Collaborator Experiences

Collaborator experiences are no less significant than the resulting artworks. Please consider sharing your Postal Collage Project stories and accounts of experiences. In expanding the project’s documentary library, you will be enriching its history. Send your text (up to one thousand words) to: marty@roundtablecollaboration.com Thank you!
Marty McCutcheon, Berkeley, California

updated 03 JUNE 2019


[To Marty] For me the round table collaboration has been a fortunate and wonderful occasion to dive into an activity that I greatly enjoy but otherwise have not pursued since decades. I am grateful for you organizing it and allowing me to participate. I have had many wonderful conversation over the years about this experience with you as well to help me go through baffling, frustrating, joyful, etcetera moments.
Ben Hoz


It gave me an opportunity to explore working in a medium I usually do not work in, plus the added bonus of collaborating with others I don’t know and getting to see the piece thru their eyes with what has been added to the collage.
Julie Fischer
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I enjoyed the process– another variable on the theme of art making and letting go.
Irene Nelson
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Partnering with my son, Lucas (6 years old), on the collage started as a fun art project to do together. It was also a great way for me to feel a continued connection to the SF area, where I used to live. Every project I embark on with Lucas teaches me about first and last impressions. As we began to discuss and create our original collage, he worried about mailing his work away and insisted on creating a duplicate collage, just in case he didn’t like how ours changed. Collaborating on other original works shifted his perspective and ideas about our involvement and ways we can carry a theme or put his ‘mark’ on a larger project. He was excited to receive mail from Ireland knowing it had traveled around the world and we discussed each place the works had been. When we were anticipating the arrival of our original piece, Lucas was anxious and concerned he would be upset about what it would look like. He asked if we could not use what the rest of our group did and start over. When we sent ours off initially, we included some language about how we conceived the idea to start the collage. When we received our original back, Lucas was overwhelmed with the result and especially loved that each group member continued to describe why they added what they did. Our groups respect for the original intention of the work, for Lucas, made an irreplaceable impact. We were both touched by the creativity and thoughtfulness. The pride of effort and collaboration, seeing a project through and learning from others, working together on a creative, long term goal, were incredible lessons and an experience we will not forget.
Heidi Kitlas
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Wow, I don’t remember what I was thinking. I guess I admire Marty McCutcheon and I thought ‘is collaborative collage fun?’. We’re old friends and Marty definitely lobbied me a little, with an unabashed emphasis on persuasion. I only participated for one season and it was definitely something new. Things came in the mail that were art instead of just my bills, so that part was definitely good. I received collages from all over the place, and I guess I sent mine all over the place. I suppose the only way to judge them, if you could, is by the results. I’ve only seen photographs of the resulting collaborations in some of the venues that they were displayed in, and it looked very cool. My hat is off to Mr. McCutcheon for inspiring, enlisting, and cultivating enthusiasm for what was clearly a labor of love, in endeavoring so many disparate parts into a cohesive display of creativity.
Jay Long
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Beginning is half” old Chinese proverb
I remember this proverb every time I’m stuck or procrastinating on a collage — and when I finally do something, it’s like “hey, that wasn’t so hard… why did it take so long?”
Mike Fusello
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Participating in Round Table has been both a challenge and a very rewarding experience. The beauty of this project, to me, is that it is open to anyone regardless of craft, education and to some extent income.

The first time around I was a bit nervous about my participation as I am not a trained artist but I was equally excited to collaborate across time and space with like minded people. At the start I thought of collage as something that is mostly paper based. Most of the pieces I worked on proved my assumption wrong. There are so many materials that can be part of a collage and there are so many different methods to incorporate them into the artwork! I remember working with eggshells, thread and old leather luggage tags in Project No. 4.

Following the development of the collages through the photographs participants uploaded in the forum was very exciting. The second time around, however, I decided to go a little more blind and let the work surprise me live rather than virtually. Also, I had very little time the second time around as I was writing my PhD. The flexibility of collage and of Round Table allowed me to still be able to participate as no intense labour is expected. My strategy was to work with the four elements: air, water, fire and earth. I guess I did a bit of land-art and let the elements do their impact on the pieces without much input on my part.

In Project No. 5 and No. 6 I have worked in a group with family and friends. I thought it would be a good way of getting to know my partner’s family a bit better as well as to keep in touch with them as the Atlantic separates us. Collaborating with friends is a bit tricky as deadlines get extended and excuses multiply somehow. However, the process of going back and forth does bring people closer together, at least that is what I felt. This is also the reason why I firmly believe this method has much potential to be applied in other networks or even to be used to create trust and rapport among people who haven’t met or among communities whose assumptions and prejudgements from one another prevent them from getting to know each other.
Patricia Prieto Blanco
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Managing initial expectations and attachments to outcomes; honoring the spirit of cooperation and respecting different points of view and ideas; the acceptance of reality while exercising the ability to reimagine: these things and more are at the core and are the brilliant essence of the Roundtable Postal Collage Project.

C.K. Itamura


When I was growing up in the sixties, ‘collaboration’ was a dirty word. Collaborators were dreadful people who dealt with fascists, and Collaborators were those who went to bed with nazis. The word carried a stigma in all its tenses. A Collaborationist was someone whom you didn’t want to meet or deal with, and far less was someone you wanted to be. Now I struggle to remember how joint creativity in any form was described, but ‘collaboration’ wasn’t the term in use.

Perhaps because of this I was suspicious of creative partnerships. Lennon and McCartney were obvious exceptions as were Watson and Crick, as are a host of others before and since in the fields of science, engineering, music, film, fashion, economics and politics. In visual art Warhol had his factory, it was a concept made manifest, but however assembled, no matter how many were involved in the conceptualization and making, the output was definitely Andy’s. Others too had their teams of studio assistants and saw no difficulty in signing the work. Bridget Riley comes to mind.

I could waive my suspicions and forgive the collaborations of scientists, musicians, and film-makers, and could see that in a building no architect need lay a brick.
In painting, poetry, and fiction I thought I saw a different dynamic where an editor’s steadying artistic or commercial hand may indeed contribute mightily, but where at beginning and end, the author was alone.

Brian Eno spoke of collaborating with groups of musicians where the results turned out (to be) ‘not bad’. He concluded his remarks with the telling thought that while not bad can be good enough, good enough is not very interesting. Never-the-less, I was challenged by the potential of visual collaboration. I put the idea to my undergraduate colleagues that we as visual artists could perform Hamlet, by each for example, interpreting the role of a character in the play in painting or print. The idea was met with derision. It was too ambitious, and too much like hard work, and possibly some hadn’t read or didn’t like the play. Mostly though, it was rejected because the idea wasn’t theirs’, neither was the concept, and nor did they see how they could maintain control over the output.

Loss of control, the last element of my student colleagues’ objections, is the most common negative reaction to the idea of collaborative work that I hear from visual artists. Control of the result however achieved is everything to the artist, so they ask, why allow another hand and another mind to intrude?

It’s a good question and not one with an easy answer.
Can the self-important artist ever collaborate in a poem or painting? It doesn’t seem possible.
But, look at Round Table.
If making visual art is a public performance, look at Round Table.
If the result of the process of making visual art is important, look at Round Table.
If speed of thought and an open mind with an element of obligation indeed pressure, spurs creativity, look at Round Table.

Control be hanged. Control is in the lap of the gods. I value collaborative work, not because I cede control, but because it forces me out of my self-centered studio importance into confronting ideas and images that I could never have conceived.
Much collaborative art results in an apparently incoherent mass of influences, and think Brian Eno’s ‘good enough’, but occasionally the results are transcendental and the artists who have collaborated making the art, have simultaneously taken the artist out of the art.
Pure art. Look at Round Table.

KJ, London May 2018
KJ5acc


For a variety of reasons, I found this entire process incredibly discouraging.  Most of the others in this project were in my men’s group here, so they could simply hand their projects to each other, but I had to mail mine each time to Toby in Santa Cruz, a process that added extra time and inconvenience.  Then, apparently I didn’t use the best adhesive, because I found out later that some of the major contributions I made to other collages were no longer present on those collages—it was if my contributions to those, work of which I had been proud, were erased.  Finally, I got my own back: it was hideous and unrecognizable, with absolutely no trace of anything I had originally done.  I felt zero connection to it—in fact, I felt completely repulsed by it.  I considered setting it on fire and presenting the charred remains at the final viewing, but I felt that would be too passive-aggressive.  I simply threw it in the garbage.
 
[T]his entire experience has completely turned me away from ever participating in any kind of shared art project again, and in fact, it probably will be quite some time before I have any appetite to explore creating visual arts at all.
 
Mike McGarry
[no image available]
 

Just as prison is a microcosm of society, the Round Table Postal Collage Project is a microcosm of human communication. It starts on the internet, traverses its way across the globe via snail mail, and ends IRL with a series of exhibitions in various locales. Human communication in Ancient & Modern forms. And in any form of human communication, whether it’s cocktail party chatter, a legal brief, or inmates talking trash, there will be ups and downs. The RTPCP is no different. One moment you’re in divine communion with your soul mate, the next you find yourself in an excruciatingly uncomfortable silence, two complete strangers avoiding eye contact and unwilling to say a word. But there is always a way out.

Time & Edit

Time spent waiting. Time spent contemplating. Time spent searching for themes in shape or color or emotion. Time spent talking to oneself. Time spent

Edit

In prison, in communication, in the Round Table Postal Collage Project, one should always have

Edit

Edit.

Levi Mahoney
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RTPCP: Disgust, surprise, honesty, and lies. Never finished. Enjoyable when enjoyed. It’s a mirror.
Scott Panton
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Domingo Martinez
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I’m a 7 year veteran of the Postal Collage Project and a very grateful participant.
Each year has brought new experiences, connections, surprises, challenges and appreciation. I would not have missed a single one!

I love this Project. Every year I work with people that I have never met, people who I might know, friends, family. Every year I get 5 opportunities to have my mind challenged, expanded, and even blown. The first challenge is creating my own starter collage, knowing that 4 other people are going to add to it. Next challenges? I will be adding/changing each of their starter collages. What will they think of my changes? How will I feel about their changes to the one I started? I am sure you can imagine….

Some collages are easy to work on. There is a thread of communality, of color and shape and subject matter that I can relate to. Other collages may have the opposite effect – what were they thinking? Time to get out of my comfort zone, expand my concepts, open my mind.

The greatest challenge is control. Collaborative art is a different ball game. Some like it, some don’t. Try it! It’s a helluva lot of fun!!!! And by the way, you get the final chance to do whatever you want to your starter collage after the rest of your group has finished with it. Even burn it! But deliver the ashes to Marty so he can include it in the Collage exhibits.

Thank you, Marty, for bringing this opportunity to us and for all the work you do to make it happen, including each year’s shows of Postal Collage work!

Gratefully,
Judy Weaver
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The Postal Collaboration Collage [PCC] project exemplifies one of my favorite quotes. It’s by constructionist Mark di Suvero [there’s a great early piece of his in SF MOMA] It goes ” . . . . all art is equal because we know the joy of making it.” I find the quote apt for all the PCC #7 collages I saw on display at their initial showing in Marty’s Berkeley studio at the end of March.

PCC #7 was my first participation in the Postal Collaboration Collage project. I had happened upon the display of the collages from PCC #5 at Ramon’s Tailor gallery so I had some sense of the norms for participation. From those collages I saw from PCC #5 I inferred, for example, it’s okay to add 3-D material to a collage, as long, I supposed, you can send it through the mail. I made additions of string to two of our group’s collages

I also inferred from PCC #5 one could put material on top of material already put there by someone earlier in the sequence. This I did. And I didn’t mind when, at the display in Marty’s studio, I saw someone had glued material on top of material I had put on collages earlier in the sequence. I accepted it in the spirit of our postal collaboration.

I missed Postal Collaboration Collage #6, but here I am in PCC #7. I have been making collages for several years and I have some experience with collaborative artistic creation — but almost always where all the creators are present in the same space. PCC #7 was my first time with collaborative art by mail where the collaborators all worked on the same art work.

I like the collages I create to reflect progressive social values. These include public transit and non-commercial community radio, so the raw materials I use most frequently are the dark-blue on light-blue schedules of MARTA, the metro Atlanta transit system where I live [and don’t drive — a socio-political commitment since 1986] and broadcast schedules from WRFG = “Radio Free Georgia — your independent 100,000-watt community radio station for progressive information”

I have a high regard for postal workers and for the postal service so I was pleased we’d be using the US mails with the trust our collages would get to whom we were sending them. And they did! Bravo US postal workers for all the good work you do! [and shame on the politicos who don’t appreciate your work and dedication].

It was easy enough starting my own collage with the usual cut-up pieces from MARTA bus schedules, WRFG flyers, and a few other colorful sources. I mailed my starter collage to Bar who was next in our group’s sequence.

The complete sequence was:

Bar to Amy to David to Julie to Brian and back to Bar

plus four other variants of the same sequence with each of the five of us a starter/finisher on one collage.

As the other collages came to me I enjoyed the contrasts in our styles.

Julie’s style was careful exquisite filigree She provided the most delicacy to our group’s collages.

Both Amy and David were like photorealists using images of real objects including people. Between them they created some wonderful alignments of materials, especially of buildings along a body of water in one of the collages. Judging from the way they cut out the materials they pasted on the collages I would say Amy and David are both very skillful with scissors. They remind me of the great Kenyan collagist Wangechi Mutu who wears “a tiny pair of scissors in the shape of a stork” dangling from a necklace.

Bar’s style was like the best of creatively humorous pop art. He started his collage not on a sheet of paper but on the circular cardboard from a pizza box. Either Bar and/or someone along the string after him [Amy, David, or Julie] attached some three-dimensional items to his collage, including a coiled spring and also what looked like two dark greenish blobs of plastic deformed from some utilitarian shape like a soda pop bottle. Kudos not only to Bar for his artistry but also to the postal service for getting Bar’s collage undamaged to each of us in sequence and then back to Bar in California.

When it got to me there were still some bare sections in the collage on Bar’s pizza cardboard, so I glued various small colorful papers on the barest sections. Amy’s and David’s collages, on the other hand, were completely covered before they were mailed to me. I realized I would have to add my contributions on top of material already there. I had each of these two collages on my wall for two or three weeks contemplating where and how I could make additions which would add to the esthetic appeal of the collages yet not obstruct what was already there. I eventually made my additions and sent both collages to Bar who was next in the sequence. Presumably he faced [and solved] the same dilemma.

There was a Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at SF MOMA the same week the Postal Collaboration #7 collages were on display in Marty’s studio. In the 1950s Rauschenberg was a pioneer in using found objects in art. Now it’s the 2010s and the found objects sensibility has permeated contemporary art-making culture. The collages in PCC #7 exemplify this flourishing sensibility with beauty, creativity, and delight.

[The quote about Wangechi Mutu is from Sarah Thornton’s 33 ARTISTS IN 3 ACTS, p. 57.]

[The Mark di Suvero quote is in OPEN HEARING, a compilation of artist statements distributed by the Art Workers Coalition in New York City in 1969, p. 99.]

Brian Sherman, May 10, 2018
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RESPONSES to QUESTIONNAIRE

Carolina Cambre

How did you first hear of the project?
Through friends who were part of it.

How did you approach your role as Initiator? How did you start your collage?
I tried to start with a concept and leave lots of space on the canvas

How did you approach your role as Contributor? What were your intentions/concerns when altering other people’s collages?
I tried to take cues from the process I saw unfolding, I hung on to key words and titles as part of that, I also tried to work with what was there and further the aims I perceived, but sometimes I would add a twist as a wink.

What kind of tools, materials, and techniques did you use? 
I used drawing, ripped paper, encyclopedias, atlases, magazines, brochures, postcards, actual playing cards, calendar pages, and stuff I printed myself.

What were your thoughts when your own original collage returned to you?
I was usually surprised but I could trace a path and a progression.

How did you go about completing your collage? 
This was a bit of a struggle as I had to confront expectations that I did not know I had, and sometimes I resisted interpretations as manifested on the canvas but I am trying to learn to work with them and add a twist somehow.

Were there surprises or inspirations along the way? frustrations or disappointments?
There were some inspirations in the way people sometimes had a signature mark or style they would make and I could recognize it visually even though we have never met. My only frustration was when I would see that sometimes it seemed that that collage was an after-school play thing for someone’s child, but since it is supposed to be open, I accepted it, the only thing was that these were easier for me to edit afterwards than those where I thought someone had really committed thought and time.

What, if anything, do you find valuable about independent, autonomous, creative expression?
What, if anything, do you find valuable about collaboration?
I like to see how people can honor each other’s ideas visually and riff of of them, I also like seeing how some people show their disagreement and negate what others are doing on the canvas. There are so many directions to take it in any given moment it is really a wonder how beautifully many of these turn out to be!

If you have participated in the project two years or more, what advice, if any, might you have for a first-time participant?
Commit to a regular practice, and try to listen to the collages when they arrive before making any decisions. This will be the most time consuming part.
Carolina5acc



Wendy Hough

How did you first hear of the project?
I was introduced to the project by a friend who was participating in the postal collage.

How did you approach your role as Initiator? How did you start your collage?
I began with drawing, though I tried to find ready-made zine clippings or photographs or wrapping paper, etc. to start the work. When I couldn’t find anything appropriate I began with a drawing.

How did you approach your role as Contributor? What were your intentions/concerns when altering other people’s collages?
Trying to see some thematic intention and keeping with that intention.

What kind of tools, materials, and techniques did you use?
I drew for almost all of them, except a piece where a contributor/initiator supplied clippings to use. Though this was not mandatory, it was a fun idea that was in keeping with the initiator’s intentions.

What were your thoughts when your own original collage returned to you?
I absolutely loved the thoughts that went towards everyone’s contributions. The written descriptions were wonderful and key to understanding everyone’s considerations and final decision.

How did you go about completing your collage?
It looked so complete, I didn’t add anything else.

Were there surprises or inspirations along the way? frustrations or disappointments?
Yes, I did spend time waiting for inspiration to strike. When approaching another’s collage one does not want to be the contributor that falters!

What, if anything, do you find valuable about independent, autonomous, creative expression?
Less immediate embarrassment, so one continues onward completely oblivious to other opinions.

What, if anything, do you find valuable about collaboration?
More immediate embarrassment. It’s good for you. Letting go.
WendyH7-4797acc



Willis Stork

How did you first hear of the project?
I believe through Christina Stork.

How did you approach your role as Initiator? How did you start your collage?
Usually as simply, or minimally, as possible, with some variations.

How did you approach your role as Contributor? What were your intentions/concerns when altering other people’s collages?
I try to add to others, the best I can, in terms of composition.

What kind of tools, materials, and techniques did you use?
Most always I use paper media and glue, and oftentimes paint and ink.

What were your thoughts when your own original collage returned to you?
This is has been revelatory. Sometimes my Starter Collage will return to me virtually unidentifiable, yes satisfying. Other times, I can see that it was my Original and I am not thrilled about how it ended up looking; so I then bring it to a state in which I feel it’s done. Once I did not change anything and submitted it as completed.

How did you go about completing your collage?
Sometimes I glue or paint on top of or around others contributions. A few times I have literally stripped %80 of contributions away from the surface and restructured the majority of the composition. I like to rotate it as I go.

Were there surprises or inspirations along the way? frustrations or disappointments?
I feel I’ve spoken to the surprises, yet the frustrations for me would be if someone’s contributions were done flagrantly or in a manner that dominated the piece in any way. Conversely, it sometimes shows when someone put the least possible care into their addition, but these factors are all remediable, and remain part of the piece in some way, shape or form.

What, if anything, do you find valuable about independent, autonomous, creative expression?
To make the meditative, or spiritual, tangible and visible. The tangible thing is an enigma which directs.

What, if anything, do you find valuable about collaboration?
The opportunity to manipulate (and have other hands manipulate) a/my piece, without emotion. It can be a humbling process, which is of import.

If you have participated in the project two years or more, what advice, if any, might you have for a first-time participant?
To have fun. And especially to see them all together is a different satisfaction in and of itself. The breadth of work from all the different groups reflect the many minds that molded them, and to see how the group works vary makes for a fantastic show each time. I love it.
Willis7acc