Now let’s get a few things straight first. I am not suggesting everyone is in a position to do an artist residency. If you have dependents, a home to look after, a job or other responsibilities it’s not that easy to just drop everything and disappear for weeks or even months. And I am not trying to overlook the financial implications. The art world loves talking about artistic careers and all the important things you should be doing, a Masters, exhibiting, entering competitions, framing work properly, renting a studio, without speaking about the financial implications; “If it’s that important you’ll find the money from somewhere”. Well I just want to mention it, because I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was writing this without all of that in mind. But as artists we all know that we do put money into our careers without getting it back in payment and what I want to say is, if that’s what you are already doing, then maybe you can rethink what you are paying out, what benefit it is getting you, and if you could use that money differently or even consider putting time into trying a funding application. So here’s where my argument for doing a residency begins.
I had never done an artist residency before last year, when I did two quite different ones but both good for the same reasons. I always saw residencies as an opportunity to be paid for being an artist and would never have thought of looking into non paid residency opportunities. Things changed when I was able to fund the residencies with my award from the New Lights Art Prize. Until this happened it had never occurred to me to go looking for a residency that I wanted to do and then try to source funding independently. I had of course considered doing all sorts of other projects and applying for funding to make them happen, but a residency was not at the top of the list.
But as you can probably guess from my very creative blog post title, I am now absolutely convinced that residencies are the way forward. To sum it up, I think they make the greatest impact on your work and expand your experience and knowledge in the shortest space of time. Last year I spent a week doing a residency with Allenheads Contemporary Arts in Northumberland and 3 months on a residency with the Chinese European Art Centre in Xiamen, China. You can read about them in older posts if you want to know more about the experiences I had. In both cases the main benefit that came from the residency experience was that I was able to give complete focus to my artistic practice and I am just not sure if it is possible to create that situation any other way. If you are making work at home or in your studio, with all the other daily life distractions going on in the background, of course by no means all bad things, but distractions none the less, then there is just no way you can get that complete focus. When you are actually unobtainable because you are in the middle of nowhere or better still in another country, then there is nothing anyone can do to offer interesting distractions or squeeze time out of you. You might miss spending time with your friends and family and need to spend time catching up with them and lots of things when you get back, but I just see this as a reorganisation of time. I am not sure that juggling these things all at once is the best way (certainly not for me) and that it is actually a lot more productive to try to separate things a bit. I think a residency does exactly this.
My second point is about the pressure it puts on you to produce something and I don’t think it has to be finished work, maybe that depends on the residency that you are doing. The point of my first residency at Allenheads was to improve my observational skills and not to make any finished work but I still felt that the experience of doing this as a residency gave me a setting for making out personal goals for what I wanted to achieve each day. It also gave me something to write about and that’s when I started writing this blog. My residency at CEAC did result in an exhibition for which I made finished work and I did feel pressure to get that work done within the time I had, but for me this was a good thing. I look back on it and I can’t believe I achieved so much within 3 months, yet I never suffered the kind of stress I do at home when I have deadlines. I think that kind of stress was related more to having too much on my mind and trying to juggle too many different things at once. I have to also add that I picked 3 months which included Christmas, when I would have otherwise been slowing down preparing for Christmas, having Christmas and regretting Christmas and instead I took those three months that are usually a bit of a write off an made the opposite happen.
Finally, I think it’s about making a change, experiencing something different, meeting people and making connections with people in other places. I think it is necessary to create situations for yourself in life where you have to make a change, patterns are only good for so long and you may not even realise you are in one. As an artist, when you experience a different place it has to have some kind of impact on your work, I just can’t except that it wouldn’t. It might not change your work dramatically, but then again, maybe it will and if it does, it could be an incredibly important turning point. Usually on a residency you will meet some new people as well. For me, it was meeting artists and curators at different stages in their career, from different countries and working in different disciplines that really opened my eyes to considering the art world in a more global sense and thinking differently about the opportunities that were out there. I love talking about art and it’s even better when the person I am talking to is an interested as I am.
You might ask why a residency situation is so important when you could just go off travelling independently and I think there is a point to be made there. I think it’s ok to make your own residency, except I do think there is a lot to be said for living or spending time in just one place as an artist and you might find that paying residency fees in exchange for accommodation and all sort of other benefits is more convenient than trying to work it all out on your own. Before I went to China I had been travelling a bit to other Asian counties but the experience I had was absolutely nothing like the experience of living there (though I use the term ‘living’ loosely). I do think however, that now I’ve made the connections that I have done in Xiamen, it leaves more of a path open to coming back independently, arranging my own studio and accommodation and undertaking a sort of self made residency.
It’s made such a difference to me, I just wanted to write something that might inspire someone else to consider it. Also I don’t want to forget it myself, when I am getting back into my little patters and becoming a bit lazy and complacent. So the next job is finding the funding! Any tips please send my way.
Here’s a link to Res Artis website where I found Allenheads and CEAC http://www.resartis.org/en/residencies
Have a look and be inspired! And if that hasn’t convinced you then maybe this photograph will, if nothing else had worked out on residency in China, then it would still have been worth it for seeing a pig in a bar popping out to make friends with passing Alsatian. Only in China.
If you’re lucky I will search out my dog in Kappa jacket photo for next time, a close second in the running for the ‘Photographs to Illustrate why Residencies are Good’ competition.