An Investigation into Collaboration

By Anna Rogovoy '13

I’m not sure what collaboration is. I know that I spend a lot of time talking about it, questioning it, massaging various definitions of it in hopes that something will find form in a way that makes sense. I just searched the New York Times website for “collaboration” and discovered the following headlines: “Collaborate vs. Collaborate,” “In Beyoncé Deal, Pepsi Focuses on Collaboration,” “Collaboration in Gaza Leads to Grisly Fate,” and “Wheelies: The Global Collaboration Edition” (among others), so at least I’m not alone in my wavering sense of the word.

I posed this question on Facebook: what comes to mind when someone says collaboration? Answers ranged from “process over product” to “barn raising” to “hard” to “the essence of Bennington”. My uncertainty was compounded. Maybe it’s not about having an answer. Maybe it’s like art or pornography; you know it when you see it. But how do we see collaboration? If we can’t read it, how do we know it’s happening? Are we complicit, and when? I couldn’t remember the word complicit as I was writing that previous sentence, so I asked the first person I saw (Jiray) if he knew the word that “sounds like implicit but means being a part of something”. He didn’t, but by saying it out loud, I remembered it. Was that collaboration? Starting to feel a touch of vertigo, I turned to the Apple dictionary for some clarity.

collaboration |kəˌlabəˈrāSHən| (noun)
1. the action of working with someone to produce or create something; something produced or created in this way.
2. traitorous cooperation with an enemy.

No help whatsoever. I called in the experts.

A subcommittee of SEPC is currently exploring collaboration at Bennington, looking at existing efforts as well as potential areas for growth. This subcommittee, comprised of Kaya Lovestrand ’14, Vivian Robbins ’14, and myself, envisioned an online forum where Bennington students could post entries about their projects and inquiries, tag their posts, and search for other posts with common themes. For example, a science student studying migration patterns of the red-winged blackbird searches “blackbird” and discovers a literature student writing a thesis on Wallace Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and a sculpture student working with desiccated bird bodies. Yikes. Anyway, now the science student knows that his or her classmates are considering similar topics, and can contact them to share research, stories, and perspectives. Because Kaya, Vivian, and I all study primarily the same thing, we sought out some other students who we knew had an interest in collaboration to talk over some of these ideas. As it turns out, Caseysimone Cooper is in the early stages of developing exactly what we had imagined.

In conversation, we came to the conclusion that it is often more effective to give people a forum for their individual voices and trust them to identify potential collaborators than it is to present a forum for collaboration and hope that individuals will utilize it. Caseysimone’s current project, the Thoughtshare group on Facebook, toes the line between the two, giving us a forum in which to ask our own unanswered questions. The next step in her project will be more directly in the “individual voice” camp.

For those eager to explore collaboration for collaboration’s sake, a surviving model of the “open-forum” is the Bennington Movement Collective Ensemble, a group directed by Corina Dalzell. Weekly meetings explore the intersections between movement and a second area of study. This may take the form of physically mapping out a solar system and behaving as celestial bodies in order to understand the orbital paths they take, or breaking apart sequences in music and asking participants to rearrange them. Sessions are akin to experiential learning, with members working together to identify how best to reach an understanding of the week’s topic.

Photo by Alma Carmina Marquez '16

Photo by Alma Carmina Marquez '16

What I want to see is a revolution of collaboration within and between each discipline. I want us to recognize our classmates as the resources they are. My head is reeling from the beauty of Sarah Matusek’s (collaborative!) devised theater production, “To Keep You Warm”, which went up last weekend. One line hangs in my head: we are the light of the world. We are, and we can take that from each other and illuminate our own work.