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 Iraq and ever tightening security measures at home has sent a hum of tension through daily life.

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, primarily visual art but also music and literature. Fluxus was loosely organized in 1962 by George Maciunas (1931-78), a Lithuanian-American artist who had moved to Germany to escape his creditors, along with his fellow Lithuanian and personal friend, Almus Salcius. Besides America and Europe, Fluxus also took root in Japan.

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.

Marcel Duchamp and John Cage were highly influential to Fluxus.

Fluxus served as an interface among subsets of geographically dispersed international art cultures.


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' [1971] by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini.

Some famous projects of Archigram are Ron Herron's "Walking Cities" and Peter Cook's "Plug-in-City", both of 1964.

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

The Walking City is constituted by intelligent buildings or robots that are in the form of giant, self contained living pods that could roam the cities. The form derived from a combination of insect and machine and was a literal interpretation of Corbusier's aphorism of a house as a machine for living in. The pods were independent, yet parasitic as they could 'plug in' to way stations to exchange occupants or replenish resources. The citizen is therefore a serviced nomad not totally dissimilar from today's executive cars. The context was perceived as a future ruined world in the aftermath of a nuclear war.

Ant Farm

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.

·         Cadillac Ranch. In which several cadillac automobiles were half-buried off of Interstate 40 near Amarillo, Texas.

·         House of the Century

·         Inflatocookbook

·         Eternal Frame

·         Citizen's Time Capsule

General Idea

General Idea was 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 Canada, their collaboration became a model for artist-initiated activities and a prominent influence on later generations of artists.

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.

Both Partz and Zontal died of AIDS in 1994. Bronson continues to be active in Canadian art, and has archived much of General Idea's work at the National Gallery of Canada.

Royal Chicano Air Force

RCAF Insignia: A 1973 silkscreen poster by Royal Chicano Air Force member David Tafoya depicting a RCAF "pilot".  The RCAF used the fighter pilot motif in their art, activities, and programs.


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.

Guerrilla Girls

The Guerrilla Girls are a group of feminist artists. The group was established in 1985 and is known for using guerrilla tactics (especially guerrilla art) to promote women in the arts.

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

The Cacophony Society is “a randomly gathered network of free 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 San Francisco.

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.

The Los 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 Los Angeles group splintered in late 2000 when longtime leader Reverend Al allegedly joined an Orthodox Christian community out of guilt over the deaths of two young Cacophonists who reportedly died in a drunken post-event car accident. (Though some believe this sequence of events to be yet another hoax perpetrated by the leader of this controversial lodge.) In 2005 Reverend Al resurfaced as Dr. A.P. Ridenour, leader of a safety consciousness organization, The Art of Bleeding along with several members of the Orthodox faction of Los Angeles Cacophony.

Flash mob activities share some ideas with cacophonist theory, as well as groups like Improv Everywhere and movements like Discordianism.

Critical Art Ensemble

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)


IRWIN are a collective of Slovene artists, primarily painters, part of Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK). They describe their own work as "retro-avant garde".

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.

IRWIN received the Jakopic Award, the highest annual award in Slovene fine arts, April 21, 2004, in Ljubljana.

Luna Nera

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:

The 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, Belfast, one the larges shipyard in the world, where the Titanic was designed and built. Buildings formerly belonging to the Russian Navy, on the naval base island of Kronstadt, Russia. The Old Colossuem Theatre in Dlaston east Lodnon. This now-derelict structure was a circus space and music hall and one of the first cinemas in London. A late 19th century factory complex in Obershoeneweide East Berlin, in the vast former industrial area built by Peter Behrens for AEG. The whole district fell into economic ruin after 1989.

Artists 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 Barcelona and co-operates with group Dirizhable in Russia and Factory-Berlin in Berlin.

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

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 Sydney, Australia


The Barney Rubble Mobile a recently-constructed mobile sound system used by RTS in Sydney, Australia

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).

Older Projects

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 is an art collective based in New York City.

The group maintains a long-term experimental consulting project, in which they work for (other) art collectives and networks, free of charge.

Nsumi works to boost the creative capacity of social nets and experimental groups.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Building Parties -- FREE CORN!

Every Friday from noon to 5pm and every Sunday from noon to 3am we build puppets and costumes make big vagina thrones and light saber strap-ons and drink tea and smoke cigarettes and eat so much fucking corn because we use the cobs and husks for everything. If you want to help, send us a message.

11:21 AM - 1 Comments - 2 Kudos - Add Comment



Wow! Those parties sound really cool! It sounds like something everyone would have fun doing! Count me IN!!!

Posted by Isalicious on Thursday, March 23, 2006 at 8:27 PM
[Reply to this]

About bugbush

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. Image hosting by Photobucket


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.

Famous RTmark stunts were gwbush.com (a faked campaign Website for George W. Bush), the Barbie Liberation Organization and voteauction. They were also involved in the toywar.

The name is derived from "Registered Trademark".

Tactical Art Coalition


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 Begs Your Pardon !

" 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.

Thoughts on social change for the better. A red curry eating, free art-spouting, clown with a taste for fine wine and infinite laughter. Part-time noise maker - full time audio terrorist. We one day will [dis]own everything, without ever having noticed that we had it all along. Unbranded, we are more motion than they can capture. {We we we} - get the fuck out your individualistic suit and join the collective front against those which find help cause less than good.

Who I'd like to meet:

"I have often thought that if a rational Fascist dictatorship were to exist, then it would choose the American system."

Temporary Services

Started: 1998

Temporary Services is a artist collective of three people based in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

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.