Under what conditions is collaboration not possible?
To initiate a collaboration you have to be a bit intellectually promiscuous, visually flirty. You have to find common ground and political alignment fairly quickly. It is hard to force collaboration. There has to be a mutual respect. It is no good if one party thinks they are better or more important than the other.
In my experience there is always an ‘uppy’ and a ‘downy’ in collaboration, as in extreme sports like mountaineering. The ‘uppy’ is the one who appears to make the running and lead, but the ‘uppy’ can only operate with the support consent and springboard of the ‘downy’. The ‘uppy’ and the ‘downy’ are totally symbiotic and both completely essential.
Hannah Arendt recalled her friend and novelist Mary McCarthy in this way: ‘It’s not that we think so much alike, but that we do this ‘thinking business’ for and with each other’. Shortly before dying, Arendt realized that she was not going to be able to finish editing her last book, The Life of the Mind. She asked McCarthy to finish it for her. How does “thinking alike” and “thinking together” feed collaboration?
Our recent work with Wayfarers, Brooklyn, where Ben had an exhibition in May 2014 with Brent Owens was a case of ‘thinking alike’. While we are not completely the same, our ambitions, our values and our artistic approaches married very well.
We find Sluice_ provides a rich mulch for exciting things to happen across a wide spectrum of artistic activity. As Sluice_ events are always more than the sum of their parts both ‘thinking alike’ and ‘thinking together’ burst forth. But there is also contrast and abrasion which I think is good. We at the Polytechnic advocate the primacy of the visual object and revel in objectness, and craft skill, without hierarchy of materials. We feel very comfortable in Brooklyn; fertile ground for a ‘thinking together’ experience.
A big part of our activity is in construction and farming where we practice ‘thinking together’ because it is not possible to build or grow much on one’s own. I’ve just spent the morning discussing varieties of gooseberries to plant for next season.
Can you tell us a story about collaboration and romance?
I once undertook a project with a computer scientist called Hilary Kahn and sociologist and art historian Kris Cohen who was a long time collaborator. Hilary had worked on early computers back in 1950’s. The work was hard for Kris and I had to grasp the detailed technical and conceptual development of computers from 1946 up to about 1960. It was an extraordinarily rich process, understanding how Alan Turing’s hypothetical machine was turned into a physical object. The project never reached a conclusion because Hilary died of breast cancer in 2007. I still mourn her and wish we three had had more time thinking together.
When we look at a forest, the first thing we see are the trees, individually striving to reach the light. What we don’t see is the massive mychorrhizal network underneath our feet. While fungal networks cannot produce their own food, they are nonetheless responsible for distributing resources and information throughout the forest: they are the mediators that help the other plants to work together. What and/or who mediates collaboration, and what are its effects on the process?
In our collaborations we tend to work with material and people who are to hand. Collaborations thrive for us when they are logistically straightforward.
Collaborations need space for each person to exercise their superpower.
Time is a great player in collaborations to facilitate assimilation and absorption of ideas. There needs to be time for the coming together, for the falling in love.
Draw a visual diagram of a collaboration you did for a certain project.
2008 ‘Adding Super Powers’ Ben Coode-Adams and Tanya Cottingham

1Converting grain silo
2014, Converting a grain silo to a dwelling: Ben Coode-Adams, Nicol Wilson, Dave Howe, Hudson Architects, Conisbee Engineers
2003 ‘Explore Expand Exchange’ Ben Coode-Adams and Brigid Howarth and 3,500 other people
2003 ‘Is Someone Coming to Get Me?’ A Re-Enactment of the 1996 Everest Disaster, Ben Coode-Adams and Kris Cohen