Let's talk about art: What's an artist cooperative?

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This is a biweekly series about art and artists in the region. Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts serves the community through arts education, exhibitions and artist resources.

An artist cooperative is a group of people who create an artwork, a series of artworks or an installation together. Many voices and styles contribute to the final project, which, in the end, is a unified whole, expressing an idea agreed upon by all members.

There might be as few as two members, or more than 30. Some artists live and work together, or they might live in different states or even different countries and communicate electronically.

An artist cooperative is thus a group of artists united by a vision and willing to work together by any means available to realize that vision.

As part of the Pittsburgh Biennial, the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University is hosting five cooperatives.

1. Temporary Services, a cooperative with members in Chicago, Philadelphia and Denmark, is displaying two related sets of work: The Self-Reliance Library and Personal Plastic. The Self-Reliance Library is a collection of books that deal with survivalism and do-it-yourself that the cooperative members have collected over the years. Personal Plastic consists of large signs created by quilting together plastic bags with heat sealer and rubber cement. On the bags are quotes taken from books in the Self-Reliance Library. For Temporary Services, communication is primarily through email. The group has been working together for 10 years and has sent 20 to 30 emails a day since forming.

"We are a chosen dysfunctional family," says member Salem Collo-Julin.

2. Justseeds, a worker-owned cooperative of 26 artists from the U.S., Canada and Mexico, has created a series of billboards dealing with issues of immigrant rights, as well as the perhaps contradictory notions of borderless nations and indigenous sovereignty. Justseeds communicates online through a wiki, and members meet once a year. In 2007 and 2009 they met in Pittsburgh and Braddock, respectively.

3. Sub Rosa is a cooperative that works with the effect of feminism on science. Being from two different cities -- its core members Hyla Willis and Faith Wilding are from Pittsburgh and Providence, R.I. -- they get together whenever possible for three days and have a flurry of work and idea swapping.

"It is vital to get together in person," Ms. Wilding says. When they get together they can delegate work based on skill, interest and availability.

4. Transformazium, a cooperative of four women who live together, has bought a condemned building in North Braddock that members are deconstructing.

"We negotiate ideas without expert knowledge," says Dana Bishop-Root, meaning that they are not experts on masonry or demolition but figure out together how to deconstruct a building.

5. Global Cities, Model Worlds is an installation created cooperatively by Sarah Ross, Ryan Griffis and Lize Mogel. They had separately been working on the effects of global events such as the Olympics and World Fairs on cities, and they came together two years ago surrounding work they did in Vancouver. To create the project they are displaying at the Miller, they have been staying in Pittsburgh for 21/2 months, working together intensely.

As part of the 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial, these co-op shows are up through Dec. 11.


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