A note from Ain Gordon: I ordered these questions via my own logic. I answered them as I might, fueled by tons of red wine, in smart company, during a long dinner out.
(Insert sound of uncorking and amicably judgmental laughter here.)
Peter Nesbett: Let’s say you’ve written a play about an old house, or choreographed a dance for a quarry. You will make decisions in response to the particularities of the site. You might even say that the site is, in a sense, a co-author, because it contributes substantially to the meaning of the piece. But isn’t a site instead a partially erased text, a weather- and time-worn relic, and as such, simply a springboard for your own imagination?
Ain Gordon: I believe a site can be a co-author, even an active one; a physical space redolent of spent passion and prior personal effort that impact tangibly or not. If the “author” chooses to engage these sensorial remnants (to “channel” them) they enter and hew the work. Ditto for a work constructed to inhabit the physical insistences of given space rather than the so-called narrative ones (though I would argue that the physical and narrative are always wed). Yes, maybe some would reject this as co-authorship because the site does not have creative “intent.” But is every acknowledged instance of co-authorship born of intended collaboration? Yes, maybe I, or someone, have imposed a performative “fiction” on the non-fiction site but who said co-authorship is amicable or egalitarian? So, maybe embedded in your question is perhaps a question about authorial “use” or appropriation versus mutual collaboration? Am I, or someone, “using” the house or quarry or collaborating with it? Who is to decide which is which? Why decide? Do we need the chaos of multiple answers funneled into concision for a purpose that is actually not germane to artistic practice itself?
(Our waitperson taps our empty bottle. We nod for another, plus French fries, please.)
Josie Smith: As I am reading these posts (well, mostly skimming due to time factors) I discovered that I “landed” in my particular discipline of dance. As a reader it was clear that the language that was being spoken was my own (despite the difference in genre from the one that I practice—Bharata Natyam vs. “po-mo”/improvisational forms). There is no question that I am interested in the other disciplines and the writings that have been posted, but the attention I need to pay to the words and how they are put together to form meaning is heightened; again, I don’t land there. Can you comment on the issue of discipline-specific literacy and how it has played out in this arena?
Ain Gordon: Yup, this also interests me. I think I talked about it some with Nicole [Steinberg] upon beginning my residency at the Center. I am a word guy—and I am word guy who comes out of and maintains close ties to the movement (dance) and performance world. (Even blithely using words like “movement” and “performance” worries me.) I think words are traps and are liberty, and casually agreeing that we agree can also be a trap. I think words are repositories for bundled up complexities—then we forget those hidden “subtexts” and are stuck with the summaries we call words. I think learning/using words from other disciplines is, for me, a great way to explode a creative road block. I think even collaboration between artists of the same discipline requires constant interrogation of words being tossed off as if they are jointly held.
(I eat too many fries and decide, too late, they need mustard.)
Roy Wilbur: What are your thoughts on amateur artists utilizing the work of professional artists to create a “mash-up?”
Ain Gordon: Honestly, I am not quite sure what an amateur artist is—not really your question, sorry. I don’t believe getting paid makes you not an amateur or vice versa—or recognition. I question agreeing upon agreed-upon terms (like I was just saying with Josie). Art-making is a precarious career that by much of society’s definitions of “career” isn’t one. I have to think I am an artist if I say I am. There are years when no one wants to be within six thousand feet of my “art” but I am still making it and my identity is intact (OK, maybe not emotionally, but that is definitely not your question). So maybe if you asked what I think when an artist uses the work of another artist to create a “mash-up?” I think artists are always doing that (sort of what I was just saying to Peter re: collaboration versus appropriation, etc). Sometimes the artist using the other artist makes sure it is visible and acknowledged and sometimes –the artist doesn’t—so maybe nobody knows. I personally think the newly made thing had better be as interesting as the pre-existent thing getting “used.” Maybe my own question is about the line between inspiration and rip-off? I am not sure I can answer that except personally and case-by-case.
(A glass is accidentally knocked over. Someone gasps because she’s wearing white.)
Nicole Steinberg: What does failed collaboration look like? Is collaboration always a successful and/or worthwhile venture for reasons of process rather than end product? If not, what constitutes that failure?
Ain Gordon: Gosh. Who’s judging the failure? And when? I mean, there is collaboration that is no fun. No synergy, no ease, you end up collaborating in defense. But the work turns out great. And maybe then, consequently, you decide you need that particular battle in your creative arsenal even though you don’t “enjoy” it. Or not! Also there is collaboration that is fun but the chemical mix does not yield work equal to the process-oriented pleasure. Or, as you say, different collaborators value the process vs. the product (or the process as the product) so they would have different answers. Sometimes you make something terrible but it was a crucial stepping stone to something worthy. Honestly, I think the question of failure as problematic has more to do with exterior forces/realities (funding, reviews, ability to work) then an internal sifting of what ultimately did and didn’t feel interesting.
(The fries are gone…)