Residencies are as diverse as the practitioners, organisations and environments that host them. From fee paying to sponsored, rural to urban and global to local. They provide a matrix for investigation, invention and exploration (at best) and at worst they can be disorganised, confusing and an utter shambles (so I’ve heard and witnessed). Their diversity spans the Designed and Emergent in terms of structure and their formation, and success, can be as reliant upon the attendee as the initiator.
Since returning last week to the UK from São Paulo I’ve had time to ponder on many of these parameters and more. But before touching upon some conclusions I’d like to sketch out the ‘how’ of the ‘why’ and ‘what’. Back in March 2014 I received an invitation to speak at the International Solid Waste Association World Congress on Solid Waste Management in Brazil from an NGO based in Vienna ( http://iswa2014.org & http://www.iswa.org ). They wanted to exhibit my photography, alongside a panel discussion, in order to illuminate ‘a deeper level of understanding and awareness-raising’ in terms of environmental issues. The offer provided the opportunity for cross-sector conversations and collaborations as well as access to three days of conference talks and a fourth day of Technical Visits not to mention an international perspective on waste management. And so, from that point onwards, in fact that very day, I decided to accept the offer. Payment for the project came in the form of a free ticket to the event itself and equalled 1100 euros that I knew could ‘match-fund’ with an official letter in hand. Printing costs would be covered by the organisation and I would be included in a print publication that advertised my work. Whilst I would have expected that my flight, accommodation and Artists Fee were covered by the professional invitation, it wasn’t, due to the funding constraints of the panel that requested my presence. Although I did raise a request for such support on two occasions. What followed was a professional (and personal) choice that I knew wouldn’t have been everybody’s but if I risked the possibility of being able to generate enough funding to make the residency ‘work’ then the rewards could last me for many months and years ahead in terms of the investment in my practice.
At the initial stage I was confident that the international invitation could attract some financial backing and some collaborative partners. What followed over the next 6 months was a roller-coaster where my hopes were dashed on multiple occasions but my vision and approach remained clear, some might say persistent. It was challenging, and one of my close mentors vocalised disbelief as to whether it was even worth me going. Yet, despite my detractors, there were others who believed in the project and its inherent opportunities. Their advice, support and links to funding bodies proved vital. Friends, family and industry insiders supported the fact that my ‘cross-sector’ output, between waste and wonder and at the intersection of Ecology and Fine Art, would benefit from the opportunity to convene with such a confluence of souls. And, ultimately, I managed to create a package that a) didn’t cost me financially and b) allowed me to operate professionally (amongst many a ‘suit’ and corporate mind) without worrying about food, transfers, and whether the tools of my trade (computer, laptop, phone) were insured. It also allowed for an Artists Fee so that I may develop a new body of work out of the 1396 photographs and films captured whilst working away.
The core funding for the residency came from the Arts Council and a ‘Go See’ budget from Hull 2017 (http://2017-hull.co.uk/latest-news/go-see-helps-artist-share-work-at-global-conference-in-brazil) that covered my flights and accommodation. I engaged in a relationship with a private sponsor, who I’d previously sought advice from, in terms of looking after my 132,000 plastic knives and forks that need recycling and he subsequently commissioned 2 photographic pieces. The initiation of a crowd funding campaign provided the rest of the budget (http://www.sponsume.com/project/são-paulo-residency-2014). On this point I’ve a note to the uninitiated: if you are trying to raise funds for a project then contributors like to see a clearly recognisable structure that they can contribute towards with recognised transaction frameworks (ie: a series of rewards and Paypal processing) rather than a vague idea with unclear outcomes. Which brings me to the projects initial raison d’être:
Research Objectives / Reason for Travel:
•To contribute as a panel member for Session 1: ‘Paradigm shift : Changing Lifestyles, Re-defining Responsibilities of Stakeholders and Communication Strategies’ YES – I successfully contributed to an illuminating afternoon that included dialogues with the President of the Solid Waste Association and key players within the waste industry alongside representative’s of the Waste Pickers Association.
•To deepen my understanding of cutting-edge industrial processes within the recycling and reprocessing arena so that I may inform my environmentally driven Fine Art practice. YES – I visited Latin America’s largest landfill site alongside a cooperative of 30 families of which 90% of the working processors are women.
•To broker relationships between organisations and decision-makers with a view to creating further ‘content’ that challenges material use and open-loop processes across cultural platforms. YES – I spoke with a French Technician working in Mali, Africa and a South-African specialist who shared with me the fact that all of her international air flights during 2013 amounted to the same quantity of solid waste as the methane produced by 15 cows (we went on to debate, somewhat passionately, about Economies of Scale and carbon offsetting)
•To develop business to business conversations and as well as public facing initiatives. YES – I brokered meetings with a refuse site representative in Buenos Aires and a filmmaker/waste management specialist in Greece.
•To blog/report upon conference findings within social media and a dedicated series of blog posts as well as across print media. YES – I have completed a series of blog posts for AN https://www.a-n.co.uk/about/about-a-n reaching a potential audience of over 19,000 members as well as contributing to my own News Tumblr (http://robynwoolston.tumblr.com), Twitter (https://twitter.com/robynwoolston) and Facebook accounts. As the research and development phase moves into production further print copy will be generated that comes as a direct result of the São Paulo residency.