Interviewer Philip Hartigan
PH: How did the idea of DOEprojekts come into being?
DOE: In 2008, Deborah started envisioning and creating larger installations. Glenn initially helped with administration, but then began to contribute creatively as well.
We then found ourselves collaborating with individual artists and groups, and we realized this is something we really enjoyed and wanted to continue doing. So we decided our collaboration should have its own name and not carry the name of just one of us.
As far as the actual name goes, the letters “D-O-E” are the first in our surname (Glenn N. Doering, Deborah Adams Doering). “DOE” has many associations in English — John Doe and Jane Doe being two of these — sort of an “every person” name, with ties to popular culture. We feel these associations are significant for us.
Also, DOEprojekts, spelled with a ‘k’ instead of a ‘c’ and as one word, is a signifier that is intended to challenge linguistic conventions. The signifier “DOEprojekts” will most likely be associated with the English language, but is not really ‘English’ or ‘American’ per se. The effort of connecting with, and traversing, linguistic boundaries is important to us.
PH: What is the meaning of “collaborative art” to you?
DOE: We typically think of “collaborative art” as an experience or artifact created by two or more artists. We feel it involves synergy between multiple creators — and whatever is created allows each of them to exceed themselves. We are also using words such as “participatory” in certain situations when we work with others.
But we are still in the process of determining what “collaboration” means in terms of our own partnership. Presently, collaboration means a lot of talking, then creating, then talking, then not talking, then creating, then throwing out certain ideas, then embracing other ideas as we work on various projects.
PH: What previous experiences, both professional and personal, inform this venture?
DOE: There are an enormous amount of experiences that inform our work as DOEprojekts.
First, the experience of living and working together, in collaboration, for over 25 years previous to calling ourselves DOEprojekts is very, very significant. We have certainly changed from the two people we were when we met in the 1980s. We are somewhat incredulous that two people can grow individually, change individually, and yet move toward a more intense working relationship and collaborative effort.
In terms of our collaborative experiences in the past decade, we have co-directed an alternative art space together for 8 years. We have taught art and design. We have worked for non-profits and for-profit organizations. We have travelled to other parts of the world to see exhibitions and meet other artists. We have worked with a wide variety of media. We have established what we call “Coreforms” and “Keywords” to use as a point of departure, and an invitation to interact, for our hybrid art practice. (More about Coreforms and Keywords below and in other Texts posts.)
Perhaps our greatest strength is the ability to communicate with each other and have empathy for what the other is experiencing, especially in the world of ‘art work.’ We are able to find a strong common ground in almost any situation. And we want this to be the strength of DOEprojekts – to find common ground in working with each other, with other artists/artisans, and with the public.
PH: How much do your ideas change when they come into contact with “the public”?
DOE: It is always fascinating and rewarding to see the public interact with our artworks. We cannot foresee how the public interacts. Our ideas do change when they are introduced to the public.
We feel that part of the ‘art’ of our work is engaging these changes; in other words “movement’ is a central Keyword we express with our Coreforms.
For instance, when the invitation to do a project in the Amtsgericht (Offices of Justice) was offered in Kassel, Germany, our ideas changed (and had to) in a very short period of time. And then each day, working in the entrance hall of the Offices of Justice, we also had to be flexible and adjust the art action to the various opportunities and challenges that occurred. We began with the very general idea that we would work with artists from South Africa, Sweden, Spain, and the US for 13 weeks in the entrance hall, but we did not have many of the details of day-to-day activity worked out. We went with the flow, adjusted to both the local and international mind-set, and it was a fantastic experience.
PH: How does a project originate, and how do you know when it’s finished?
DOE: The places we go, the visual culture we experience, the people we meet – these all influence us and help generate ideas. It is very exciting when we both have the same idea for a project at the same time!
Sometimes we propose projects, and sometimes projects come to us. We are open to considering all ideas, and we want to embrace art, design and culture in its many permutations.
“Finished” is a concept that many times is fluid and moving, and not always within our power to call. We might think it’s finished when we’ve installed a work to meet the deadline of an exhibition. But most of our projects can be expanded upon in some way – so the work may never be finished with us!
PH: Does “socially aware” art have to result in specific, concrete actions to be successful?
DOE: No – not really. The work is “successful” (if that is even something one can define) if it influenced viewers, causing them to think differently about something they thought they knew well, or exposed them to an idea they had not experienced before. For us, social awareness through artworks causes movement and change in people – either physically or mentally.
PH: Which of your past projects best embodies your artistic aims?
DOE: Our experiences and artifacts use “Coreforms” and “Keywords” as points of departure. “Coreforms” are forms that can be defined, in part, as essential, intimate, innermost, or ontological forms. “Keywords” are words that serve as a key to a code, or words that are used as a reference point for finding other words or information.
As an example, one project that embodies this sensibility is “Code for the Grand River.” To create it, we used a set of Coreforms — circles, horizontal/vertical lines, swash marks —to express Keywords related to the Grand River, words such as hole, wave, riffle, eddy, chute, horizon line, vee-wave, undercut, and pillow. The public was very active in experiencing and expressing their thoughts and feelings about “Code for the Grand River.” It was a great opportunity .
PH: How do you envisage DOEprojekts in five years’ time?
DOE: Good question, but one that is difficult to answer, because so much is in flux for us and for our global culture. We hope in five years time, we are seeing greater fluidity and movement in opportunities to create art experiences and artifacts – work that allows for common ground and also dialectical exchanges between people of diverse backgrounds and experiences in the USA and abroad.