There is no single way to collaborate. A few months ago, I met a pair of acrobats from Seattle. They are a husband-wife team who fell in love on the flying trapeze. I asked the wife how their partnering in the circus arts has influenced their marriage. “Well,” she said, “After all the swinging and catching, I have my husband’s thumbprints permanently imprinted on my wrist.” That’s what I find to be so incredibly exciting and challenging about collaboration. Like acrobats, it takes trust with another person and leaves an indelible imprint on you.
This year, one of my goals is to collaborate with a number of artists, writers, musicians, and thinkers. One of the most fertile and collaborations so far has been with Chris Jordan. He’s a photographer and digital artist with a deep social conscience and a keen eye for translating unimaginably large numbers (like the number of plastic bags we throw out ever 15 minutes) into stunning visual art. This month, we finished two new pieces together about two unsustainable fishing industries.
Chris had the idea for one work that would depict the number of sharks killed daily (270,000) for the shark fin soup industry. The second piece shows the number tuna (20,500) caught every 15 minutes to satisfy the world’s tuna craving. For each piece, I created original watercolor images, and Chris scanned and manipulated them in various ways to create the final image. The process was one of painting and statistic sleuthing, of scanning and emailing, of nudging and negotiating. Maybe the best part of a good collaboration is that you get to celebrate with a new friend at the end of the journey.
So, I may not have imprints on my wrists, but working with Chris has certainly made an imprint on me. I think about numbers differently. I learned to trust artistic impulses that come out of a different sensibility than my own. I’ve even stopped eating tuna sandwiches…