Make a big difference to The Big Idea.

Help us tell the most creative stories.

Become a supporter

Metonymy – the art of collaboration

Metonymy is a cross discipline collaboration project. Put simply, it’s artistic blind dating. Renee


By Renee Liang

It’s nearly 3 am on a school night and I have just returned from a ‘making’ session for my Metonymy project.  What is Metonymy?  It’s a cross discipline collaboration project.  Put simply, it’s artistic blind dating.

   For the last month, around 33 visual artists paired with 33 writers have been meeting, talking and making, and next week, the fruits of their labours will be on display.

So I thought I’d delay going to bed a little longer by reflecting on the process of collaboration, and why the NZ arts environment is so fertile for it.

This is the second year Metonymy has been running and like most things, it grew out of some chance conversations and a bunch of people who were prepared to make it happen.  The great thing (though some would say otherwise) about Auckland’s arts scene is that it is still small enough for artists from one discipline to meet those from another, and as a result there’s plenty of crossover, fed by nodes like Poetry Live where musicians, artists and writers regularly meet.

Collaboration has always been a part of it too, particularly those between artists and writers (Hotere and Ihimaera spring to mind, but there are many others).  This is my second collaboration as a writer with Metonymy.   I am also one of the organizers, and it’s been a great chance to see what works, and doesn’t work, in a collaboration.

The first thing of course is willingness.  Some people just aren’t collaborators.  It may be that they aren’t yet secure enough in their work, or that work for them is an intensely solitary process.  Making art is such a personal journey.

The second thing is attitude.  We all know those people who insist that they want to collaborate, but turn out to be control nazis.  I was once taught that in order to make a work with someone else, I had to first let go of everything.  All my ideas. Put them on the table and it’s open season, respectfully of course. And I think it takes a certain amount of guts to do that. 

You have to have the balls to defend your ideas when it matters, of course.  That’s the issue with any large collaboration effort, theatre for example.  There is such a wide range of possible ways to ‘collaborate’, from role-defined and hierarchical to completely equal.  All I’ll say is that it’s up to each person to find their comfort zone and to work with like-minded people.  And different structures work with different types of productions.

What I’ve said so far is fairly predictable, so my apologies if it’s been boring, it is very early in the morning as I write!!   What I really wanted to say is how fun collaboration is, particularly for those willing to step outside their comfort zone.  It’s about artists sparking off each other, and it’s magic when it works.  

Writers are not always practical people, so for me, it’s been great to be paired both times with someone who knows how to actually make stuff.  In return I take care of the writing, technical and otherwise.

Two days ago I ended up at the Mitre 10 in Henderson with a list of strange objects to get and my best Helpless Little Woman expression.  (I’m not often in hardware stores – and the Mitre 10 Mega was something of a revelation.)   An hour later I was busy spraypainting said objects in my backyard, later testing photocopiers, and then embroidering paper – don’t ask.  Needless to say that it’s been a fun journey with my collaborator Meng, and I’ve tried some stuff I wouldn’t have known how to do but now intend to incorporate into my work.

For those that are curious, Metonymy opens next Monday 6 pm at the Aotea Centre and runs for two weeks as a ‘fringe’ event of the Auckland Writer’s and Reader’s festival.  There is a performance event on May 22nd and entry to the exhibition and both events are free. for more info about the project. 

Written by

Renee Liang

7 May 2009

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.