When “I” and “We” Meet

By Andrée-Anne Laberge

Shared Responsibility

Several aspects can have significant impact on the success of a collective, such as the ability to communicate; the openness and flexibility of each member; the group’s cohesion and its areas of intersection; the time allocated to creating a work; and various other constraints related to the work.

From what I’ve observed, when carried out in a context of collective creation, experimentation allows each person to step outside their comfort zone. In the case of Plein Jeu, there was a constant back and forth between the individual self and the collective. The challenge was significant since the collectives came out of forced marriages. Through these imposed unions and though they had different areas of expertise, the artists had the opportunity to explore new avenues. First and foremost was the challenge of getting to know the others and understanding how all the group members could come together artistically, a wager that was both stimulating and destabilizing.

In the case of the residency Musique pour sièges vides [Music for Empty Seats], I observed different responses to this challenge and the resulting risk-taking. Halfway through the process, the three participating artists, Bruno Bouchard, Benoît Fortier, and Philip Gagnon, experienced a sense of letting go. They agreed to deviate from their usual art practice by combining concepts proposed by one of them with the ideas of another, thus delving into creative areas with which they had not dealt before. One member of this ad hoc collective even expressed the relief he felt when it became clear that the work would be a joint creation. Some of the pressure had decreased because the responsibility was going to be shared.

As René Passeron points out, “just as mistakes are easier when made by two people, each one freeing the other of their reservations and pushing them to rise above their pride, so too does a dialogue-rivalry lead artists to take, as a result of their shared encounter, more risks to innovate1“.

The Question of Language

As an observer of shared moments and collective creation, I examined whether the lexical ambiguity and polysemy that potentially ensues from the encounter between multidisciplinary artists could foster creativity.

According to Grégoire Borst, Amandine Dubois, and Todd I. Lubart, the ability to tolerate a certain amount of ambiguity, which is present in creative minds, opens up a space from which new ideas can arise. The communication that took place between the artists who participated in Musique pour sièges vides attests to this: they clearly had the desire to communicate well between them, but they were also open to a certain vagueness, which corresponds to the results of studies on creativity2.

During an interview with one of the participating artists, he mentioned that sometimes there was great confusion in the communication of the ad hoc collective, but that the members were confident that a common understanding would emerge eventually by putting their ideas into action.

It is by accepting this vagueness that experimentation can take place. In contrast, the rigidity demanded by a precise, accurate, and clear understanding of every expression represents an obstacle to the fluidity and flexibility of experimentation. This vague space and the multiple possibilities of interpretation can become fertile sources of productive ideas if we listen and remain open to them.

Pleasure

By observing the artists and realizing how much humour was present in their meetings, I wanted to understand the impact that joy might have on creativity. In other words, is pleasure creative? It would seem that it is.

According to the research of Allice M. Isen, an American psychologist and professor of psychology, positive emotional states facilitate creative performance in contrast to negative or neutral emotional states3.

Therefore, the notion of pleasure in the meetings could have definitely affected the collective’s creativity. Through different moments of sharing and playful experiments, the artists agreed on a concept, while constantly questioning which methods to use.

In the study they conducted on the brain structures of creativity, Borst, Dubois, and Lubart demonstrated that positive emotions give access to a vast and diverse cognitive material and therefore facilitate the emergence of innovative ideas. This suggests that the happier we are, the closer we are to our creative potential.

Improvisation in the Collective: Meeting Place and Moments Conducive to Creative Development

The visit I made to the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré during the residency Musique pour sièges vides was a fruitful time for me. I saw the bond and playfulness that was developing between the artists. Bruno’s father was present. With his charming personality, talent, and organ experience, he turned the research and improvisation session into a pivotal moment. In this historic and commemorative place, I began to understand the richness and possibilities that the project offered. Later, the likewise special space of Palais Montcalm became the playing field for the trio. It was there that the collective’s creativity was manifested. For almost one week, we saw the artists and the organ vibrate together.

The language that had been established in advance gained its full significance through exploration and interpretation during these creative days at the Palais. Each artist found his place within the trio. The language and the devices were in place; there was nothing left to do but to experiment. It was during these experiments that I understood the meaning of dividing the senses in performance, as aptly described by R. Keith Sawyer in his book on collective creation: “You have to be able to divide your senses… so you still have that one thought running through your head of saying something, playing something, at the same time you’ve got to be listening to what the drummer is doing.“ 4

Borrowing from the process of improvisation, the work exists in the experience of its presence and can never be repeated. It doesn’t just take shape in an artist’s mind and is subsequently externalized. It takes shape in the collective creative process by dividing the senses. This allows one to listen to what the others are making and at the same time think about what actions to take next in response to what is being created.

1 René Passeron, “Introduction à la poïétique du collectif,” in La création collective, ed. René Passeron (Paris: Clancier-Guénaud, 1981), 11 (our translation).

2 Grégoire Borst, Amandine Dubois, and Todd I. Lubart, “Structures et mécanismes cérébraux sous-tendant la créativité: une revue de la littérature,” Approche neuropsychologique des apprentissages chez l’enfant, no. 87 (2006): 96–113.

3 Alice M. Isen, “On the Relationship Between Affect and Creative Problem Solving,” in Affect, Creative Experience, and Psychological Adjustment, ed. Sandra W. Russ (New York: Routledge, 1999), 3–18.

4 R. Keith Sawyer, Group Creativity: Music, Theater, Collaboration (New York, Routledge, 2010), 52.