The Collective

Meet the Dopamine Collective, a group of scientists shedding their lab coats to make art

"When you take your ego out of the equation, that's when real art happens. For me, anyway."

Meet The Dopamine Collective 5:59


This video is part of The Collective, a CBC Arts digital project that invites artists to tell their own stories. Learn more about the project, and watch more Collective videos.

SPOILERS BELOW! (You might want to watch the video before reading ths Q&A.)

When is an art collective not actually a collective? When all of its members are just one person. That's what's happening with the Dopamine Collective, a completely fictional group of art-minded scientists whose work is created by Owen Sound artist (and dentist) Sean Stewart (we're pretty sure he actually exists). In this installment of The Collective, we're introduced to various members of the Dopamine Collective, and we learn what makes them all tick. We chatted with Stewart about his multifaceted body of work, and why he decided to fabricate an artist group.

Why start an art collective that is not a collective?
That's a good question. It was a project that I was working on because I had a bunch of different bodies of work that were sort of disparate and really not coherent. This particular project started with seven names of scientists, and each scientist had their own field of science that they were investigating. So I had an exhibition at Contact Photography Festival a few years ago, and at that point there was no depth to the characters. But as I exhibited the art, audience members would talk about what they thought the characters would be like. And I took notes, and the characters developed.

So you picked up cues from the audience.
Yes, the audience is driving the direction of the characters. And as the characters grew and became people, then the exhibition got more involved, and some of them started creating non-photography-based artwork. All of the art is made by my hands, but not necessarily by me. I see myself as more of a curator of information and experience than a creator.

How do you keep track of the different characters? Do you have a database?
Sort of. Part of the project is a play on how we accept things at face value, and how we decide what's real and what's not. So there are intentionally mistakes. Some people choose to accept the collective at face value — that it's a group of scientists who are making art. Other people want more information, and some people accept none of it.

How do you go about actually creating a piece of art with these characters in mind?
If I have a show coming up and I need some work, then I'll try to get into the head space of a particular character with those defined parameters. So with Leslie Park, she's a biologist, so she thinks about certain things, and she reads certain books, and you sort of put the blinders on and you don't think about anything else.

Does playing different characters give you more artistic freedom?
I think so, because Sean Stewart's art is kind of boring.

What is Sean Stewart's art?
I'm a photographer. But now I've branched out, obviously. I'm a conceptual artist.

I thought it was interesting that in the video, one of the characters — the dentist — never shows his art.
He never gets picked to show his art, because that artist is me. I am a dentist. Sean Stewart never gets picked by this collective to show his art.

It seems like self-deprecation is important to you.
It is, because when you take your ego out of the equation, that's when real art happens. For me, anyway.

Do you have a favourite character?
It's hard to say. [Environmentalist] Kelly Norman, I think, has the potential to go the furthest in terms of an art career. With [mathematician] Gerard Kopek, he's really struggling with his particular art, so he's got more of the quintessential artist's struggle.

What's the significance of the name of the collective?
It initially started as a play on words, because a lot of scientists — and a lot of artists for that matter — are introverted people. So we have more of acetylcholine-based brains rather than dopamine-based brains. If we get too much dopamine, we kind of shut down, whereas extroverts require dopamine; they feed off it. So this is a collective that has gathered enough dopamine between the members to get the guts to put their art in front of the public. But now the significance of the name has gone beyond that, because now the audience is really the true artist.

What do you hope people will get out of this video that you've put together?
The way the video was shot is the same way that the art was made. I gathered a group of people with no arts training and I said, "Here are three pieces of this character's art, and this is sort of what they think, and you can say whatever you want to say." I consider them part of the audience, because they're projecting their views of what they think this should be, and I've taken it in. But I what I hope people get out of the video is that there are more ways to make art than the traditional ways.

More about The Dopamine Collective

The Dopamine Collective is an eclectic collection of scientific minds with a common strong desire to shed their lab-coats and embrace the philosophy of the art world. Each uses their trained scientific field to create their unique body of work.

Follow the exploits of the collective's members at the Dopamine Collective website.


The Dopamine Collective would like to thank:
Alison Chung-Yan: for her musical talent
Rachel Monckton: for her curatorial expertise and voice
Robert Groh: for demonstrating his bluepole painting machine
Kelly Powell: for being the voice of Leslie Park
Craig Blair: for being the voice of Arthur Richardson
Jeremy Gill: for being the voice of Stuart Harrison
Heather Hughes: for being the voice of Kelly Norman
Claudia Jaremek: for being the voice of Gerard Kopek's other half
Greg Chung-Yan: for being the voice of Richard Lee
Dr. Sean R. Stewart, BSc, DDS, the dentist and sole member of the Dopamine Collective

Watch as Canadian art collectives tell their own stories.

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