“Working collaboratively is the essential practice of social change and justice”

An Interview with artist Emma Hedditch by Rosa Reitsamer and Elke Zobl

For you, what is an artistic intervention?

An artistic intervention is explicitly tied to imagination and this is an essential part of conceiving the kind of world we want to be in, whether that imagination is for the materials used or choices about who makes the intervention, and when and in what context. Imagination goes beyond what you already can do, or are told you can do, and it also changes something, so you can see if it can be done differently. An artistic intervention can sometimes fail to have concrete effects because it is framed inside an artistic sphere, but the very fact that this sphere exists, still holds some possibilities for thinking differently.

What does creating (social) spaces through art mean to you?

It means mutually recognizing, having solidarity, and supporting one another. How do we, in these relations produce actual physical and psychological spaces for experimentation, research, self-organizing, performing, and actions. We are caught in this materiality and invitation, and possibilities that must be built together, in a collective process. Museums, cinemas, and galleries are social spaces; they are not only for individual consumption and contemplation. We can use these spaces; we can refuse to be isolated, even if this means a kind of over identification with an artist or artwork. Creating one’s own space, or context to share with others is exciting and challenges these other spaces, it is an essential part of the artistic landscape, to pursue places that satisfy needs and desires that other institutions can’t or won’t.

I feel an affinity with practices that do not seek to unify in support, or compartmentalize, but instead offer resources and space to try things out. There is no need to know what we will do, but a willingness to let us do it if we dare. In this sense you could say it is close to anarchist or non-authoritative socialist thinking and organizing. It is a curiosity, and a commitment to distributing resources and knowledge, and having or making the experience of organizing and doing something collectively, with an emphasis on process as much as the final goal.

Collaboration and self-organization are central in social movements and for feminist and anti-racist politics and interventions. You have been working in collaborations with others and have been involved in self-organized contexts. What role does self-organization and collaboration play in your artistic practice?

Collaboration holds a tension in that collaboration is already a dependency, with focus on the social relations and objects or materiality, technologies, etc. So I would not make so much of a distinction about whether I am collaborating or not, and say that it is always a collaboration, to live. But it is an important term to distinguish from the idea that one has an individual practice or the notion of an individual pure subject; and this is something that I feel gets harder the more that ideas of scarcity seem to be around us. So I am proud to participate and be part of different collaborations and try to overcome these dominant forms of individuation and isolation.

Self-organizing can be complicated if it is not also changing and critical of becoming an insular and isolated practice. So I would say that it is important to be very aware of whom one collaborates with, and organizes with as much as the reasons for organizing. But I also try to be curious and follow invitations to join others, without knowing so much, trying to trust the situation and know that each person makes the collaboration, so one is always an active participant who has the potential to bring something or say something.

Collaboration can also be a negative practice of affirming certain positions, supporting and reinforcing specific modes of being, based on principles of experience, legibility, and performance, which is not necessarily something we can always see, but can be a consequence of our particular position. I think this is happening a lot with invitations from large institutions, it’s not always possible to see all of the affiliations and implications that are a consequence of your collaboration, but it’s also a condition under which you sometimes have to work, or you feel you have to in order to survive, or pay rent, etc.

How do you see your role in your artistic projects?

I think my role changes depending on the projects, and I am very happy about how open that has become and at the same time somewhat antagonistic, meaning that it is not easy going and open. I mean it is something that others have projected on to me, and that to some extent through a certain amount of resistance and decision-making I have taken on. I think it’s important to be able to change and know when you are useful and when not, or learn that through listening to other people and observing what is happening around you. I also like to make things and work with materials and experience the time of making and learning or gaining knowledge from different practices, so it’s not so much of a single role or activity.

An article in Frieze (Issue 85, 2004) stated: “Her (Emma Hedditch’s) work is entirely collaborative, so that she is more of a facilitator than an author.” Would you agree with this statement?

Yes, well I don’t really like the term author, because it implies individual production, so yes, I agree, but also facilitator has some meanings which are problematic, they imply a certain set of possibilities that a person gives or has control over, and I don’t really like this implication, either. But yes, the statement is ok and I think the person who wrote the piece was exploring something that she was interested in as a concept about artistic production and so this writing and description was a good place to relate these ideas. In general it is a challenge to talk about your work, it’s hard to describe things that are more of a practice, but I also appreciate very much people who want to talk about these questions and consider it important to have an exchange.

Thank your very much for the interview!

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Fanon, Frantz (1952): Black Skins, White Masks.

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Moten, Fred (2003): In The Break. The Aesthetics Of The Black Radical Tradition. Univ. of Minnesota Press

Emma Hedditch, Elke Zobl, Rosa Reitsamer (2014): “Working collaboratively is the essential practice of social change and justice”. An Interview with artist Emma Hedditch by Rosa Reitsamer and Elke Zobl. In: p/art/icipate – Kultur aktiv gestalten #04 , https://www.p-art-icipate.net/working-collaboratively-is-the-essential-practice-of-social-change-and-justice/