Moshe Ladanga

“Who does the work and who makes the tea?” PGPD Essay

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“Who does the work and who makes the tea?”
The Issue of Authorship in Collaborative Art Practice

Moshe Ladanga
MA Digital Arts 2007-2008

Research Question

By contrasting and comparing the art practices of Christo and Jeanne-Claude with Andy Warhol’s Factory, this paper will argue that contemporary collaborative art practices have become strategies for the art market, rather than alternative modes of creation and resistance. This analysis will take place in Michel Foucault’s framework of power/knowledge.


The issue of authorship in art is reflected in the proliferation of collaborative and collective art practices in London today, like Gilbert&George, the Wilson Sisters, The Chapman Brothers, the recently-defunct BANK, and The Light Surgeons, to name a few. It can be argued that this act of cooperative art creation and production is a means to present an alternative mode of art practice, or it can be also seen as a strategy of survival, as an act of self-branding. This paper will analyse a particular implication of this practice, namely its consequence on the concept of collaboration itself in art. To consider this implication, the art practice of Christo and Jeanne-Claude will be compared and contrasted with the collective filmmaking practice of Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory. Through the contrast of the Christos’ long-standing collaboration and Warhol’s strategic management of creative processes, this paper will aim to reveal the paradoxical nature of these collaborations. In the same vein, the paper will show similarities in how both of these groups operate within the dynamic of the art market, and yet have a marked difference when analysed in a critical framework . As a possible solution to the issue of authorship, this paper will argue that Auteurism as defined by feminist avant-garde filmmaker Pam Cooke is a viable practice that can be located within the collaborative context, and restitute the strategy of collaboration as resistance in the Foucauldian framework of Power/Knowledge.

Key Words:


Critical Literature Review

Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties, Steven Watson

In the multiple narratives that detail the lives and activities of the Factory, Steven Watson describes the collective nature of the seminal group that surrounded Andy Warhol. The central theme of the narratives is the ephemeral and often circumstantial nature of the instances of collective creation. This paper focuses on the nature of these creative instances to prove the inadequacy of present art criticism to define these instances along the traditional concepts of authorship.

Postmodernity And Its Discontents, Zygmunt Bauman

Bauman describes the manifold implications in the eventual prevalence of postmodern thought. This paper focuses on the book’s arguments about postmodern art, particularly the problems of authorship and art practice.

Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1997 by Michel Foucault, Colin Gordon, Editor

In this series of essays and interviews, Michel Foucault expounds on his theory Power/Knowledge. This paper focuses on the implications of this theory on discourse. This functions as the paper’s main theoretical framework.

PUBLIC ART: Financing “The Gates”, Paula Harper

This article investigates the art practice of Christo and Jeanne Claude, including facts about their practice that cannot be found in the books that document their projects. This paper focuses on those facts and argues for an alternative definition of their collaboration.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin

In this essay, Walter Benjamin argues for a re-orientation of art-making, more in the framework of Marxist ideology. This paper will focus on his assertion of the Author as Producer in the context of Art, and set it against the other modern theories of authorship.

Theories of Authorship, John Caughie, Editor

This book traces the development of the concept of the auteur in film and its effects of the issues of authorship. This paper uses three of the essays in the book, namely The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes, an excerpt from What is an Author? by Michel Foucault, and The Point of Self-Expression in Avant-Garde Film by Pam Cook. These three essays predicate this paper’s theoretical analysis of the issue of authorship.


The title of the paper refers more to than a rhetorical claim. It was one of the questions encountered by the author of this paper during his first tutorial in this course. It is the question and its implication that this paper will try to answer. The implication of such a question are manifold; who has the idea, who makes the art, who is the genuine artist, who is the skillful marketer, what is your strategy, what are your tactics? To locate the context of the question in art practice, this paper will focus on the manifestations of artistic cooperation, namely in the two identifiable strands: the collaboration and the collective. These definitions admittedly are at times amorphous, given the modern historical incidents of art movements and conceptual experiments in collaborative creation, but this paper will focus on the art practices that have established these two particular means of creation as the defining aspect of their artistic cooperation. Furthermore, the analyses of these practices is centered on the premise of the author as producer, as put forth by Walter Benjamin, but in no way privileges this definition, as the paper will analyse this concept itself and possibly arrive at a conclusion outside of it. Finally, the paper’s analytical framework owes much to the discussions of Foucault’s theories in relation to Hegelian conceptions of the subject (Butler.1987), which locates authorship at either the beginning or end of the struggle for self-knowledge.

Authorship: The Ontological Issue

One of the central inceptions of the postmodern author is the radical essay of Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” which argues that the author is a modern invention, a strategic placement of emphasis in discourse as a position of power (Caughie. 1986). The implication of which is that the Reader or Audience is the ultimate arbiter of the work, where meaning-making takes place. It can be argued that it is this relationship, between Author and Reader, that enables creation, and can be conceived as a dialectic, that is similar to the dynamic of collaboration.

In contrast to this, Walter Benjamin expounds on the dissolution of the authority in authorship by framing it in the Marxist polemic, arguing that the Author can be conceived as the Producer of the work (Benjamin. 1936). He uses the concept of the collective, specifically in the practice of filmmaking to assert the nameless individuality of the proletariat. He argues for the politicization of art to reclaim authorship from the Author. He further contextualizes this in the age of mechanical reproduction, whose ramifications are still being felt, polemic or otherwise.

In postmodern terms, art practice becomes problematic in this context. In the current manifestations of these developments, the contemporary art practitioner is in an ontological quandary. Francois Lyotard states it thus:

A postmodern artist or writer is in a situation of a philosopher: the text he writes, the work he performs are not in principle governed by already established rules, and they cannot be subjected to a determined judgment by applying known categories. It is these rules and categories which the text or work seeks. The artist or writer work therefore without rules, in order to establish the rules of what will have been done. Hence the work and the text will have a quality of an event; they arrive too late for their authors, or- what amounts to the same- their realization begins always too early.

The issue of authorship has become one of the central issues in art practice because of the paradoxes that arose from these very arguments. The deconstruction and revelation of its polemic presented, or, as Foucault would say, left in its wake, a space.

Rather, we should reexamine the empty space left by the author’s disappearance; we should attentively observe, along its gaps and fault lines, its new demarcations, and the reappointment of this void: we should await the fluid functions released by this disappearance. (Foucault, as cited in Caughie.1986:p282))

Christo and Jeanne Claude

In this space, the possibilities opened for artists to experiment with alternative modes of producing art. In the collaborative practice of Christo and Jeanne Claude, it is evident that they have actively engaged this space for the realization of their projects, although quite differently.

In the documentation of their project Over the River (Annely Juda FineArt.2005), the details of logistic, social, and institutional obstacles they struggled with is annotated with drawings, photographs and accompanying comments. But what is extant in this otherwise judicious documentation is how they conceived of the project. Also, in another book, Christo and Jeanne-Claude: International Projects, the emphasis is on the production of their work and its ideological dimensions in the context of art. In the other articles about them in art journals, their collaborative process in terms of artistic conception is never revealed.

What is evident though is that the collaboration of Christo and Jeanne Claude is an implied strategy to facilitate their art practice. In Paula Harper’s article Public Art: Financing “The Gates”, it is noted that ‘the way they manage their money is crucial to the conceptual foundation of their work.” It is well-known that they have scrupulously maintained an ideological position in their art practice, never accepting sponsorships or donations to fund their projects. They make money by mainly selling Christo’s early work and the projects’ preparatory sketches and documentation, which in turn finance the projects. The resultant projects only exist as events, arguably outside realm of the market. But there is a contradiction in their art practice; in the same article it is revealed that this contradiction is indeed informed by the ideological backgrounds of Christo and Jeanne Claude. Harper describes their collaboration through a quote of an Art History Professor as ‘a wedding of socialism and capitalism’ (Harper. 2005). It is noted that for their earlier projects, Jeanne Claude relied on the financial assistance and political influence of her stepfather, General de Guillebon, former head of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. It is also noted that Jeanne Claude came from a wealthy and influential family, but this fact is not well-known the because of Jeanne Claude’s careful ‘management of their publicity’ (Harper.2005).
Although there is little evidence of how Jeanne Claude collaborates with Christo on the conception of the projects, she is considered essential to the collaboration by Albert Elsen, the Art History Professor.

she has been crucial to conceiving and carrying out his unprecedented method of personally financing his projects, thereby taking advantage of the capitalist system (Harper.2005).

Christo, on the other hand, began as ideological opposite of Jeanne Claude. But as their practice took them to New York, encountering the likes of Warhol, Cage, and the other artists of the 60’s era, his ideology likewise evolved.

Although Christo fled from Bulgaria in 1957 when he was 22 years old and does not consider himself a Marxist, he noted the ideology’s impact on his upbringing in a 1977 interview with Jonathan Fineberg: “I was educated Marxist…. I believe in Dialectic…. I was a student in a communist country and I was working, like the Red Guard, in propaganda art. I was doing all kinds of things which have developed my taste to work with workers in a collaborative effort.” And he added that “because the capitalist system was so criticized in depth, probably it was very helpful in my understanding it better when I came here.” His early immersion in a Marxist society allowed Christo to see that economic system critically and also to observe with perspective the fully capitalist system he entered when he and Jeanne-Claude became New York residents (Harper. 2005)

Analysing this collaborative strategy can be approached through Benjamin’s framework, which will further reveal its contradiction. As stated by the artists themselves, their ideological stance in the art practice extends from their art projects to the financing of the project themselves. It can be argued that the projects do fulfill Lyotard’s challenge of making art as events, and further fulfilling Barthes’ meaning-making in the experiential quality of their installations, but it is the collaboration’s strategy for the production of these projects that undermine their practice, as the article of Paula Harper illustrates. Furthermore, by the opaqueness (either intended or not) of the collaboration in terms of the conceptualization, the only collaboration in evidence still bears the mark of this contradiction. Thus, if this mode of art production is viewed in terms of authorship, is the collaboration merely a means to an end? Is the exploitation of a capitalist system a way to undermine it, as the couple have always argued, but whom is this strategy ultimately for? In the article, Harper keenly observes that what the couple gains is not material but ‘cultural capital’ (Harper.2005), which enables them to continue their practice. It is this, which, seemingly outside the art market, that ironically places their art practice within it. Through this cultural capital they perpetuate their practice, and in this context, their collaborative practice can be concluded as a strategy of survival, not of creation.

Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory

Unlike the problematic ideologies of Christo and Jeanne Claude, Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory made contradiction its very core.

Previously, authorship was rarely an issue. But the trove of mid-1960s Factory work blurred the frontier between subject and author. Warhol’s role remained ambiguous. Did he direct the Factory Movies? Did he write the novel a? Did he produce the Velvet Underground’s first album? In the usual meaning of those active verbs, Andy Warhol did none of these. Yet each project bears his imprint and would have been impossible without him (Watson. 2003:p13, Introduction)

The collective in the Factory took its references from celluloid culture, and built countercultural equivalents: the Warhol Superstars, the scriptwriters (Malanga, Tavel), the bit players, etc. But the difference in this collective from its mainstream nemesis is that the individuals operated on the premise of experimentation, not production (Watson. 2003). But what of the director?

Discussing the Factory movies as “Warhol’s works of art” is doubly problematic. It not only begs the question of authorship but suggests a more specific intention than (sic) existed when the movies were made. Open-endedness was essential to the process and meaning of the movies. Warhol described them as “experiments”. Warhol provided the equipment and the camerawork, while the others acted within his arena of his provocatively encouraging permission (Watson. 2003:p13, Introduction).

This contradiction, between the tacit openness of process and the provocation of creativity via permission, is the main difference between dynamic of the Factory’s collective with that of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s.

When examined in Benjamin’s framework, the collective of the Factory and the collaboration of Christo and Jeanne Claude appear to share similar strategies of art production. Both groups used the art market to finance projects; in the case of the Factory, Warhol’s sale of artworks financed the production of the experiments, namely in the acquisition of equipment, the purchase of film negatives and the processing fees in the lab (Watson. 2003). Warhol and the members of the Factory collective quite literally became producers of the work. Also, like the Christos, they actively socialized and used their connections in the art world as a survival strategy (Watson. 2003).

But there is another point of contrast that arises. In the Factory, the films were open processes, subject to the inputs of the social dynamic present at those points in time. Unlike the Christos, whose every project bears their name, the films of the Factory did not carry the same list of names film after film. One could argue the opposite, that every film produced by the Factory carried the name of Andy Warhol, but in the numerous pieces of documentation related to the films (a sizable chunk kept and recorded by Warhol himself), it is evident that the authorship of the films bears the marks of many individuals, not only of a singular author (Watson. 2003).

By analyzing this collective as an art practice admittedly complicates the concept of art practice. With Warhol’s film experiments, it can be argued that the social dynamic of the numerous personalities is what made the films themselves, but the problem of attribution is only partially solved since the near invisibility of Warhol in this process rendered the act of authorship as merely provocation and permission. Also, the nature of the films themselves, being experiments, do not lend well to the definitions of an art practice.

The problem is this: in the collective of the Factory, the experiment is sui generis- thus, any effort to analyse it within the current modes of art criticism will fail unless it takes into consideration the ontological implications of criticism itself. With the reams of documentation and interviews relating to the art and the social activities in the Factory, the effort to include it into the discourse of art history would always render it problematic (Watson. 2003:p14, Introduction), precisely because of the circumstances that produced it.

But perhaps the answer lies not in the critical discourse surrounding the work of the Factory, but in its narrative.

As **** flashed across the screen over those twenty-five hours of December 15 and 16, the year 1967 virtually replayed itself in non-chronological, cut-and-paste fashion… Warhol felt he was seeing it all for the first time, that these events were more real on film than they had been in life, and he was flooded with memories of his days of making movies, “just for the fun and beauty of getting down what was happening with the people we knew…I knew we’d never screen it in this long way again, so it was like life, our lives, flashing in front of us-it would go by once and we’d never see it again” (Watson. 2003:p360).

Auteurism As Resistance

In the comparison and contrast of the collaboration of the Christos and the film experiments of the Factory collective, the issue of authorship, art practice and criticism converge. The problems approach Lyotard’s view, where the contemporary artist is confronted with the concept of creation itself. With the issue of authorship revealing the dynamics of power and knowledge in producing discourse, how can one shape an art practice that is aware of these contradictions? Furthermore, given the strategic nature of such collaborations such as the Christos, is it still possible to locate a position that will criticize and contribute to the discourse but not be engendered by it?

One possible form of art practice that is capable of the active engagement of these issues is Auteurism as defined by Pam Cook (Caughie, ed. 1986). She identifies the tradition of avant-garde film as of personal expression. In the framework of this practice, she addresses the effect of the politicization of art creation of Walter Benjamin and argues that the Marxist polemic instead achieves the opposite: the effacement of the individual. In turn, the concept of the Author as Producer serves a political agenda, thus engendering the individual into the dynamics of power and knowledge.

In the Foucauldian framework, the individual is always enacted by power, and thus every human relation is a power relation, and such, discourse produces power and knowledge. Simultaneously, its occurrence in human relations, either said or unsaid, renders these with the dynamics of power (Foucault. 1980). Perhaps one possible way for an art practice to locate itself outside the dynamics of such a discourse is to recognize the subject, the ontological outpost of knowledge. In Judith Butler’s analyses of the Hegelian thread in French Philosophy that goes all the way to Foucault, she implies that the trajectory of the philosophical discourse is simultaneous of the ontological complications of the definition of the subject. It is historically aligned and at times influenced by the modern conceptions of authorship and the individual/subject (Butler. 1987). To put it succinctly, if the Author is Dead and the individual is merely a unit in a collective, the method of resistance is to recognize the individual, the self, as the place of restitution.

Foucault was aware of this dilemma, and outlined his own strategy of emancipation.

“One may opt for a critical philosophy that will present itself as an analytical philosophy of truth in general, or one may opt for critical thought that will take a form of an ontology of ourselves, an ontology of the present” (Foucault as cited in Bauman. 1997:p109)

In the context of the postmodern art, Zygmunt Bauman further reiterates Foucault’s challenge.

Let me repeat: postmodern art is a critical and emancipatory force in so far as it compels the artist, now bereaved of binding schemas and foolproof methods, and the viewer/listener, now left without canons of seeing and comforting uniformity of taste, to engage in the process of understanding/interpreting/
meaning-making which inevitably brings together the questions of objective truth and the subjective grounds of reality.

As a response to this challenge, Auteurism as self-expression can possibly be located in the dynamics of an artistic cooperation, to participate in an intimate yet open process of art-making. Perhaps the collective Grupo de Arte Caballero provides an apt description of the possibility of such an art practice.

Our experience is based on work with others. Ideas arise from the interaction and they are transformed in order to be materialized in a specific context. Our interest is concentrated on the process in which social bonds are tied (Grupo de Arte Caballero, cited in Block, Nollert eds, 2005:p130-131).

The restitution therefore of the art practice in the context of authorship and economic and political realities lies in the possibilities of the collaborative and collective experiment, where the significance of the individual is expressed both in active engagement with meaning-making and the recognition of the self; the artist relinquishes the labels and lays claim to its inalienable right of self-expression.


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Written by mosheladanga

January 15, 2008 at 1:31 PM

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