An exciting new reflection on the role of artistic collaboration, collectivism, and the politics of group formation in the neoliberal era.
The artist and author Ethan Philbrick’s Group Works re-imagines the group by undertaking an historiographic archaeology of group aesthetics and politics.
Written against both phobic and romantic accounts of collectivity, Group Works contends that the group emerges as a medium for artists when established forms of collective life break down. Philbrick pairs group pieces in dance, literature, film, and music from the 1960s and 1970s downtown Manhattan scene alongside a series of recent group experiments: Simone Forti’s dance construction, Huddle (1961), is put into relation with contemporary re-performances of Forti’s score and huddling as a feminist political tactic; Samuel Delany’s memoir of communal living, Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love (1969/78), speaks to performance artist Morgan Bassichis’s 2017 communal musical adaptation of Larry Mitchell’s 1977 text, The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions; Lizzie Borden’s experimental documentary of feminist collectivity, Regrouping (1976), sits alongside visual artist Sharon Hayes’s 2014 piece on Manhattan’s Pier 54, Women of the World Unite! they said; and Julius Eastman’s insurgent piece of chamber music for four pianos, Gay Guerrilla (1979), resonates alongside contemporary projects that take up Eastman’s legacy by artists such as Tiona Nekkia McClodden.
By analyzing works that articulate the politics of race, gender, and sexuality as questions of group formation, Philbrick approaches the group not as a stable, idealizable entity but as an ambivalent way to negotiate and contest shifting terms of associational life. Group Works presents an engaging exploration of what happens when small groups become a material and medium for artistic and political experimentation.