A part of the concept of the collective is that of experimentation, both in the internal organisation of work and in the invention of artistic forms. All first-hand accounts show that this concept includes different applications and remains very variable since, by definition, the collective changes according to the individuals that make it up and the projects in which they are involved together. Nevertheless, the prerequisite and/or the aim of all these project spaces is the conception, deciding and application of collective actions in accordance with a principle of cooperation and non-hierarchy between the members. Note: according to the specific cases, the collectives represented in this workshop were firstly made up of artists and/or “arts operators” [i.e., professional players actively involved in arts production/organisation/promotion]. This entails different issues and identification processes of varying complexity for the external contacts and partners who are used to more “conventional” ways of doing things, particularly the institutions.
The beginning of the collective
There are many reasons for creating a collective. Some empirical reasons given by some people are the defence of an amenity that may be closed or sold, the need to organise the use of large spaces by a large number of people, and the pooling of means of production. However, the sharing of values makes a deeper distinction between the notion of a collective that is formed to develop projects based on a vision that is shared on artistic and cultural levels as well as on political and social levels as regards the organisation of work. While unity is strength, the collective is firstly invoked in the name of exchange, diversity, emulation and, finally, a certain “re-enchantment with the world” of which every collective is the player and the witness.
Paradoxes and difficulties of collectives
This is one of the many difficulties faced by collectives. The balance between the recognition of the individuals and the primacy of the collective project sometimes leads to personalisation of a single member and, in the end, the collective resembles the hierarchical operation of a classic company. This situation arises on the (real or false) grounds that it will be more efficient. This is a justifiable concern when an urgent matter requires a rapid decision or when there is a need to face certain economic realities. Similarly, it is justifiable when the number of people or the size of the place that brings them together becomes too large to allow simple, direct communication, or when normal day-to-day management has taken precedence over the desire to act collectively. This is why certain collectives represented during this workshop refer to the need to “reinject some collective spirit” at some time or other during their history. Therefore the collective has to be reinvented by imagining other ways and means of organisation. For example, by increasing the number of and/or refining the occasions for internal discussion and debate, particularly on the subject of shared values and the meaning of the projects implemented; or by changing the legal status to adapt to a context (the internal context, but also the political, cultural and societal context, etc.) which has itself changed. And even, once these changes of direction have been made, the collective remains fundamentally fragile, faced with the diversity of the people (and practices) included within it and who, in the end, may only observe their divergence. There then remains the possibility of getting out of the collective, in order to maintain values and an identity that one refuses to deny, or perhaps to change to another name!
Text written on the basis of discussions in Sainte-Foy-Lès-Lyon on 19/03/08 during the workshop on “La notion de collectif” [The concept of the collective]
Quentin Dulieu (Af/Ap)
Coordination of Discussion Workshops