Ruth Barker

Taking The Matter Into Common Hands: Review




Review for MAP Magazine of 'Taking The Matter Into Common Hands: On Contemporary Art and Collaborative Practices'

Edited by Johanna Billing, Maria Lind and Lars Nilsson, Black Dog Publishing, 2007.




Contemporary practices that fall outside of the gallery mainstream have certainly been in the spotlight recently. After an undeserved period in the critical wilderness, collaborative, publicly engaged and site-specific practice have at last begun to hold their own as structures worthy of regular analytical examination. Certainly a milestone - though not an unflawed one - in this re-awakening was Nicolas Bouriaud’s seminal book Relational Aesthetics. The success of Taking The Matter Into Common Hands however, as the latest of these way-markers, is that enough time seems to have passed for RA to be treated as a landmark that we have already traversed rather than a monument to stand before in awe. 


‘Moving on’ from Relational Aesthetics is a position that Billing, Lind, and Nilsson take seriously, and largely manage to achieve within the pages of Taking The Matter. The book is a collection of interviews, essays, short fiction and criticism that offer the reader a polyphony of dialogue. What links these at times disparate texts is two-fold; a discussion of the many forms of ‘collaborative practice’, and a point of origin in the symposium of the same title held in Iapsis, Stockholm, in 2005.


The book’s position as a symposium publication is crucial in fostering an interpretive approach to the subject. The writing here – by contributors Tirdad Zolghar of SHAHRZAD, Alex Fotl, Marion von Osten, 16Beaver, Marysia Lewandoska and WHW among others – is often personal and subjective. Though the texts may be open to criticism because of this unguarded feel, the tone does inject a welcome freshness to the field. The book is not by any means perfect. There is a link made between the act of collaboration and an assumed left wing political ideology that remains generally uncritiqued. I also found the toe-curlingly laborious aesthetic used throughout hard to like, though it was, unfortunately, “designed by the international design group Åbäke, who participated in the symposium”.


In all however, Taking The Matter… is a revealing, informative, provoking and energetic publication. As an exercise in collaborative editing, it seems to follow its own advice – a definition of collaboration that (as an occasional collaborator myself) I both recognise and appreciate. True collaboration, the editors conclude: “simply has to make possible that which is otherwise impossible.” And so it does.