The Art of Radical Collaboration


the art of radical collaboration
(presented at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, October 2013) 
radical: (adj) . thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: 2. favouring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.
collaboration:(n) 1. the act of working with another or others on a joint project 
 
We expose an expanded definition of art. We seek to call into question the separation between the public, site, art and everyday life. We are interested in the social experience, the effect of art as much of the object d’art itself, and art’s effects both inside and outside of the institution. For us, sculpture is seen not only in the manipulation of form, but also in the forming of the social. Joseph Beuys most notably espoused this notion of social sculpture. 
“Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of a senile social system to build a SOCIAL ORGANISM AS A WORK OF ART. This most modern art discipline – Social Sculpture/ Social Architecture – will only reach fruition when every living person becomes a creator, a sculptor, or architect of the social organism…” – Joseph Beuys 
These ideas of social sculpture are made manifest in the artistic creation of the happening. Not performance art per se, the happening exists as a manipulated experience in time, where formal conditions are activated to produce a response. Our interest in the happening lies in the often-unheralded importance of the crowd. Here the notion of artistic audience as a singular individual is inherently dropped. This re-configuring of the subject as plural and multiple is central to our work. A happening can’t happen without others; otherwise it would simply be an occurrence.
Fig. 1, Zombie Flash Mob, 2010. 
There is something about the “social” experience that seems of the zeitgeist. Social networks are virtual representations for physical “community” which is at the core of our work;and is the goal of Beuys’ manipulation. Through our work we begin to see "interactive experience" as the "touch point" of community.  Inherently this manipulation invokes bigness as scale serves an important role for the work and the cultural entity. Bigness attracts crowds, which is important if you’re interested in creating social effects. With size comes gravity, aesthetically pulling people in, and then retaining them spatially and atmospherically. Large groups often contain strangers and thus the opportunity for new connections. Second, it creates an immersive environment, a place where effects can be deployed to manipulate social interaction. Third, is that bigness normally take a lot of people to make happen, and this inherently is what makes us radical in our methodology.  
Fig. 2, "Mardi Gras: TheBase" Spencer Tunik, Sydney, 2010. 
We build art through community and community through art. 
For us the act of producing the work is as much as a piece of art as object itself.In order to create things at such a scale sometimes requires a team of hundreds; but our model is not a Fordist one of de-specialization, nor is it one of Warhol’s “factory”, with a singular artist directing production. 
Fig. 3 Consumer electronics assembly line. China. 2010 
We are a collaborative, volunteer collective, that relies on donations of time(and money) to realize projects that would otherwise be financially infeasible.Our work requires the knowledge, and experience of many disciplines, with multiple layers of input and with many collaborators. Accordingly, the form follows the process as much as the process follows the form. Inherent to our work underlying artistic principles allow individual contributions to be made by a large number of project participants without sacrificing the integrity of the piece. Each project is seen as a vehicle to train members from the community in the technical skills used in art fabrication. We actively encourage the participation of women and other under-represented communities in the art and design disciplines. The group also focuses on arts education, using each project to imbue upon its member a critical approach to art practice. By donating their labour participants gain knowledge and become part of a larger community. As this community absorbs new members, new skills are transmitted to our communal knowledge base. This learning is horizontal, as opposed to hierarchical, whereby skills and knowledge are transferred laterally through the project. As artists we are inherently explorers, and experimenters. Each bit of knowledge is a seed that begins a new investigation, and each commission is a new opportunity for exploration. Thus the Foundation not only creates public art; it creates public artists.
The work of FLUX challenges the singular notion of the Artist or Designer. 
Fig. 4, Warhol's Factory, New York. 
Fig. 5, "Canopy" FLUX Foundation, Philadelphia, 2013. 
Thus our work investigates the relationship of the individual to the larger whole. It utilizes repetition and variation to multiple effect (Fig. 5). A repetitive system is often necessary for production timelines and achieving desired scale.It is also a great platform for teaching and training. At over 200 feet long,100 feet wide and over 40’ tall; the structure of the Temple of Flux consisted of 69 unique triangular frames.(Fig. 6 & 7) built in Oakland warehouse over4 months. After the initial frames were built that team consisting of experienced carpenter and neophyte alike, then trained another in the process,who further refined it, teaching another the improved method. The teams would cycle back working with the engineers and architects to further improve both the design and process. Thus the use of repetition speaks not only to production processes but the social value of individuals coming together to fora greater whole. This gestalt occurs at other levels as well. The artworks also allow for individual moments of creativity as part of the larger framework with multiple layers of input from various members of the group. As the sculpture was so large that it would only be seen once assembled in the Nevada desert.The smallest of the Temples landforms was built and rebuilt several times at our shop. This served to refine the design, but also to share the process of how the sculpture would be finally assembled in the desert. The object teaches all of us new things.  
Fig. 6. "Temple of Flux"(structure) FLUX Foundation, Black Rock City, 2010.
Fig. 7. “Temple of “ Flux” (exterior,night) FLUX Foundation, Black Rock City, 2010 
At the same time we also focus on arts education, Untrained eyes are nurtured to see the aesthetic principles at work. The underlying critical ideas and aesthetic values are discussed so individuals can then contribute to the dialogue of the piece.  
At the Temple of Flux, six interior moments were each crafted by individuals or small groups. These were glimpses into a distinct personal vision as part of the larger piece and included abstract spatial experiments, a perspective diorama and a memorial to a recently deceased colleague. Lead artists orchestrate these individual expressions as a symphony of layers giving depth. 
From their conception the sculptures are collaborative efforts, with several experienced artists working together to conceive their premises. Ideas are curated for their applicability not only to the site and resonance with our shared values but for their suitability to our methodology. The desired complexity of each piece also allows for individual artistic collaboration. Each of the sculptures individual components or systems are developed by small groups or teams. Our works use pyrotechnic and flame effects, lighting, misting, and other computer-controlled effects to create spectacle.
Fig. 8, "Temple of Flux"(interior, night) FLUX Foundation, Black Rock City, 2010. 
Fig. 9 "Temple of Flux"(burn) FLUX Foundation, Black Rock City, 2010.
Fig. 10 "BrollyFlock!"(night) FLUX Foundation, San Bernadino, 2011. 
The effects combine with the scale and the overall form of the sculpture, to create what Guy Debord would refer to as “constructed situation”. The effects create a disruption in the ordinary and expected experience in order to create a moment of self-awareness. This shock suspends social norms allowing more “authentic” interaction between individuals. Social barriers are broken. Through the common experience of the spectacular social engagement flourishes.
But the social barrier is not the only one disrupted by the effects. The boundary between art and audience is removed. Many of the effects in our works are user controlled,whether by button, or motion sensor, the pieces enable interaction; spectator becomes participant. The distinction between artist and audience blurs. 
Fig. 11, "FishBug" FLUX Foundation, San Bernadino, 2012 
While the sculptures encourage engagement between art and audience they also encourage engagement between the individuals themselves. The pieces capitalize upon this moment to create places of community.
At the Temple participants wrote messages upon its walls. Often letters to ones lost, or reflections upon the past, the sentiments were of things to be let go. Other participants could read the testaments, engaging with echoes and ghosts. This anonymous but extremely personal interaction created a sense of community between those that dwelled in its walls. The form of the piece intentionally provided haven, the shapes providing shelter from the harsh winds and sun, the fireplaces providing warmth at night. The sculpture provided a comfortable womb, isolating individuals from the exterior with only the ground, sky and each other to focus upon. Thus the audience does merely occupy or experience the art. They complete it.  
Fig. 12 "FishBug"(interior) FLUX Foundation, 2012
Thus our work straddles the boundaries of sculpture and installation .The scales of FishBug expand and contract in a breathing-like rhythm, the flames along its spine increasing in size with each breath. With images of it’s thoughts dancing across its skull the effect creates an almost-living presence with which to commune. The tusks shoot flames almost like an expression, acknowledging the crowd. This gives the audience a shared yet jolting communal experience of the constructed situation.Controlled by remote, the fire from the tusks further shock the participant with a direct interactive experience, Participants hand the controls to share the powerful experience of having such an intimate relationship with something of such a large scale. Here differences in scale create a new understanding of self-empowerment. The same self-empowerment that can be experienced in the creation of the work, can thus be experienced through the finished artwork itself. 
Similar techniques are used in BrollyFlock! A 35’ tall 30’ diameter flock of 55 renegade umbrellas. With misting units throughout the umbrellas at its base, and plenty of shade BrollyFlock! too provides respite to all who gather beneath, with comfortable places to sit at its base. In the evening the same communal space is enlivened by the warm glow of fire. The dazzling array of lights and shooting flames above provide a shared experience for all. Individual buttons provide direct interaction with the effects, and should coordinated effort be made with all 3 buttons be pressed simultaneously a rewarding atmospheric effect results. 
The Spire of Wishes,originally commissioned for a former Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco, is a moment of manipulated nature, It is a marker of place and a creator of space,also providing a seat in which to gather, sit and reflect. The reclaimed barn wood with gold leaf at its sawn cuts, speaks to the value we place on nature in society; a foundation upon which our collective enterprise is based (both literally and phenomenally. Now rising above a vineyard, at the moment where the natural wooded terrain resumes, it still speaks to our relationship to nature; connecting those that sit upon it’s bench to a larger cultural landscape. 
Fig. 13. "Spire of Wishes" FLUX Foundation, San Francisco, 2010 
Fig. 14 "Spire of Wishes" FLUX Foundation, Russian River Valley, 2011  
Which brings us back to connections, we are inherently interested expanding the role of the institution and its diffusion. As such our work and our partners continue to grow. We have begun to explore multiple simultaneous scales as seen in Colony: a piece in which the sculpture was distributed into five thousand bags given to attendees of a recent American Association of Museums convention. We asked participants to share one element of their conference experience on their SNAP (Social Network Art Panel) and then to add the SNAP to the growing sculpture, which inhibited an aesthetically orienting space. The sculpture’s form was not a priori,we simply generated a predictive formal generator and atmosphere, the spectacle was provided by the participants. 
We use spectacle and atmosphere in artworks to create wonder and engagement.
These include the FLUXcycles,a series of individual member driven smaller fire sculptures attached to bicycles. The Dragon Wagon a fire-breathing serpent, and two roving bouquets of fire: the Fluxicleta and Poppy Wagon. They also provide a platform for individual members to quickly conceive, lead and take ownership of a project within the FLUX framework. The pieces serve primarily as outreach and education tools. Providing inspiration to old and young alike, from disparate elements of the broader community. The Fluxcycles quickly allow connections to be made between members of the public, or between the public and our collective practice.  
Our work includes installation based, site specific temporal pieces such as the Temple of Flux and Colony, as well as more sculptural pieces which continue to tour and be shown, such as BrollyFlock! and FishBug.
Zoa is a combination of the two approaches as a metamorphosis in three phases. It was at first a wooden based sculpture resembling a tangled group of abstract seeds blown across the desert floor. The pods glow, their colours shifting in response to environmental stimuli. After several days, when conditions are just right, the seeds burst into flame, consuming itself in a fiery choreographed burn performance. This reveals yet another layer within; three abstract steel forms further enlivened by participant activated propane and methanol flame effects. The final stage which remains is then no longer temporal or site specific, and continues to be shown at new venues. 
Fig. 15 "Zoa, Phase I", FLUX Foundation, Black Rock City, 2013.
Fig. 16 "Zoa, Phase II" FLUX Foundation, Black Rock City, 2013.
Fig. 17 "Zoa, Phase II"(spore) FLUX Foundation, Black Rock City, 2013.
Fig. 18 "Zoa Phase III"(day) FLUX Foundation, Black Rock City, 2013.
Fig. 19 "Zoa, Phase III"(night) FLUX Foundation, Black Rock City, 2013. 
FLUX continues to explore interactivity, atmospherics, temporality, and spectacle through new commissions of spectacular works; as well as exhibiting and selling existing work. 
- pk. 2013

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