While residency often refers to states of extended stays it denotes a certain fixed-ness—being a resident, having residency status, residing in—whereas the artist residency is largely temporary in nature. Artist residencies offer time and space to do, think and make—whether through prestigious institutions or small scale programs, application fees or merit based, outcomes focussed or open development. The National Association for the Visual Arts is Australia’s leading arts sector advocate—it’s code of practice is utilised by artists cross the country as a benchmark for rates and conditions. According to NAVA, an artist residency is “constructed to support the creative process by providing facilities, the possibility for time alone to make work or to make connections with the right people for career development” (2014). However, getting such beneficial outcomes comes at a cost, often to the artist themselves. As the guide states, funded or even partially funded opportunities are “rare and competitive opportunities” (ibid). In writing on precarity in the artist residency method, Sebastjan Leban identifies that “by analysing the market of artist residencies, it becomes immediately clear that there are only very few residencies that cover direct costs occurred by the artist in the residency (almost all of which require an application fee before the selection process), whereas the majority cover direct costs just in part”. While there may be an ever-increasing number of residencies available they aren’t always accessible to every artist.
It is common for residencies to come with an expectation of community engagement, whether through an artist talk, exhibition or workshop. For example, These aren’t usually compensated but are rather expected to be undertaken for free as part of the benefit of being selected. Residencies with these extra-curricular activities worked into the plan seem to have become the ordinary operating mode in order to reach a public engagement target, and yet it is unclear if these are continued to be expected out of habit or whether there might be other ways institutions offering residencies to artists can create environments for engaging and challenging public encounters.
For all of the conditions or costs, in my doctoral research project I came to engage with the notion of residency as a finite activity to apprehend moments of an infinite practice. Each residency undertaken served as a temporary apprehension within which to work, investigate, change, and question—whether my practice, habits of working or relationship to materials and space. I attempted to engage the artist residency as an activity—an autonomous occasion of particular intention largely directed by myself and not shaped by a host institution’s wants. I wanted to know what doing residency, rather than undertaking a residency, could result in for my research project, but also how to develop a practice based around the idea of residency. The artist residency, as I came to experience and undertake it through practice-led research, refers to a bracketed period of time that provides mental and physical space for locating, expanding, and experimenting with art practice. Established through my research a residency:
· is one way in which a public display of practice may not restrict a work’s capacity to remain vibrant and can instead create another iterative cycle of thinking, making, and showing.
· provides instability to challenge the habitual practices of studio production while also interrogating the finality of practice that a gallery often produces.
· exists as an environment for attentively turning to the subject matter, enabling heightened engagement with the myriad relations unfolding.
The artist residency exists as a place where the processes of thinking and/or making and/or showing art occur. As a space it can offer a clean slate (or semi-clean, often in the context of sites with high turnover and minimal funding) instead of a stark, pristine, private gallery or a full studio space, and as an activity it can be particularly conducive to expanding and experimenting with unformed ideas and intuitions. A residency’s in-between-ness as both a space and activity as well as its malleability of form and function make it particularly generative for projects that are open to discovery and that seek to make sense of non-fixedness. In the residencies I have undertaken during my research, time pressures often resulted in the need to jump into thinking, making, showing without overly labouring on outcomes, something I was trying to challenge in my own practice and within the context of higher degree research. Doing so created an environment of intra-actions, learning-through-doing rather than more distanced, reflective action (that would often occur in my studio space). Rather than rely on reflection as a method for unpacking interactions and engagements I considered Haraway’s concept of diffraction as a step toward engaging with my familiar, ordinary subject matter in a way that might engender new knowledge and understandings. As Bozalek and Zembylas (2016) state, “Thus diffraction for Haraway was suggested as a metaphor and a strategy for making a difference in the world that breaks with self-reflection and its epistemological grounding, which she regarded as problematic as it lures us into a reductionist way of thinking about things and words”. Haraway’s diffraction, and later Karen Barad’s expansion of it, provided the basis for me to focus on learning about my subject matter through doing practice, doing art research, which residency enabled more than time in a studio or a gallery.
In 2017 I undertook an intensive six-week residency at Another, a small artist-run space housed within a larger building of artist studios in Perth. Being the first planned block of time away from my small studio space at Curtin University, I was yet to know how this time would fit with the rest of the project. Within the loosely converted office building, the rooms with doors were the artist’s studios—carpeted, furnished, stocked full of supplies and “stuff”—while the residency area was the foyer space with makeshift walls and office lino floor that everyone entered into the building through. This residency offered semi-furnishing comprising a trestle table, an office chair, a ladder, and a desk fan. On the first day of the residency, I added a coffee cup, a toolbox, journals, and the last thing I had worked on—a semi-deflated balloon dressed as a disco ball. Over the course of the residency, I scrunched, hung, nailed, coated, flattened, and taped; by all accounts, I gleaned. I often made audio and video recordings of myself and took pictures almost as a reflex to anything that happened in the space. This residency, while four years ago now, still comes back to me and I can recall the space clearly—the light, the quiet, my feelings of apprehension yet excitement. I already felt that this residency would enable me to jump in and get to know my subject matter without too many concerns for aesthetic outcomes, instead supporting development. The space became full of reflective materials like wrapping paper, adhesive vinyl, sequins, and mirrors, as well as miscellaneous things like streamers, balloons, coloured card, various types of tape, and aluminium foil. At this stage in the project, I was still uncertain about the types of matter that might appear more than others. It became clear through my time in the residency space that I was encountering the various objects and materials at hand in a neutral environment due to its retrofitting in a previously occupied space. Its slightly awkward angles, less than solid walls, discoloured linoleum floor—in other words, its inconveniences—made it innocuous and more neutral than the designed neutrality of a white cube gallery space. The subject matter didn’t become something more just by being in the space; things weren’t elevated to demand attention, and the space didn’t change their reading like a gallery might. I could be in proximity with the objects, things and materials anew, and allow intuition and curiosity to drive interactions that helped shift my relationship with and to them.
Bozalek, Vivienna, and Michalinos Zembylas. 2016. “Diffraction or reflection? Sketching the contours of two methodologies in educational research” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 20 (2): 111-127. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09518398.2016.1201166?scroll=top&needAccess=true
Leban, Sebastjan. n.d. “Art in Residency: Precarity or Opportunity?” Seismopolite 18 https://www.seismopolite.com/art-in-residency-precarity-or-opportunity
National Association of Visual Arts. 2014. What is an artist residency? [Factsheet] https://visualarts.net.au/media/uploads/files/Factsheet_Artist_residency_1.pdf