Sunday, July 1, 2012

Artist Kamikaze Teaches Lessons In Collaboration

Lessons I learned from this year's Artist Kamikaze experience.

Kate Dupre as Prof. Minerva Delphina Wonderborn w/automaton Aurora.
Collaboration. It's something musicians do all the time. Think John, Paul, George and Ringo. Each brought something different to the group. And the music they created would never have existed had they not learned how to collaborate. Each had talent that was recognized and respected by the others, but in order to be The Beatles they also had to have an additional talent: the ability to collaborate.

Theater is another collaborative experience. The range of skills required is vast, from playwright to director to set designers, casting, actors and all the technical facets of sound and lighting in order for the audience to receive the full force of the production.

Patty Mahnke's initial sketch of Aurora.
By way of contrast, artists and poets have historically been soloists. Walt Whitman, Claude Monet, Robert Frost, Pablo Picasso... They did what they did. They associated with others, bounced ideas off others, but they usually worked alone. Like writing this blog, or a daily diary, painting or drawing is usually a soloist pursuit...

So when Artist Kamikaze was conceived, it challenged some of the dynamics in how artists work. I paint or draw by myself. But in the Artist Kamikaze artists are paired or teamed together with other collaborators wholly unlike themselves. Think Ringo Starr and bluegrass legend Doc Watson, or John Lennon and Yo-Yo Ma.

As in years past, a theme is conceived and teams established. Like the launch of any new project in business there is also a time frame set with a deadline. This year's show was slated for July 7.

My randomly selected partner in this venture was Patricia Mahnke, who does costume art and is active with a loose collection of artists called Friends of Industry. She met her husband Wally through theater, hence the theatrical aspect of conceiving and designing clothing for Steampunk events these past few years is a natural outgrowth of these interests.

In our first meeting we discussed concepts for our project. The Artist Kamikaze theme this year was Intergallactic. I had no pre-conceived notions on where to take our project, but when Patty and I met she showed me some ideas for costumes that she'd sketched. She envisioned more than one character, as in a story. My first response, when she described the one character was, "Can you do this?" She replied yes with much confidence.

Aurora in transport.
LESSON ONE in collaborations is Trust. I was impressed by Patty's imagination and had to trust her capabilities. Being a painter my initial thought was that she would make the costumes and I would paint the characters wearing them. But Patty asked me to decorate one of the dresses, right on the material. I'd never painted on material in this manner and was insecure. But she was confident. And she trusted me as well.

Confidence is a plus in any endeavor, and Patty had it in spades. In basketball you give the ball to your star player at the end of the game because he is confident that he can make that final shot.

As the project evolved, we felt it would be valuable to do a photo shoot once the costumes were designed. We asked Eris Vafias, who is the initiator/inventor of the annual Artist Kamikaze events, if we might be permitted to have a professional photographer do pictures of what we create. As luck would have it Eris said there was a photographer who wanted to participate and had no partner. Kate Dupre would become the third member of the team. Serendipity was at working in our favor. Napolean Bonaparte said that in planning a battle one is wise to include a space in the plan to allow serendipity, the unexpected, to happen.

We brainstormed to come up with a story. I took notes and wrote a first draft. In a subsequent meeting Patty and Kate thought the names didn't work, but the story was good. 

As a team the three of us brainstormed to come up with a story line. I took notes and wrote a first draft. They liked the foundation I fleshed out. In a subsequent meeting Patty and Kate expressed that though the names didn't work, the story was good. Together we generated ideas for names, searching online for Danish, Icelandic and other name sources which would sound foreign to us but have a cool ring to them. Names of characters and planets emerged. And a sense of mutuality began to build. It was not one person’s project, but began to have its own life to which we were all connected and to which we were all contributing.

This is an important part of team collaboration. In projects like this, everyone needs to feel part of the project, have a voice. But there was another important piece at work here, the ability to lay aside ego for the greater good. I created names in the initial story, but when Patty and Kate weighed in I let go of what I originally proposed. The suggestions they offered strengthened the story.

Planning was another major issue. The photo shoot would be an important part of the final presentation so we had to set a date for accomplishing this. It would have to give Patty enough time to produce the costumes she conceived and would be far enough from the deadline to create the final pieces we were to display, which was a collage of images, two paintings and a fabulous shot which required amplifications via Photoshop by Kate. The date was set for May 19.

Making the time commitment was challenging for we each have had exceedingly busy schedules right now. But Kate made a comment that especially fired me up to not pull back on my end. She was concerned that what we end up with might look like a high school art project. This was precisely the prod I needed to go all out, to put in the extra hours required to embellish the paintings with essential details. I think when you go back and study any great achievement in the arts, or in human history for that matter, you will see that there were personal sacrifices involved.

The night of the show three other teams garnered more votes for their work, but I felt truly gratified by what we had accomplished. It was a privilege to be part of such a dedicated team. The show is coming down today, but what we created will remain one walls or personal spaces for a long time, I am guessing. We may even produce a book. Kate shot over 600 great photos and the story will be as fun tomorrow as it was last week.

What lessons have your learned from your most recent collaborative venture? 

Patty Mahnke as Aurora. Phot and Photoshop work by Kate Dupre.


S. Rogers said...

Well written Ed. Each point highlighted, it's all true. I love the thought that somehow the universe conspired to assist you in sending a photographer your direction. It was a great project, as were the others.

ENNYMAN said...