BY NATALIE ST. MARTIN
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Seattle is a place where many paths cross and many lives intersect. Misako Oba from New York, Melody Leung from Austin, and me, Natalie St.Martin—from Seattle—are three artists who met in Seattle. Right now we are in the fourth month of a year long project together. The project takes advantage of the unique opportunity we have to be friends and work together while we are all in one place.
On a recent Sunday we met for dinner at Misako’s apartment and, even though we were hungry, we first unwrapped our art pieces excitedly to show one another what we had been working on. We unwrap them and we give them to each other.
Two paintings in blue on blue. Two paintings in white on white. And two paintings in black on black.
This is our second exchange in the first part of our project. Each of us has a color that we start with. Misako’s is blue, Melody’s is black, and mine is white. We have diagrammed a series of exchanges that will result in ten paintings. The pattern of exchanges gives us just enough structure to hold the project together while allowing us plenty of freedom. Coming up with the parameters, the rules of the game so-to-speak, is one of the main challenges of collaborations like this.
We are making these paintings together: working on each other’s pieces. When we exchange, we then proceed on the pieces the others worked on over the past month – when I exchange with Melody, for example, I work on her black piece in black, while she works on my white piece in white.
We must ask ourselves each time, “What am I going to collaborate with, elaborate on, or leave as is?” We must also resist the urge to say, “Please don’t touch that part!” We are learning to trust each other as we hand over our ideas and efforts to each other. All of us agree that we have truly started to feel safer in this exchange as we get to know each other, and excitement about what will happen next has replaced worry.
The three of us are very different from one another. We work in different mediums, have different educational backgrounds and career paths, come from different cultural backgrounds and grew up in different parts of the world. And we think about art differently. Misako and Melody have not worked on a collaboration like this before, and this is the most formal collaboration I have participated in. I originally approached Misako with a vague idea about working on something together, and then together we began to dream up this larger project and invited Melody to join us.
Because two are better than one, and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Imagine a single strand; now twist it with another, and another, and suddenly you have a strong rope! Interestingly you can’t get the same strength by completely blending the threads of the three cords into one strand as by twisting them together, maintaining their individual shape while binding them together. Working together is a chance to support and strengthen each other. We are learning more about that through this collaboration: we are binding our blue, black and white strands together to form a cord of friendship.