and the now-defunct version of Whore Church that was sponsored by Chicken John.
Angeles branch of the society pushed the boundries
of pranksterism with several historic events,
including "Cement Cuddlers", an event where
they filled a dozen teddy bears with cement and put them on toy store shelves,
complete with bar-coded lables. The
Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) is a collective of five tactical media practitioners of various specializations including computer graphics and web design, film/video, photography, text art, book art, and performance.
Formed in 1987, CAE's focus has been on the exploration of the intersections between art, critical theory, technology, and political activism. The original members are Steve Barnes, Dorian Burr, Steve Kurtz, Hope Kurtz and Beverly Schlee. Their book projects include: The Electronic Disturbance (1997), Electronic Civil Disobedience & Other Unpopular Ideas(1998), Flesh Machine; Cyborgs,Designer Babies, Eugenic Conscousness (1998), Digital Resistance: Explorations in Tactical Media (2001), Molecular Invasion (2002)
The group is emphatic about their work being collective rather than individual. The IRWIN artists never sign their work individually: instead, they are "signed" with a stamp or certificate indicating approval as a work from the IRWIN collective.
Although primarily painters, they have engaged in many collaborative works with other NSK art collectives, ranging from theater to music video. In 1992, in cooperation with Michael Benson, they created the performance Black Square on Red Square, in which a square of black cloth, 22 meters to a side, was unfurled on Moscow's Red Square, in homage to Kazimir Malevich and suprematism.
received the Jakopic Award, the highest annual award
in Slovene fine arts, April 21, 2004, in
Luna Nera is a collaborative group of international artists who make site-specific artworks. Members of Luna Nera have exhibited in a number of venues ranging from disused buildings to Tate Britain. The organisation was founded in 1997 to create works in response to significant urban sites which have fallen into dereliction. Some places that Luna Nera have worked in include:
huge former Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station, designed in a Gothic style by Sir George Gilbert
Scott and built in 1868-72. Presently under renovation.
The former Drawing Offices of Harland and Wolff,
involved with Luna Nera are the group's founders Gillian McIver, Sandrine Albert, Valentina
Floris, and also include a network of artists Hilary
Powell, Julian Ronnefeldt, Ben
Foot. Other artists who work with Luna Nera include
Chris Singer, Leo Konigsberg, Nazir
Tanbouli, Lennie Lee,
Derek Szteliga, Agnes Domke
and others. Luna Nera has a related group based in
Luna Nera is concerned with exploring the conjunction of theory and practice in site-specific/site-responsive work, through a series of projects that also include text, talks and workshops. The group's members are active in writing, debating and presenting critical discourse about site specific art and site response in art.
Reclaim the Streets (RTS) is a group of people with a collective ideal of community ownership of public spaces. It has been characterised as a resistance movement to the corporate forces of globalisation, and, more significantly, as a form of opposition to the car as the dominant mode of transport.
The Barney Rubble Mobile a recently-constructed
mobile sound system used by RTS in
Reclaim the Streets often stage non-violent direct action street reclaiming events such as the 'invasion' of a major road, highway or freeway to stage a party. While this may obstruct the regular users of these spaces such as car drivers and public bus riders, the philosophy of Reclaim the Streets is that it is vehicle traffic, not pedestrians who are causing the obstruction, and that by occupying the road they are in fact opening up public space. RTS events are usually spectacular and colourful, with dancing, sand pits for kids to play in, free food and music. All these allow a Temporary Autonomous Zone. The style of the parties in many places has been influenced by the rave scene in the UK.
Reclaim the Streets events have also been known to be followed by the subsequent arrival and confusion of police officers and drivers. Sometimes the parties produce enough noise to drown out the sound of the jackhammers which have been used to dig up sections of roads, and plant over them with sod.
Reclaim the Streets is also used to denote such types of political action, regardless of their actual relation to the RTS movement.
Reclaim the Streets began in the United Kingdom in the 1990s, and was taken up as a form of protest around the world. These "street parties" have been held in cities all over Europe, Australia, North America, and Africa. Initial instances confounded authorities, but over the years it has become institutionalised in many places, where it occurs much like other forms of legal protest in that the march is arranged with authorities, the only difference being the form of the march itself, which involves music and dancing on roads, and involves a period in which a road is occupied without marching.
Gelitin is a group of four artists previously known as Gelatin. Recently they attracted attention with their newly designed plush toy: a meters big pink rabbit on "Rabbit hill" at Artesina (near Genova, Italy).
Previous works include:
· The B-Thing, 2000, where the group added a small temporary balcony on the 148th floor of the World Trade Center.
· Weltwunder, 2000, part of the Expo 2000, a hidden underwater cave was built, only accessible by diving through a pipe 5 meters deep.
Friends With You
· Aqui Uzumaki
Nsumi works to boost the creative capacity of social nets and experimental groups.
Hand, shadow, water and over-life-size puppets. Hot girls and schizophrenics. Turntables and accordions. Get ready for your favorite fairy tale to be gutted by Subway Sandwich Artists and re-stuffed with strap-ons and dusty vinyl in: Jack and the Beanstalk, a sample-based musical by Natalie Weiss. Jack's hometown, a peaceful land of dumpster-diving drag queens and roller-skating nymphs, is turned on its head when a conglomerate of condominium-heaving corporate Giants follow Jack down his beanstalk. Inspired by the unlawful dispossession of 70 year-old Brooklynite Phyllis Mascia, who plays Mother Goose, Jack and the Beanstalk is an irreverent, musical look at development, displacement and dick-envy.
RTMark is an activist art collective that subverts the "Corporate Shield" protecting US corporations. RTMark is itself a registered corporation, which brings together activists who plan projects with donors who fund them.
The name is derived from "Registered Trademark".
Tactical Art Coalition is a Canadian artists collective that forms and dissolves depending on current events and needs.
The Tactical Art Coalition have involved several artists through out the years but remains secretive of the membership. They have produced art projects that include:"Halifax" a collaboration with the Critical Art Ensemble and Beatriz da Costa. They have also produced the ambient video project "Words from the Homeless" and the "Super Contemporary Artist Pin" series.
I'd like to meet:
Services is a artist
collective of three people based in
In their mission they state:
"We champion public projects that are temporary, ephemeral, or that operate outside of conventional or officially sanctioned categories of public expression."
Temporary Services states a desire to not preference any type of activity or object as art, or any audience. They also work against the contructed link between aesthetics and ethics. They view art as activism, and carry on the traditions of situationalist.
Life Sharing is a real-time digital self-portrait. Started in the year 2000 and active uninterruptedly until 2003, Life Sharing is 0100101110101101.ORG's personal computer turned into a real time sharing system. Any visitor has free and unlimited access to all contents: texts, images, software, 01's private mail. One can get lost in this huge data maze. Based on Linux, Life Sharing is a brand new concept of net architecture turning a website into a sheer personal media for complete digital transparency. Permanent infotainment pioneering the peer to peer mass diffusion. Privacy is stupid.