In order to understand what an artist collective is, we can turn to an unlikely scene that is familiar to most – that of hip hop. Rap collectives have been around for a couple of decades now and can give us a pretty clear image on how those in the modern world function too. Gathered around shared ideologies, aesthetic and political views, tightly-knit groups of artists on common goals and create works (of all kinds, whether it be music, painting, sculpture, performance or something altogether different) supporting and promoting the pieces of every member of the collective. Yet not all goals are quite so lofty. Often, reasons can be very mundane and practical, such as sharing equipment, space or materials, cutting the costs of production, as well as promotion and more effective media exposure programs and visual arts foundation. Regardless of the background story, such forms of association have been a staple of the creative scene since its very beginning. From ancient sculpture workshops at the marble quarries on Milos to intricately organized medieval painter’s guilds, from monumental decoration projects of the baroque to the groups formed during and after Russian revolution – creative minds have always worked together, at least to a certain extent. In fact, the idea (or should we say stereotype?) of the solitary, misunderstood rebels is a relatively new one. Today’s popular discussions on the internet over the idea of extroverts vs. introverts, with creators commonly being placed in the latter category in the past, shed only a partial light on the whole matter. In reality, practitioners of creative skills have more often than not worked in groups, with or without a hierarchy.
The collectives themselves, as we know them today, arose as a social unit in the 1960’s. In a time not too different from our own – marred by nuclear proliferation, threats of terrorism, increasingly right-wing discourse and fragmentation of society into opposed groups – a counterculture, quite liberal in outlook, arose, with political protest movements becoming an alternative way of life. It produced a string of influential and immensely creative groups. Fluxus blurred the lines and practically blending visual skills with music and literature. The futurist, anti-heroic and pro-consumerist architectural group Archigram and the Ant Farm that, in the 70’s, produced works on the fringe of architecture, both stretched the definition of architecture as it was known until then. General Idea were a collective of pioneers in conceptual and media-based pieces, while Guerrilla Girls represented a quintessential feminist group with their shocking tactics, always wearing gorilla masks, miniskirts, and fishnet stockings, tirelessly working on promoting women artists. The Cacophony Society, a randomly gathered network of free spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond those of mainstream society and arts center, and Critical Art Ensemble, specializing in computer graphics and web design, photography, film, video and performance, dominated the last decade of the millennium.
In the 21st century, the world seems as tense, as divided, and as threatening as it did half a century ago. Yet again, creators are coming together into collectives, setting their own rules, establishing networks, and breaking all the conventions (sometimes even living and working together as an extended family), creating together in pursuit of shared aims, under their own management. The last decade or so has seen the birth and flourishing of several important artist collectives that push the boundaries of creativity in contemporary world to a whole new level. Bringing together ideas, methods and styles as far flung as architecture and fashion, guerilla social activism and painting, trend forecasting, digital media and large-scale installations, these collectives are as ever-changing and as diverse as each of their artists’ members.
Images in slider: teamLab – Crystal Tree, 2015 – image via team-lab.net; Assemble – The Cineroleu – image via assemblestudio.co.uk; The Miss Rockaway Armada – Let Me Tell You About A Dream I Had – Photo Credits Nicole Steinberg; Gelitin – Rabbit, 2005 – image via gelitin.net
teamLab - Investigation of Modern Human Behavior
Founded in 2001 by Toshiyuki Inoko in Tokyo, Japan, teamLab is an interdisciplinary group of ultra-technologists. Relying on the tradition of ancient Japanese art as well as 21st century forms of anime and manga, their practice seeks to navigate the information and contact of arts, technology, design, and the natural world around us. They investigate human behavior in the information era, effectively proposing innovative models of social and cultural development and change. With installations scaled up to larger-than-life proportions, their works are a labyrinth of virtual experiences. Having been subject of numerous exhibitions and programs across the globe, teamLab are possibly one of the most recognizable arts collectives in the international art circles today.
Featured image: teamLab – Wander Through the Crystal Universe, 2016 – image via designboom.com
Assemble - Merging Artistic Expression and Social Activism
Embracing a DIY sensibility, Assemble are a London-based collective whose work spans the fields of art, architecture and design. Focusing on projects that involve and benefit the people who use and inhabit them, they merge artistic expression and social activism in a community-oriented way. Described by one of the members as sort of architects, sort of not, sort of maybe, in 2015 they became the first non-artists to win the prestigious Turner Prize for their work tackling urban dereliction in Toxteth, Liverpool. Resolutely valuing people over profits, Assemble have remained faithful to what they call the unfashionable art of making a difference.
Featured image: Assemble – Granby Four Streets installation at the Turner prize show in Glasgow – image via guim.co.uk
Miss Rockaway Armada - Nautics-Inspired Artworks
Based in Philadelphia, Miss Rockaway Armada is both a collection of individuals and an idea. 13 creatives make up this nationally recognized collective. With a history of making nautics-inspired art pieces, starting with a convoy of raft-like sculptures that floated down the Mississippi in 2006, the also work in graffiti and other forms of street art, present musical and theatrical performances, as well as art installations. In November 2013, their How to Turn Anything into Something Else project included 31 Mural Arts art education students aged 10 to 15. They were offered creative exercises to more easily access their imagination, which meant to show students that not every idea needs to end the way it began.
Featured image: The Miss Rockaway Armada – Let Me Tell You About A Dream I Had (view inside the raft) – image via guim.co.uk
Gelitin - Masters of Decay Art
A group of four creatives from Vienna, Austria, Gelitin was formerly known as gelatin but changed their name in 2005. Infused with a lively sense of humor, their sensational arts and cultural events are in the tradition of relational aesthetics. Having first met in 1978 at a summer camp center they started exhibiting internationally in 1993, and represented Austria at the 2001 Venice Biennale. Their most famous piece to date may be The Rabbit, a giant (55m tall) plush toy installed thanks to the artists’ efforts in 2005 at Colletto Fava, Piemont, Italy. Having taken well over five years to make and donate, this fine example of decay art is intended to remain there until November 2025.
Featured image: Gelitin – Hase, 2014 – Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York.
0100101110101101.ORG - Groundbreaking Net Art
Pioneers of the Net Art movement, Eva and Franco Mattes are a duo of artists from Italy currently based in New York City. They collaborate under the pseudonym 0100101110101101.org and are renowned for their subversion of public media. Producing pieces that involve ethical and political issues, they investigate the fabrication of situations, where fact and fiction merge into one. This is particularly true of events and ideas that arise from the inception of the internet. Overtaking of the domain name vaticano.org, fabrication of the fictional recluse artist Darko Maver, experimental works employing the video game Second Life are but a few of their more recent projects.
Featured image: 0100101110101101.org – Now you’re in my computer, 2007 – Courtesy of the artists
K-HOLE - Commercial Ventures with a Twist
Riding the line between commercial venture and creative collab, K-HOLE is a collective that breaks the mold by working outside the gallery space and often dealing with big businesses. The most Googled fashion word of 2014 – #Normcore – sprung from one of their trend forecasting PDFs and put the group on the map. With their name being a slang term for the subjective state of dissociation from the body induced by dissociative anesthetic ketamine, they are however very much in touch with reality, having worked as a trend forecasting group for MTV, Coach, Kickstarter, Stella Artois, and the Museum of Modern Art.
Featured image: K-HOLE – Being special vs. being free – image via studiovisitsshow.com
The Con Artist Collective - Ever-Evolving Creative Group
While most collectives comprise of a small and usually permanent lineup of members, others tend to be far larger and ever-evolving. The Con Artist Collective, founded in 2010, is an art collective, community, workspace and gallery that hosts events, publications, collaboration, and products. While the core of the group is more or less permanent, the general majority of members are free to join and leave as they wish, each adding something of their own creative vision to the ever-expanding and changing ethos of the group. A veritable beehive of creativity, it lifts the concept of artists working together to a whole new level.
Featured image: The Con Artist Collective – No.1986-K10 , 2010 – image via flickr.com
Paper Rad - Recreating Digital Aesthetic
With three primary members – Jacob Ciocci, Jessica Ciocci, and Ben Jones – Paper Rad are a collective dividing their time between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Providence, Rhode Island. At once affirmative and critical, their pieces posess an exuberantly neo-primitivist digital aesthetic. In keeping with their focus on current pop culture and media, Paper Rad synthesize popular material from television, video games, and advertising, making comics, zines, net art, video art, MIDI files, installations, paintings, and music. The rules of their style and practice are No Wacom tablet, no scanning, pure RGB colors only, only fake tweening, and as many alpha tricks as possible.
Featured image: Paper Rad – Ice Cream Truck, 2010 – image via blogspot.com
Bernadette Corporation - Between Performance and Fine Art
Art and fashion collective founded in 1994, an offspring of the 90’s NYC club-kid scene, Bernadette Corporation core members include Bernadette van Huy, John Kelsey, and Antek Walzcak. Basing their views on anti-authoritarian Marxism and the avant-garde art movements of the early 20th century, they indulge in performance, fashion, and art which in different ways emulates and disturbs corporations. They believe the key to running a successful collective: dress for job, learn proper manners – and don’t have sex with each other. Presenting a conceptual alternative for making art, they write novels, host events, do films, create fashion and so much more.
Featured image: Bernadette Corporation – 2000 Wasted Years, 2013 – Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York.
Artists Anonymous - Full-Fledged Interdisciplinarity
Taking pride in their participation in a cultural system that is now open to anything, by anyone, from anywhere, Artists Anonymous are an art group based in Berlin and London. Always having a number of shows and projects at various different stages of development, their work ranges from mixed media to full-fledged interdisciplinarity, covering a wide variety of themes and issues. The collective was founded in 2001, during their studies at Berlin University of the Arts. In 2007 they organized and set up their own exhibition space in London, and in September 2012 held their first show with Banksy at Lazarides Gallery.
Featured image: Artists Anonymous – Balron (Detail), 2011 – image via riflemaker.com
Angela de la Cruz - Stretching Paintings Into Sculptures
Situated somewhere in between painting and sculpture, the work of Angela de la Cruz centers around the stretcher that is usually used for keeping the canvas smooth and pliant. In this way, she engages with the discourse about the “problem” of painting. Mangling the stretcher and piercing the flat edifice of the canvas to unleash it into three-dimensional space, her works become transformed into something closer to sculptures.