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Enduring Collaboration

April 27, 2012

by Rachel Buckmaster (MA 2011)

Performance department alumni Stephen Fiehn (BFA 2000) and Tyler B. Myers (BFA 2001) comprise the collaborative duo known as Cupola Bobber, founded in Chicago in 2000 and now based in Brooklyn. Internationally recognized for their evening-length performance work as well as published writing, installations, and videos, their SAIC roots are evident through their enduring partnership and increasingly interdisciplinary work.

According to Myers, it was during the friends’ early days at SAIC that both an awareness of and a commitment to deliberately collaborative art was formed. "At the time, Mark Jeffrey and Lin Hixson were working in a performance group called Goat Island. How they were actually working as a collaborative, and the idea of collaboration as a long-term, practical decision as opposed to a project-based decision [was] highly influential,” he says.

After meeting during a nine-person collaborative event at SAIC called Red Rover, the pair’s alliance grew though public spaces work within that group. Further inspired by dynamic faculty members who stretched their concepts of process and investigation, the construction of a practice directly realized through partnership began to feel more and more relevant and enthralling. 

This particular approach to art practice continues to enrich their work through their accumulated energy, experience, and philosophy. "When we set out at the beginning of every project, we start everything through conversation,” says Fiehn. "We talk about what’s going on in our lives, we talk about what we’re interested in, what we’re reading…. We’re finding the work as we go along.”

The Field, The Mantel (Exhibition), Cupola Bobber’s recent solo exhibition at the ADDS DONNA gallery in Chicago, explores duration, categorization, and endurance as a cumulative study through two works. The first, a video installation titled Reading the Library of Congress Classification Schedule to The Trees, (2010–ongoing), finds the duo reading the 42-volume subject outline of the Library of Congress’ entire collection. The second work, The Dictionary of Endurative Actions, (2009–ongoing), invites participatory action by the audience as every word on dictionary.com is assigned an "endurative” action on an index card handwritten by a contributor.

The Field, The Mantel includes an evening-length performance, a video installation, drawings, sculpture, printmaking, video, and a writing project, reflecting a flexibility they gained appreciation for during their varied studies at SAIC.

"We really want to work in as many different ways as we can and as the concepts we’re working with dictate we should,” says Myers. "The main thing about SAIC is the interdisciplinary idea that you get a chunk of studio credits that you can chart your path through—and you can pick up the skills or the critical insight into the different disciplines depending on what you want to make.”

Myers explains a basic rule for their ongoing projects that came about following graduation from SAIC. "We decided—with inspiration from Goat Island, early on when we left the Art Institute—that we were really going to spend two years on every set of projects,” he says. This imposed rhythmic constraint on their practice, and perhaps paradoxically, creates a source of freedom and renewal that can be sensed. "We don’t really have to think past the next two years. We can really focus on a set of projects…and then we get to define what the next two years will be, and figure that out together.” 

A steady constant, however, is the pair’s dedication to their work as a duo and precise choice of a collaborative practice. "We sort of say every two years it’s almost like starting over again,” says Fiehn, "So to predict 60 years down the road: hopefully we’ll just be making work together and having opportunities to show it.”