That's a question answered by Collectivism, the new fall exhibition at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Center for Visual Art co-curated by CVA director Cecily Cullen, ceramics artist and MSU faculty member Tsehai Johnson, and MSU art department chair Deanne Pytlinski, who form their own sort of collective. The trio selected thirteen official artist collectives from the metro area and beyond to spotlight outfits that express themselves in myriad ways.
In addition to that activist stance, art collectives working in any medium can be bound together by a sense of humor and elements of live performance, Cullen and Johnson agree. A subversive streak runs through the shared work — some groups act anonymously, while others might collaborate by mail and the Internet in an elaborate round robin, or act in the present by inviting public participation.
Cullen learned of Kut through the online international contemporary art platform This Is Colossal; she never had direct contact with the group, and instead communicated with them through a curator who knew the collective. “There’s no loan form — we just had permission by curator,” she explains.
Other featured groups are more accessible, including Boulder’s Women’s Art League, a distinctly feminist group founded by artists Julie Maren and Joy Alice Eisenhauer. But while their project, Vagina China, a natural progression from the Famous Women Dinner Service of the 1930s and Judy Chicago’s iconic 1970s installation The Dinner Party, raised a few eyebrows along the Front Range, plenty of women answered the call to cast their privates for inclusion in a whole new brand of dinner-party plates. But there’s more to this explicit project than meets the eye.
“They are talking about blue-and-white, referencing the historical ceramics that spread into Europe from China in the early fifteenth century,” says Johnson, who focused on bringing ceramic collectives into the mix. "China globalized the concept, influencing the European economy." Placing the cast genitals on dinner plates crosses over into the modern-day example of sex trafficking as a driver of the global economy.
Other groups, including Denver's yarn-bombing Ladies Fancywork Society and the local queer-friendly Secret Love Collective, offer interactive spectacle and process-intensive eye candy from a DIY perspective. LFS is creating a site-specific yarn installation in the back part of the gallery, and SLC will invite viewers to let their inhibitions fade away as they play dress-up with handcrafted avocado suits and monster heads for selfies against a wild backdrop.
The group wants to encourage an open-minded “exploration of identity,” says SLC member and fiber artist Katy Batsel. “We want to allow people to express the weird parts of their selves, without shame or self-consciousness," she notes.
“Protest is at the core of what we’re doing,” adds fellow collective member Lares Feliciano. “It’s a community experiment, and a model for the world you want to live in. It’s a yes space: Who do you want to become? You can be anything.”
That’s only a sampling of the collectives you’ll encounter throughout the show, but every one brings something timely to the table in visual, political and positive ways. Even the facility's student-curated Gallery 965 will host Synergistically Speaking, a separate showcase of two collectives: Denver’s Black Bar Collective and Seattle’s Electric Coffin Collective. From front to back, Collectivism offers a new view of how to share a creative spark and make a difference at the same time.
Collectivism opens with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, August 1, at CVA, 965 Santa Fe Drive, and runs through October 19. Visit the CVA website for information about related events and to learn more about each participating collective.