Socio-political • June 2016
Collaboration and creation



Digital technologies have spread to all fields of creation. Given the increasing diversity of related technologies and possibilities, it is no longer an option, for those who want to explore them, to master the entire chain of creation. Technical and industrial partnerships have become commonplace, but they remain complex to manage, particularly in terms of division of roles. The 15 experiments completed since 2007 by the ARNUM research group – art and digital research – of the ESIEA1, have allowed to define a methodology which optimizes collaboration between artists and engineers, the cornerstone being the establishment of a partnership agreement.

Article's keywords

ARNUM, collaboration, co-creation, partnership, methodology.

Table of Contents

In following with multi, pluri, and interdisciplinary approaches, supported by the results from Experiment in Art & Technology, many scientific discourses have advocated for collaboration between art, science and technologies, for the past forty years. [ 1 ] ) Such collaboration is considered necessary, important, rewarding for both parties, and allows for innovation, through the confrontation of differing logics. Furthermore, in France, this approach allows to reconnect with a humanist tradition that had been interrupted, in the late nineteenth century in 1896 (Aghion and Cohen, 2004), when compartmentalization of learning in universities began: The liberal arts and sciences were separated for the good of the latter (Liard, 1890). A Fundamental Divergence The same militant discourse comes back to the table regularly, which means that, even if it remains vital to foster a multidisciplinary approach, in practice, this principle is not a given. An initial reticence is the often due to a negative image, that each discipline – artistic and scientific – may have of one and other. Their working and review methods, reasoning and goals are radically different, and may be accompanied by a polite lack of interest and even a certain disdain. [ 2 ] Once past this first reticence, often by expediency, there can be collaboration. However, though many have tried it (Wilson, 2002; Schunn, 1998; Risset, 1998), few have repeated the experience. The present article aims to examine the causes of the current situation, which led to the development of a methodology that leads to a mutually satisfying outcome.

Analysis of Past Experience

Figure 1- Loïc Billoët working at the lighting of the orchestra of FM (in concert at Café de la Danse)

I started the first two tests, based on willingness, desire and sharing, without knowing very specifically my students abilities, nor which technological skills they mastered, and without seeking to establish boundaries on the request, for fear of limiting ideas. The project, with a work statement, goals and clearly defined timetables, gave satisfying results (the creation of interactive terminals for the cultural institutions: C2RMF and CCSTI Laval), but the first collaboration with an artist was trickier to manage for many reasons: It was a co-creation between an artist and a designer, each with different priorities and requirements; student role assignments that did not correspond to student skills, and project management that I now consider not assertive enough. The premises of a methodology were then rapidly outlined, informed by the difficulties that had emerged. Through experience, the methodology was then fine-tuned and confirmed. Put to the test in several projects, its application has significantly increased the success of collaborations between artists and engineers. It combines team project management techniques; careful attention to technological and artistic work; writing; and management of part of transmission. Finally it is compared to analysis of experience of multidisciplinary artistic projects.

A Methodology for Collaboration Between Artists and Engineers

This methodology takes up some principles of project management [ 3 ] , while diverging on others, such as: the cost triangle, quality control and deadlines, which are inappropriate in this context.There is more focus on organization than on results. First of all, there are four major phases: selection, definition, development, and distribution. Each of these divisions involves four milestones – meeting with the artist,establishment of partnership agreement, constitution of the team, and delivery of the work; and more or less important moments, in different projects – defining needs, role distribution, motivation, and valuing the work done. Precision of vocabulary is vital, to avoid misunderstandings. The legal term “work of collaboration” designates a work created collectively, with divided ownership, but I prefer the term “co-creation,” to avoid confusion with “work in collaboration,” which can have a different status. (model de Lnlo et interface web)

Figure 2- Laurent Brun and 2 interns KMUTT University, working on Dixit (model Lnlo and web interface)

It quickly became clear that it was wise to make a selection before starting a collaboration. This includes meeting the artist and discovering the artwork. It is important to get along well, feel attuned to the work, and to understand and appreciate it. This encounter also allows to assess the project’s progress. Three times, I worked on ideas that were finally not developed enough – which leaves a real place for co-creation – none of the three projects could be achieved upon first trial. Now I prefer to keep the idea in the incubator as long as needed to ripen, and propose to work on the project only when the it is fully ready. Like any collaboration, work between artists and scientists requires a real initial willingness to work together and to make use of complementary skills. [ 4 ] This will is tested and checked already, between artists and students, in the presentation and understanding phase of the project. The artist explains the work, the idea and the project. Students react, often very candidly, requiring that the artist explain the approach precisely. Only then can the first step of the project definition begin: the identification of a need. This first functional step allows to draft of a partnership agreement, which is essential for clarification of the situation: detailing the rights, obligations and roles of each partner, eventually producing a meta-machine [ 5 ] , the terms of communication, and the various financial responsibilities of orders and materials, of each partner. As soon as the framework is roughly established, a first internal meeting allows to determine the technologies that will influence the profiles requirements of team members or trainees. The next step is to find interested students whose skills match those needed for project. It is wiser to refuse a project early on, than to try to accomplish it with an inappropriate team. The team works on the design, as needed, and establishes the project specifications. Creation can begin. From that point on, I have decided to have the artist involved only occasionally, even though the project management model chosen is the “agile” type, leaving open the possibility of modifying the originally identified need. The artist remains involved, to see how the project is progressing, (showing those working on the project his or her interest in it), to give the green light at each step, and also to show the simultaneous progress of the form ( design, visual aspects, composition …) and the context (exhibition space), so as to avoid a situation in which both parties are waiting for one another, before proceeding. However the artist is much more frequently present for all tests related to the esthetic review. For the students, the project is over at the moment of delivery, which comes with manuals, tutorials, and commented computer codes, allowing lasting, autonomous usage of the project. Sometimes students are involved in installation of the piece or prototype in the exhibition space, which often requires minor adjustments and changes. During this part, transmission of information is key.

This methodology can be summarized in the following diagram, which also shows, in orange, four moments that may not fit into a chronology, and may overlap one and other repeatedly. In collaborative projects completed at ARNUM, these moments are finally the critical points that one must keep an eye on, in order to arrive at mutual satisfaction.

Figure 3- Methodology of Collaboration of Artists and Engineers – ARNUM
Stumbling Blocks

This methodology is basically common sense, but experience has allowed to identify 4 particularly critical elements, fundamental to successful collaboration: definition of need, sustainment of motivation, valuing, and allocation of roles. These 4 elements are analyzed according to an article by George Legrady and Brigitte Steinheider (Legrady Steinheider, 2004), which tells about the a collaborative experience when creating the installation “Pockets Full of Memories” at the George Pompidou Centre in 2001, between: artist George Legrady; scientists, Timo Honkela and Brigitte Steinheider; Hungarian engineer and artist, C3; and a German team dedicated to project design. The experience adds a key international dimension. The article notes that three processes had a significant impact on the success of a project: communication, coordination and skills-sharing.

Definition of Need

The first critical point is the definition of a need, which depends on the mutual understanding of the project, its goal, and its translation into needs and functions. John Paul Fourmentaux breaks this down into 3 levels of description that correspond to most digital art creations at ARNUM: the initial concept, the observable work and work received (Fourmentaux, 2008, p .34). At this stage, one must particularly avoid thinking in terms of solutions, and remain open to and focused on what the work has to do (the type of action and/or interaction depending on the project) so as not to eliminate an idea. Because a project which theoretically unfeasible may become feasible, if one takes care to clarify the terms chosen and priorities, ensuring that they cover the same reality. [ 6 ] This projectwriting part is inspiring, because it involves the confrontation of many logics and perspectives of a problem [ 7 ] ), which factor into the different cultures [ 8 ] ) of the different fields. But it is also a very delicate part, because the more specialties and geographical distance there are, the greater the risk of misunderstanding. This is essentially the point that the Legrady and Steinheider (L & S) communication process covers: coming to consensus on the object to create, and accurately identifying the state of progress, and remaining tasks. With a number of participants limited to 3 to 9 per project, we have not yet encountered this issue.

One ARNUM research project, has been the development of a multidisciplinary glossary [ 9 ] , which doesn’t go as far as the creation of diagrams, like those by Rauchenberg EAT process, rooted in the systemic thinking of the period, nor as far as standardizing all terminology [ 10 ] as L and S recommends, which is perhaps necessary in an international collaboration. The glossary offers the possibility to understand what is involved in the concepts and objectives of each field. [ 11 ] ) This clearly identified need then allows to note down the framework of creation, in the form of technical and functional design briefs, that specify what the artwork is to do and how it is to do it. These documents are vital for the engineering students, who have learned how to use them to work together, in the same direction as the artists.

Figure 4- Pierre Esteve in his studio working on Digitalis, with Kevin Matta and Lucas Benguigui

Motivation and Valuing

Motivation, the leitmotif of team management, is essential to the completion of the project. The artist has no lack of motivation, because, in most cases, he or she is the source of the initial idea. It is necessary to transmits this desire and energy to those working on the project, and to consider what might motivate them, so that they appropriate the project. “Mutual appropriation, then, implies a very particular form of human interdependence that takes years to be fully realized. Motivational dynamics are linked with cognitive ones.” (John-Steiner, 2000) The emotional register is rather pertinent, and mostly has to do with the time consecrated to the team working on the project. It is important that the artist show interest, and seek to understand, help and accompany, all along the project, and particularly during the slow phases and in the more intense phases, in order to manage stress and to manage deadlines. [ 12 ] ) The artist should know to devote time to this. An artist who forgets an important milestone meeting instantly loses in team motivation. Or if emails go unanswered, the artist’s opinion on the form may change the technology used, and block the work. Time and attention allow to erase the differences formulated by L & S, namely: age and specialties. Everyone works in the same direction. The second driving force is valuing the work done. The artist knows that it’s possible to show the result of the collaboration, speak about it, and get others to do so, through promotion via the exhibition space, and its press network and thus, the artist is recognized for the work done. The promotion is about the resulting work, which is the only thing that counts in a digital art installation. Nobody writes about the teams that work on its achievement. Yet, it is necessary to communicate regularly about the work done [ 13 ] , which is rewarding for engineers and technicians, as the art projects are technical innovations.

Figure 5. Post to communicate with students – Before, Now and Then, with Triny Prada for the Venice Biennale 2013.

Role Distribution and Question of Author Whether the motivation to work together is a need or a desire, we can distinguish several levels of involvement, similar to the classifications proposed by Vera John-Steiner: distributed collaboration (with common interests and informal roles), complementary collaboration (based on expertise and division of labor), family cooperation (dynamic assimilation of expertise) and integral partnership (shared thinking is involved, requiring time,) (John -Steiner, 2000, pp. 197-199). Deliberately choosing to work on one-off achievements, I have favored complementary collaboration, because it is easier to explain and have the students experience. Often this is their first multidisciplinary partnership experience, and they often start out with fixed models and perceptions. When the primary motivating force is the artist’s need, the achievement of the artist’s idea is the goal. Collaboration is vital. But this need is not reciprocal. We are in a form of service, run by ARNUM, in the form of contract, with financial compensation. This requires writing a precise contract, with requirements and specific deliverables, to complete by a given deadline, within a given timeframe. The research professors or associated researchers at the ESIEA complete and deliver the final result to the artists. We are in a simple context of copyright: the completed work belongs to the artist. Our intervention is similar to outsourcing, simple and clearly marked out. [ 14 ] But such a case is rare. Most of the time, artists have a basic idea, and need students, lead by teachers and researchers, to complete it – while expressing the desire for a true collaboration, even in the conception stage. The need is not reciprocal in this case either. So the artist must be prepared to offer or support some form of compensation [ 15 ] ). The absence of contract and specific roles is comfortable for artists, who seem to conserve all intellectual property rights, without compensation. However, without an identified framework, we are in a foggy area, which leads to tensions [ 16 ] ). Without a written partnership agreement, the issue of compensation, even if it is clearly stated orally, often disappears upon delivery, discouraging further collaboration. Yet there is a significant value in this type of collaboration: the opportunity to participate in the conception of the work, as well as a limited responsibility and a commitment to results. But this approach proves difficult to manage in the end, often in regards to ego: The question of the author is carefully avoided, because it is awkward [ 17 ] ). It is apparently not easy for artists, unaccustomed to collaboration in which technology affects the form, to see and accept end results which partially eluded him or her, or to simply agree to include the technilogical collective in the credits When the primary motivation is the desire to pool resources and share, as is often the case in art and science, the specificity of roles is erased. The initial idea, which comes from the artist or collective, is broad enough to accept various forms, which evolve during regular meetings, according to technical constraints and ideas. In terms of intellectual property, we are in the context of co-creation: the work is collective and belongs to all contributors (in the mode of collective ownership), with shared responsibility. Yet even in this case, certain “reserved territories” should be identified, or even reestablished and recreated a posteriori: the artistic concept and aesthetics belonging to the artist, the IT development and ergonomics to the IT specialists. “(Fourmentaux, 2008). The text by L & S, does not really deal with roles, except on one occasion: the story of a misunderstanding with a group of students, which led them to create a design, when in fact professionals had been selected to do that [ 18 ] . This is a situation that has been encountered with some of my students, who saw no reason to call on a professional when they considered they were able to do the job themselves. To avoid such tensions and misunderstandings, I’ve chosen to systematically establish a partnership agreement for each collaboration, in which the roles and deliverables for each party are defined.

Co-creation and Collaboration?

This question of roles is the biggest stumbling block in digital art collaborative projects. This finally goes well beyond the legal context, and involves decision on the timing and scope of creation, which will be the subject of a future article. Is role limited to the idea? Is it extended to the form, to the discourse, or is it dependent upon professional status or function? I have sometimes been hard put to respond to the question, particularly of professionals, who accomplish the work: What do I have to gain here, and why is it that I am not an artist when I participate in the conception, design and creation of the work? Sociology provides an answer, “Unlike with more traditional media, involving an artist- project manager and a technician or craftsperson working for the artist, digital work cooperation enlists the artist and the computer scientist equally in intellectual work design, combining two forms of culture: writing programming algorithms on one hand, and the artistic idea or concept (intention) on the other.” (Fourmentaux, 2007, p. 26). But, with a stronger impact, sociology also presents the contradiction of a persistent economy of originality, the rarity works of art (Moulin, 2000) and the individual attribution of the author, guarantor “cardinal work of art” (Becker, 1988). Theses observations seem current today.

Figure 6- assembling Climax prototype – Labofactory / Arnum

Notes de bas de page   [ + ]

1. Officialization of de this question with the creation of the European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities, in 1980 at UNESCO, whose goal is to “Foster collaboration among nations in the fields of education, science, art and the humanities; in particular, establish a bridge between national academies of sciences, arts and humanities” (
2. Over a century ago, Guyau advocated “the serious in life” which is inherent in art, to foil this observation generated by positivist thoughts of the 19th century, “Science today tends to intrude upon all intellectual areas. Until now, humanity had, above all, experienced these three things: religion, morality, and art. The scientific mind has almost completely destroyed the bases of various religions, and today it is tackling the principles of morality; it is not inclined to further respect art, the last refuge of “sentimentalism.” p. V à VIII. (Guyau, 1884, translated for the present footnote by J. ALLEN) But more recently, a collective recognizing the reticence of scientists relative to an artist in a collaboration, “Initially Alexa was treated with suspicion by many of Alf’s scientific colleagues, who believed that we were proposing impossible tasks and that the process of art-production was irrelevant to them.” (Wright, Linnet, 2009) The basic material of this study is a series of experimentations completed since 2007 by the ARNUM laboratory at ESIEA – a space for reflection, discussion, creation and sharing experience and knowledge, as well as for technical experimentation around digital creation. Every year, willing, mostly master’s students, are involved. Most of these realizations are part of the students’ course of study, through internships or projects, and correspond to class level requirements. The experiences studied have been the testing of concepts, prototypes and final works, with the following artists: Florent Aziosmanoff, Maurice Benayoun, Carol-Ann Braun, Christophe Bruno, Miguel Chevalier, Pierre Esteve, Kisseleva, Miller Levy Vincent Mezieres, Karen O’Rourke, Triny Prada and Lnlo Labofactory and collective.
3. Breaking down into milestones and steps is common in many methods, particularly that of Henri-Pierre Maders (Maders 2003).
4. As a reference, we can take the origin of Bill Kluver’s declaration of intention for the launch of EAT, “The new interface I will define is one in which the artist makes active use of the inventiveness and skills of an engineer to achieve his purpose. The artist could not complete his intentions without the help of an engineer. The artist incorporates the work of the engineer in the painting or the sculpture or the performance.”
5. Saving a trace of the work accomplished is not easy. Video proves to be redundant and unconvincing, in interactiveinstallations. I thus need to consider a prototype whose form suits the artist and which allows to promote technology.Other laboratories also request examples of the work done, like PAMAL (National Art School of Aix-en-Provence) which keeps a double of the original of the works, which are conserved according to their practices.
6. Like, for example, when a student came to see me, completely put out, because the artist had asked the student to light the work in black. The student thought it was impossible and didn’t understand why the artist was so headstrong, whereas a short discussion with the artist made it clear that the artist was talking about chiaroscuro.
7. A thought shared by Linda Candy and Ernest Edmonds, “Collaboration helps the participants to address tasks via a number of parallel channels of thinking, which draw upon different types of knowledge. From this process, entirely new understandings can emerge that transform the outcomes of the creative work.” (Candy & Edmonds, 2002, p.70
8. “Differences in modalities-the translation of one’s thoughts into a new language of expression or into the developed mode of expression of one’s partner-are part of this rewarding process.” (John-Steiner, 2000
9. The reference is the multilingual dictionary of project management (Dictionnaire, 2010), to transpose into a multidisciplinary approach.
10. “A single kickoff with all team members present helps in developing a mutual understanding of the project.”A single kickoff with all team members present helps in developing a mutual understanding of the project. All terminology should be standardized.” p.320
11. “Expressed in terms of goals and concepts, the collaborators’ mutual understanding of what they are trying to express does not necessarily depend upon the words used, but rather on a shared understanding of the meaning and intention, for purpose, of the work.” (Wright, Linney, 2009
12. However this step is difficult, as Bill Klüver notes in the program of 9 evenings , « cela n’a pas été aussi facile qu’il y paraît. Les artistes ont dû faire preuve d’énormément de patience face au rythme lent des ingénieurs. Et les ingénieurs ont dû se débrouiller avec le flou des artistes, ces derniers n’ayant rien à tenir dans leurs mains ou à travailler.» (Pontus Hultén, Königsberg, 1966 – Traduction de l’auteur
13. Good recognition, as, for example, that following the creation of the work, of Triny Prada, Before, now and then, for the 2013 Venice Biennale, as created a veritable passion for students in realizing artistic projects, the following year:;;;
14. The question is not so simple in the field of digital art in particular, because the computer code also falls under author’s right’s law, legal expert, Pierre Gioux noted during his intervention in my study seminar, “Artists and Scientists, Elbow to Elbow” at Cube-Art3000, on May 6, 2015.
15. Jean-Paul Fourmentaux prefers the term negotiation. (Fourmentaux, 2007
16. The same observation was made for the case study of the artistic approach Des Frags, where the terms of collaboration were not established, “The lack of delineation can be source of conflict, that the artist and the IT specialist will commit to defuse, refocusing their energies.” (translation by J. ALLEN
17. As Reynald Drouin notes, on the role of Sébastien Courvoisier in the Des frags project, “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s true that it’s stuck here. If I know what to ask for, but I don’t know how to define his position. I’m going to place myself on top, for sure, since I have been there from beginning until end of the project.” (Fourmentaux, 2008, translation by J. ALLEN, for the present article
18. “The Finished team leader tried to motivate and educate his students by letting them participate in this project without first discussing their inclusion with Legrady. Some conflicts surfaced when the participating Finish design student realized that a professional design team already been selected for the project’s visual identity design.” p.318


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, Collaboration and creation, published 22 June 2016


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