I am working with colleagues in the research cluster Critical Practice Chelsea.

For some while, I’d been pondering the idea of not simply talking about the triangulation of "Systems: Art and Collaboration" - especially as that relates to art-theory, but also attempting to instantiate it. Hence, having drawn up some lines of engagement and formulated some questions they generate, I’ve opened up the debate to Critical Practice - both with capitals and lower case - the one, I hope, implying the other.

Our contribution takes the form of a mini (30 min) Critical Practice meeting - specially convened to discuss what we would like to offer for the symposium around the title "Systems: Art and Collaboration". We will both mull and maul the concept of "system" and demonstrate our commitment to organisational systems in our conduct of the meeting.

The Working Group members for the Critical Practice "meeting event" are: Robin Bhattacharya, Neil Cummings, Ian Drysdale (minutes), Mary Anne Francis, Trevor Giles, Al Page, Tom Trevatt, and Manuela Zechner.

With thanks to Wayne Clements, Cinzia Cremona, Rob Dingle, and Neal White for help along the way.


It seems to me that there are two broad issues for us (CP) in addressing the role of system in collaboration ... and art.

(1) The role of "system" in how individuals collaborate / work with one another.

(2) The role of "system" in art’s collaboration with non-art arenas.

NB The questions that follow do not represent a "systematic" over-view of the territory as the premises of some invalidate the premises of others. Another way of putting this is to say, that as yet, I’m not coming at the territory with any one method – or system - in mind, despite an interest in Niklas Luhmann’s work.

To start with:

  • How do we want to define "system"? Do we want to identify our definition with any one disciplinary emphasis e.g. cybernetics, social science, engineering?

    Is a "system" defined by structure (integrated elements forming a coherent whole), or its purposiveness (designed to accomplish task x), or both, or something different? Cybernetics might have a different understanding of "system" to "social science" ...

Questions for (1) that it would be useful for CP to address include:

  • Does collaborative practice necessitate a greater systematization of working processes than individual practice? Or is it just the case that collaborative practice benefits from more transparency of systematic processes?

  • How might we relate a structural analysis of "system" (thinking of "system" as a series of integrated operations) to the role of individuals in Critical Practice? (For instance, one way of addressing this would be to associate individuals with distinct operations, tedious though this might be).

  • How has Critical Practice attempted to engage the idea of "system" in its working practices? Do we think that say, in "Open Organisations", we’ve got a good model? Are there areas of process / practice this model doesn’t cover? Here, a related question is:

  • Is "system" a metaphor for collaboration?

  • How might the greater role of "system" in CP’s work prove counter-productive?

  • As much as we attempt to actively engage systems in our working processes, are there systems that engage us without us recognising it?

Questions for (2) that it would be useful for CP to address include:

  • How do we think about "art"s’ relationship to non-art in terms of "system"?

  • How useful is Luhmann’s model of art (as an autonomous sub-system) for artists who want to collaborate with non-artists?

  • What concept of "system" is useful – if Luhmann's is problematic - for thinking about art’s interaction with non-art areas?

  • How can we avoid thinking about cross-disciplinary collaboration as a "clash" of different systems?

And as a PS

  • Has Luhmann’s account of art’s "autopoiesis" been rendered problematic by recent and contemporary developments in art – or should that be "art"?...?


Read Critical Practice's evolving debate here, and join in by leaving a comment below.