Much of the work I do is based on collaboration, and I’ve come to learn that the various relationships you form while collaborating can have radically different dynamics, and they’re usually not what you would expect. In fact, at the end of each project, I’m often surprised by the relationships that turn out to be successful relative to the goals of the project and those that did not.
Sometimes, you embark on a collaboration with someone whom you’d initially think would help form the ideal partnership (synergistic, friendly, and smooth); but in actuality, that’s often not the case. In my experience, the most productive collaborations that I’ve been involved with have had two essential elements at their core: a desire to invest in building a true partnership, and tension that you both can build off of.
Recently, I was introduced to the concept of “tensegrity,” the creation of structures through the continuous use of tension and discontinuous use of compression. In the spirit of form following function, tensegrity is a practical mechanical application that has huge aesthetic implications. It’s often referred to as ‘floating compression’ since its building stable structures by discovering the point of balance between the invisible forces holding all things together, tension and compression. It’s used in dance, sculpture, architecture and, taking it a step further, you could say that tensegerity represents the invisible forces holding us together.
It’s easy to see its potential applications when applied to the interpersonal level of collaborating. You can’t do the work if you’re not giving anything to work with, and when collaborating you need something to push off of and something to lean into. Have you ever tired to work with someone who’s like a limp noodle? It’s challenging, right? Whether it be with a community, school, other teachers, assistants or students, tension is an important element in the process of building partnerships.
So the next time you’re feeling frustrated because it seems as if you have too many opinions, voices, ideas, to navigate, stop for a moment, pause, and reflect on the raw material that you’ve been given to work with. It can be difficult and messy at times, but remember: all structures are made more solid through the process of tension. It’s just a matter of finding the balance between give and take to propel the work forward.
About Gwen Terry
Gwendolyn Terry is a Chicago-based installation artist. She has worked professionally designing and installing theatrical sets, architectural facades, and retail window displays. In addition to creating commissioned objects and installations, she piloted an artistic internship program for a national cooperation, mentoring and training emergent display artists. Besides Marwen, Gwendolyn is also a Teaching Artist for CAPE, collaborating with CPS teachers to integrate art into their CORE curriculum.
You can learn more about Gwendolyn and her work at: www.gwenterry.com