Collaboration converges with adaptation insofar as collaborative practice involves an adaptation of the differences amongst collaborators with the aim of achieving a seamless blending of personalities and practices. By contrast, this article addresses the topic of the convergence potentials between collaboration and adaptation in those cases where the unmitigated differences across personnel and practices maximize the cultural significance of a project. The case study under review here appears linked to an unusually deep level of engagement with the concerns of its audience, which suggests the significance, more generally, of combining collaboration with a ‘difference-oriented’ notion of adaptation. Adaptation, thus, has the potential to open up new vistas in collaboration’s cultural impact.
The case study, of which I am the director, is a multi-product, multi-person ‘adaptation portfolio’ designed as an intervention into urban identity issues affecting the inhabitants of Gold Coast City, Queensland, Australia. Through my analysis in this article, I propose that collaboration benefits from cross-fertilization with adaptation in two ways. Firstly, adaptation acts as a wellspring for potentially more radical modes of ‘participant-centred’ collaboration and, secondly, adaptation suggests an extension of collaborative activity into the non-participant, or what might be termed the ‘intra-textual’, domain.
The Case Study
My adaptation portfolio contains a short story (‘Now You Know What Women Have to Put Up With All of the Time’ [West]), a short film script (‘Passion Play’ [West]), a short film, a film set installation-art exhibition, an artistic website, an exhibition of still photography and cinematography, and an example of inter-genre writing (‘Intercut’ [West]). I am the author, as indicated, of three of these products. The rest are being produced by artists who operate, as I do, in the Gold Coast region. With the project still in progress, the conditions are now ripe for considering the methodological issues that subtend the development of the final set of products.
The diversity of the portfolio is anchored (although, importantly, not pre-determined) by the narrative of my short story, which insinuates itself along the creative product spectrum of my collaborators. The first paragraph of the story summarizes its plot and instigates its insouciant tone: “You can’t just shove a mate into the back seat of a taxi, fling the driver a hundred bucks, then say, ‘take him anywhere’. Can you?” (West, ‘Now’ 2) The mate in question is Blair Beamish, a young man on his buck’s night, who is turned upon by his supposed friends. His ‘crime’ is to create a rift in the homo-social compact binding the group. They dispatch him on a taxi trip to ‘anywhere’ as a humiliating prank. Blair must then sort out his sexual desires and life choices. At the taxi driver’s whim, his trip weaves along the highways and byways of Gold Coast City. In this way, Blair’s identity is forced into a series of ‘interfaces’ with the city, which draws attention to issues of identity construction in relationship to exopolitanism as theorized by Edward Soja.
Exopolitanism and the Adaptation Portfolio
It quickly became apparent that my case-study project of creative engagement with questions of identity in Gold Coast City required a multi-product approach as a foil for the nature of the place itself. Gold Coast City is an ‘exopolitan’ site, in Soja’s classic sense of that term: “perched beyond the vortex of the old agglomerative nodes, [spinning] new whorls of its own, turning the city inside-out and outside-in at the same time” (Soja 95). Similarly, Patricia Wise notices its “routine fragmentation and partiality” (Wise). Gold Coast City is a place of multiplicities and, so, multiplicities—at least, a multiplicity of creative products—are required to expose, if not to mollify, the effects of the place on its half million inhabitants. And a genuine multiplicity—a convergence of differences freed from any single dominant term—is best generated via a multi-person approach.
Regarding the effects of exopolitanism, Celeste Olalquiaga proposes that the spatially unsettled dweller in the postmodern city is ‘psychasthenic’: that is, “vanishing as a differentiated entity … incapable of demarcating the limits of its own body, lost in the immense area that circumscribes it” (Olalquiaga 2). Olalquiaga points to the typical Los Angeleno as an example of such identity confusion. However, while the scope of this project might expand in future, it is only currently designed as an enabling procedure for the ‘helplessly chameleon’ citizens of Gold Coast City, to the extent that adaptation within a portfolio of creative products suggests human-focused strategies of adaptation. People who engage with the relations amongst multiplicities in this collaborative project might draw from those relations models for dealing with the multiplicities of urbanism in their day-to-day lives. Not necessarily for overcoming or neutralizing such multiplicities, but for using them to advantage as part of the art and science of urban inhabitation itself.
My narrative, therefore, acts as a springboard for the various creative endeavours of my collaborators, who are engaged across several art forms in the project of expressing aspects of Blair’s tale. The absence on my part of any deliberate control over what they might produce is crucial to the ‘ethics’ of our mode of collaboration. Adaptation becomes here an enabling tactic of collaboration because it contains the potential—notably when it operates to ‘combine’ radically different time-based and non-time-based art forms—to stimulate heightened difference rather than seamless blending. And this sort of difference is what we want for our engagement with the differences of the city.
Suggestion One—Adaptation and Radical Collaboration
The literature on adaptation appears to contain a better resource for such radical forms of collaboration than is offered within prevailing models of collaboration. Robert Stam, for example, provides a description of film adaptation that is immensely suggestive for the development of this collaborative project: “Film adaptations, then, are caught up in the ongoing whirl of intertextual reference and transformation, of texts generating other texts in an endless process of recycling, transformation, and transmutation, with no clear point of origin” (Stam 66).
Something like what Stam describes seems to be present in one of the conjunctions of time-based (short film) and non-time-based (installation art) products in this collaborative enterprise. Here, the project responds to David Joselit’s notion that inhabitants of sites like Gold Coast City must negotiate “a new spatial order: a space in which the virtual and the physical are absolutely coextensive, allowing a person to travel in one direction through sound or image while proceeding elsewhere physically” (Joselit 276). Installation art representing place always already operates across a fissure of the represented site and the actual site of the representation: thus, art space and place space coalesce. Inspired by Matthew Barney’s hyperbolic Cremaster Cycle creations in the Guggenheim Museum, I plan to add to this spatial (and indeed temporal) coalescence by establishing film set installation art at certain Gold Coast City locations that feature in the film, while the film itself will loop screen on monitors embedded within this same installation art (Guggenheim Museum). This element of this collaborative project will function therefore as a ‘creative laboratory’ for testing Joselit’s ‘new spatial order’ in that it involves three (inter-related) levels of adaptation: time-based with non-time-based forms; art space with place space; and the virtual (short film) with the physical or real (on-site installation art).
Suggestion Two—Adaptation and ‘Intra-Textual’ Collaboration
Besides insinuating a radical element into collaboration, adaptation also suggests an extension of collaborative activity into the non-participant, or (to coin a phrase) ‘intra-textual’, domain. Put differently, the notion of intra-textual adaptation allows us to unshackle collaboration from the process of collaboration (the efforts of a team of individuals) and re-situate it as an aspect of the product itself. The value of this is twofold: it sweeps the rug out from under any fusty attachment collaboration might retain to participant intentionality; relatedly, it revitalizes the theory and practices of collaboration because it suggests that the collaborative process continues even after the product is claimed to be finished. In other words, adaptation undoes the tendency in creative circles to place too much emphasis on the process of collaboration, at the expense of an appreciation of the intra-textuality of the actual product—an appreciation that might stimulate, in turn, new ways of approaching the process of collaboration.
An ‘Intra-Textual’ Example
The ‘core’ narrative of this collaborative project involves a taxi trip that will end when the meter hits $100.00. Any given product in my adaptation portfolio (say, the artistic website, or the film set installation-art exhibition) might represent the taxi meter in any number of ways. But what interests me here is how the meter itself is always an instance of intra-textual adaptation, of a collaboration within the text between two elements of it.
In C. S. Peirce’s terms, the taxi meter could be labelled an Index. In James Monaco’s gloss on Peirce, an Index “measures a quality not because it is identical to it but because it has an inherent relationship to it” (Monaco 133). Now, isn’t this also a possible definition of adaptation, or, by extension, collaboration? A quality is measured—you might say, adapted into something else; one thing is transformed into another thing related to the first thing. Specifically, returning to the diegesis of my core narrative, the taxi meter adapts the time and space of Blair’s urban journey into the running-up of the $100.00. In this case, adaptation is a function of language itself, and it is this that makes the taxi meter a challenge to those schools of collaborative thought currently over-invested in the participant definition of collaboration, which hampers the development of new models of collaboration in that it unduly emphasizes process over product.
This article has used an in-progress collaborative case study to highlight the value for collaboration of appropriating notions of difference and intra-textuality from the domain of adaptation. On the evidence of this multi-product, multi-person adaptation portfolio, such an approach can reap the rewards of greater involvement with the cultural and identity concerns of the audience. The main problem with much artistic collaboration is that it tends to preserve an artificial homogeneity that papers over the important ways in which the world is composed of differences and multiplicities rather than of sameness and unification. The exopolitan inhabitants of Gold Coast City know this, and creative products that attempt to engage powerfully with cultural and identity issues must know it too.