Media artists Ingrid Mwangi and Robert Hutter recently combined their two artistic positions into one...This major step expresses their underlying artistic message that involves overcoming differences (gender, cultural and other). As the artists' state, "It is not important which one of us creates the concept for a work, or which of us produces any part of it. All of our artistic ideas and efforts flow equally into the work to create a shared vision."

It is not easy to change one’s (artistic) identity.

Several months after we decided to officially become a collective artist, I was speaking with an influential art collector couple, who have previously collected work from the ’Ingrid Mwangi‘ that once existed, They made several interesting remarks concerning our merging our names and art work. Especially the point about retrospectively resigning previous works with the new name brought about interesting debate.

The woman noted that she feels sad about this choice. It compromises my achievements as an individual, as a woman. Being a feminist, she found the decision hard to accept. So often, a woman has worked in the shadow of the man, not receiving credit or public acclaim. Here I have the opportunity to stand out with my ”strong, powerful, feministic work“ and what do I do? I go and share these achievments with the man! A question that came to her mind, she carefully put forth to me, was ”Were you lying then or are you lying now?”

Giving the matter some thought, I can only answer to myself that we feel that we live and work in equality. We treat each other as equals and maintain flexible roles concerning work and providing income, childcare and household etc. To some extent we invert traditional roles, whenever it is necessary for the success of our shared life. The joining of names retrospectively does not attempt to suggest that our previous works were influenced in the same measure by the other as recent works are. Instead it constitutes a statement, a declaration of the choice to become a true partnership, of which sharing is the basis. Your achievements are mine and vice versa. We share our past as well as our present, and we make a commitment to share our future.

Women and men are equal, that is a fact. Women and men are often not treated equally and often do not treat each other as equals in our societies. That too is a fact. Being fully aware of this, we acknowledge that in certain cases it might be necessary to protect and exemplify achievements of women. But on the other hand, it is an individual’s responsibility not to merely adhere to, or at the most question, societies’ rules. Acknowledging that one constitutes a part of society means understanding one’s participation in the shaping of those rules. As the artist Jimmy Ogonga puts it, “Those rules are not rules, they are man-made rules.“ With the realisation of that conspiracy, it becomes necessary not only to reflect on what you believe society is imposing on you, but also to impose your own reality on society. Within the interplay of individuals’ and societies’ values, it stands to reason that a firm positioning of one’s own beliefs, choices, life-style etc. in the (public) space of the society within which one lives and works will enable the absorption of one‘s personal point-of-view into the makeup of that society, to whatever degree. The clearer one articulates and acts upon one‘s beliefs, the more definitely this incorporation can ensue, as opposed to constantly making allowance to the facts.

With our declaration to be a dual-bodied artist, we are envisioning a level of equality and interconnectedness in regard to gender as well as to cultural/geographical backgrounds, which admittedly does not exist in general. If one takes into consideration that such understanding of being equal is going become absolutely necessary for human existence and survival, then in that, we are ahead of our time. We insist that there is no way past this. The fact that conscious articulation of interconnected existence hardly exists in the present but instead stands firm within a possible future does not make it any less substantial than if it would belong to our common reality right now.

In resigning our previous work with both our names we are rewriting our history. History is not permanent. It is constantly being rewritten, redefined or even clearer yet, being reinvented. The decision to rewrite our own past gives reference to the impermanent nature of past. Don‘t believe everything you have heard or read in a book. Africa is the best example.

Lack of objective substantiality is true as well to the present and the possible future. All these; past, present and future, are dynamic, constantly changing in each of our perceptions. These aspects that constitute time have to be imagined in order to be. But of the three only the present can be directly influenced, that means not only imagined or (re)written but created. We create our present. The world we live in now is the world we imagined and then created for ourselves. Could we at any point have imagined and created a different world? What world are we imagining and working at creating for our future?

In inventing IngridMwangiRobertHutter, we are implicating the idea of being inseparable, and because retrospective, not only now but throughout time. This idea is a reflection of our imagined reality. In fact, to make the decision was quite an abstract and lengthy process, comparable to carefully peeling an onion: how to decide to become somebody, or better said somethingelse, to give up your own, separate, comfortable because usual

identity? Are we still we, or a new I? If we are I, where is this I to be posited? The interesting thing is that after the decision the daily practise of it follows, which moves it from being an abstract idea to becoming a lived reality. A sense of commitment and dependency is formed, which makes it increasingly difficult to reverse. This gradual development from idea to reality is true for most established ideas that we perceive today as true, correct or ‘real’. They started as an idea.

If, after several years we would decide to split our collective work and achievements, resulting in rewriting what will then be our history (at the moment our present) to the effect that we declare our works as belonging to the one or the other, then it would be as little a lie as the contrary decision now. It would again be a process of redefining self, as deemed necessary. We could also decide that the MwangiHutter collective consists of us with our children, or all Kenyans, if that would constitute a meaningful reflection of our life and work.

To the suggestion that the achievements of the individual are compromised, we would say that this is true. This too is a conscious decision, since we question whether such a thing as individual achievements rightfully exists. We emphasize the fact that we act as one artist rather than a duo to allude to the multitude of people that are involved in the shaping of our work. To name a few: our mothers who assist in bringing up our children, giving us time to work; artists, philosophers and political leaders whose work and actions inform our ideas; employees of shipping companies who assist in sending our art works to distant places all over the world; the multitude of people everywhere that work everyday to supply the materials and produce the objects and technologies that we need for work and in daily life; curators, critics and viewers who exhibit, take time to view and discuss our work; our children, who so directly impact our experience of life...

In no particular chronology, the list could go on and on, probably endlessly. It is actually mind-boggling and disturbing once you start to think about it: how many people work, sweat and suffer and how very few enjoy the merit, let alone the comforts. Don‘t believe you deserve it more than others.

©  Mwangi Hutter, 2005


the collective idea.

reflections on the retrospective formation of a collective

by Mwangi Hutter