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.


I was so sad to leave Xiamen.  I didn’t realise how much I dislike endings and how unsettled I feel by change and how sentimental I seem to have become!  I told Ineke how sad I was and that every time I did something I thought, this will be the last time I do this; the last time I’ll walk along the beach and the last time I visit my lovely studio in Massbox and the last time I get the bus and buy eggs from the man in the little shop near the apartments gate, the last time I eat amazing Chinese food in China with chopsticks, incidentally, I borrowed some scales from Ineke to weigh my case and discovered that my love affair with Chinese food had actually gone a bit too far.  It’s probably a good thing that there’s no Milktea in England.  Anyway Ineke said I should try to enjoy my last few days in China rather than feel sad about it and of course she was right.

Astra the Australian artist was still around because her show at CEAC was opening the day I was leaving so I got to spend some more time with her, although she was really busy because she works incredibly hard.  Astra is an action performance artist and makes site specific work to test urban and social theories in the city spaces they critique.  You should check out her website http://astrahoward.com/ and blog http://chinaresidency-astrahoward.tumblr.com/ as I think she is a great artist and the blog tells you all sorts of other stuff about Xiamen that I didn’t write about.

I really enjoyed her show which I saw most of before I left and helped her to get her work up the CEAC stairs as she did for me when I installed mine.  It’s nice being part of something.  Part of her show was a performance that was carried out by two students from Xiamen Uni.  I helped her test it out.  I had to sleep in a chair with a remote control toy Audi tied to elastic around my wrist.  The car tries to drive off, tugging at me to wake up.  My interpretation of the performance is that it says something about the new aspirations of the Chinese people now the country is developing at such a rate, but also about the price the community will pay for this.  There are always working people having a nap on the streets in Xiamen.  They will sleep anywhere!  Astra felt that people were sleeping because they were so tired because they worked so hard.  I thought people were sleeping because it was culturally acceptable and the weather is always good enough to sleep outside so why not.  I’d be interested to find out which of us is right.  Maybe both a bit.  Anyway here’s a picture of me doing the performance.



There are just a few more things I didn’t tell you about my show.  At the opening the Chinese people who came generally liked the same artworks as their favourites and asked me the same questions.  They liked the works I did using ink on rice paper and they asked me when and how  I learned to paint using the traditional Chinese materials. I was surprised that they thought that this was something a painter would have to learn, as on the contrary I felt that I was almost cheating with those works, because the ink, paper and water do all the work for themselves.  It is really not very difficult to get the ink to do beautiful things on the paper.  I suppose the difference between my use of the materials and a trained Chinese artist’s use, is that I did not use any of the traditional techniques that would usually be used to make this kind of work.  I hope that people who saw the show might have recognised that the work was more free and for that reason, maybe resulted in something more challenging and interesting than using the traditional methods.  I am still in two minds about whether I should learn the traditional techniques.  I think Professor Qin Jian would say I should not.

The other things that happened were:

I was interviewed by 2 reporters and articles were published in 3 papers and in a number of places online.  May gave me copies of the newspaper articles and she will do an English translation sometime, so I will post that on here.

Here are two pictures that the reporter Yao Fan took (blog http://blog.xmnn.cn/?uid-1507-action-viewspace-itemid-2392831)



The lady who owned the gallery that framed my works on paper came to the exhibition with her daughter and Tim and Ling and their friend and her son who I met at the Quilling Workshop came all the way from Zhang Zhou.  Some students from Xiamen Uni came and they were really eager to ask me questions about my work.  Zigi, Ineke’s husband also came back early from Hainan Island where he is working at the moment so he could see the show. All of this made me really happy and made me feel like I had a successful exhibition.  May also said that while I was away travelling, a man passed by the gallery and came in only because he saw the painting on paper titled ‘The Other Side’ which used imagery from the mainland of Xiamen looking towards the island.  The man worked on the other side and recognised what he saw, even though it is quite an abstract painting.

Oh and Ineke and May liked the show and they have invited me to be part of an exhibition in Iceland which includes work by artists from Europe and China who have worked with CEAC in the past.  What an amazing opportunity.

And this is my work, packed up into two relatively small rolls which we posted before I left.  The paintings, which were sent by DHL have arrived in England already, which is where I am now, feeling a bit sorry for myself because it’s all over.