Coming from an architecture background and without any formal training in visual art, Jose Dávila developed a studio practice later in his art career. In a residency Dávila undertook in 2000, in which he struggled to connect to a project in the two short weeks allocated, he constructed for himself a studio which was to be the result of the residency. He says the project came to be “[a] kind of duality in which the result would be the process and the process would be the result” (Craddock & Dávila 2018, 41). Situated outdoors, as a play on the practice of having “open studios”, Open Studio, 2000, consisted of wooden walls and floor, mismatched chairs, a table, and studio paraphernalia. “While I was building, [it] had also become a process of thinking about what a studio is for and all the issues around that. I wasn’t really creating a studio but a ‘stage’ of a studio, a faux studio, a sculpture that resembled a studio” (ibid). Having begun to explore the notion of a residency as a space where all three actions of thinking, making, and showing could take place, I wondered if I could wrestle back some vibrant potential from the uniformity and prosaic nature of a white cube gallery space. This type of question led to a residency projects at Paper Mountain gallery in which I would think about the role of the residency and the gallery and, like Dávila, “the result would be the process and the process would be the result” (ibid).
In the project Gallery as Residency at Paper Mountain I turned the gallery into a project space where I completed a two-week residency during opening hours. It was intended as an investigation into the idea of a residency as a midpoint between studio and gallery with the hope that the informal nature of the space (created through studio-like furniture—desk, chair, coffee mug, fan, toolbox, ladder, etc.) would encourage encounters between the public or myself as artist and the various objects, things and materials in unselfconscious ways. While Paper Mountain has revolving exhibitions and is open to a range of experimental and unique projects, it nonetheless still follows the white wall, concrete floor, and white plinth guideline. The premise of the project was that for the two weeks the space was open to the public I would be interacting with and observing the objects, things and materials that had become involved in my research—at that stage consisting of surveyor’s tape, rubber mats, soft metal, party streamers, duct tape, sponges, clothesline, wire, soft PVC, wrapping paper, and sandpaper.
It became apparent quickly that people visiting the gallery were unprepared for someone to be in a semi-empty space, ripping up sponges or scrunching plastics without a clear path marked for manoeuvring through the space. Rather than letting the encounter become performative where I knew I was being watched and they knew I knew, I discussed the project with members of the public and invited them into the space to do whatever they would like while I continued working. It wasn’t easy and I felt on more than one occasion people were made more self-conscious at interacting with the content because I was present. If I was to try and discern if the project succeeded in what I had set out to do, then it could be said that the “best” version of the residency project becoming a public encounter was in the evenings when the space hosted the overflow crowd from theatre and comedy events during an arts festival. A crowd of people attending the venue for other reasons, making their way towards the bar or their seats would pick up things off desks or shelves, look at them quizzically trying to understand their purpose in being there or just generally being confused by the mess. As an observer in the crowd (I had free tickets to all shows during this period) these ordinary encounters seemed more genuine in curiosity than those during the day. I am still unpacking what this means for intentionally attempting to create an environment where a public can engage with processes of creative practice.
The formulation of a residency space able to contain all aspects of the creative process resulted in explicitly labelling the thinking, making, showing relationship. Early on in Gallery as Residency I played with delineating the gallery space into thirds, using tape to mark out the spaces on the floor and walls, attempting to only conduct actions in their corresponding sections. In a rudimentary fashion I placed a chair, a notepad and books in the first part; in the second, a desk and the objects, things and materials; and in the third, plinths and tables. Janneke Wesseling states that “the exceptional thing about research in and through art is that practical action (the making) and theoretical reflection (the thinking) go hand in hand. The one cannot exist without the other, in the same way action and thought are inextricably linked in artistic practice” (2011, 2). Delineating the space in the gallery wasn’t to say that these stages of thinking, making, and showing occur in this fixed order, but in acting out the actions that a residency encourages, I could externally visualise the process of my practice as these boundaries became increasingly blurred. Presenting the space in thirds that broke down made visible the way creative practice cuts across all three aspects blurring their clear demarcations (think cutting across transversally). In the context of the public nature of Paper Mountain, the separation of space alluded to the processes involved in leading up to what would usually be seen in the 'showing' stage of a project, therefore making available to a public what most projects in the space would withhold.
Over the course of the two short weeks my encounters with the materials intensified and the chance to come to know again, or otherwise, the common understandings of utilitarian manufactured goods was a central focus. As an attempt at reinvigorating gallery spaces as somewhere active and dynamic rather than showrooms of consumer ready art, Gallery as Residency was a rather small gesture. In the end I could not entirely avoid the gallery’s expectation of public involvement as Paper Mountain required some form of external engagement. Though I tried to use a panel discussion on the topic of artist residency as sufficing this condition I compromised with a closing night event where I experienced the power of the white cube gallery in creating conformity of practice. My confidence in disrupting the usual interaction of the space waned due to the frequently required explanations to the visitors and gallery volunteers. I also felt the pressure from the white walls and concrete floor to present my time in the space as amounting to something tangible, and so the space was transformed somewhat by the inclusion of plinths and video work. Hoping to maintain a semblance of activity and continuation, the furniture and objects, things and materials were left in their varying states of being engaged with, while plinths held aloft curious forms of sponge, disco balls, and agar blocks. Wall spaces were covered up with video projection and still images of balloons being sanded.
I felt immense disappointment that at even this halfway point of my PhD I wasn’t ready or able to commit to what I knew the process required and deserved. However, the trade-off was a continuation of learning through doing and the experience helped shaped my approach to the remainder of my project. Gallery as Residency was a step in my research towards establishing the condition of a residency needing to exist outside of the politics and confines of the gallery in order to most successfully remain open-ended and curious. It also generated a lot of insight into the reality of making creative practice processes public. Residency became the mode that drove my doctoral project forward, with each new one building on the research from the others, an open-ended format of artistic research. During my time at Paper Mountain, the notion of the residency as a thinking, making, showing space was expanded and I learnt a lot about my own processes as well as the preconceived ideas others bring to engagements with art. This residency, and many others undertaken during my PhD existed as forms of research, not resolved exhibits of work.
Craddock, Sacha, and Jose Dávila. 2018. “Backward and Forward.” In Jose Dávila, The Feather & the Elephant, 39–46. Berlin: Hatje Cantz.
Wesseling, Janneke. 2011. See It Again, Say It Again: The Artist as Researcher. Amsterdam: Valiz.
Work experienced in a gallery, whether commercial or volunteer run, predominantly signals its state of readiness for a public, its presentation by the artist to the world for consumption in some form. Not necessarily denoting a “finished” outcome (of which I also seek to avoid) but of a state ready to be viewed and engaged with. Because of the gallery’s indelible role in the machinations of the commercial art market that thrives on containable works, I position the space and action of a residency as a medium that bypasses the institutional framing of the gallery, allowing my research project to remain in a state of process rather than outcome.
Such a move has involved confronting the broader artworld context that thrives on commodifiable projects and yet it is the gallery space, embodying the white cube aesthetic, that undermines attempts at continued engagement and creation. On this O’Doherty says, “The preservation of the white gallery as a grand boutique was necessary for commerce and enabled museums to show their holdings” (2012, 39). Thus, even if we have now moved beyond the white cube gallery—as is evident in an “anti-white-cube-mentality” (40)—and even if such an institution can be explored as a medium in itself, the ties the gallery has to the commodified art object, or the commercialisation of exhibitions cannot be prised apart. A gallery, no matter how non-white, non-cubed cannot truly cut itself off from its own history.
Because of the gallery’s indelible role in the functioning of the artworld, bypassing it has become necessary in my doctoral research project to enable engagement without expectations with various objects, things, or materials and for this process to remain vibrant and open-ended.
Artists themselves are not confined, but their output is. Museums, like asylums and jails, have wards and cells—in other words, neutral rooms called ‘galleries’. A work of art when placed in a gallery loses its charge, and becomes a portable object or surface disengaged from the outside world. A vacant white room with lights is still a submission to the neutral. Works of art seen in such spaces seem to be going through a kind of esthetic convalescence. (Smithson, quoted in Voorhies 2017, 21)
This quote is from a statement that Robert Smithson wrote to Harald Szeemann regarding the intended curation of his work in dOCUMENTA (5). Smithson’s feeling of galleries as spaces of confinement is reflected in his non-site works developed years after dOCUMENTA (5) in which he attempted to undermine the gallery’s hold on containable, completed works of art. Voorhies says that through his non-sites Smithson “negotiated an art free from the authority and confinement of critics and exhibitions” (ibid). It was such a desire to be free of the restrictions of the artworld that led to Smithson’s statement to Szeemann in 1972. While Smithson utilised the troubled gallery space of the 1960s as a medium for his practice, I position the space and action of a residency as a medium that bypasses the institutional framing of the gallery all together. Moving beyond trying to negotiate with a gallery on their terms.
My aversion to the gallery also comes from the finality it often assumes for subject matter placed within its walls. By comparison, an object or thing or material that was conceptualised and realised within a residency can be viewed and experienced in proximity to the processes and matter of its conception regardless of the stage of interaction. Continuing the tradition of criticism of the gallery, Anton Vidokle and Brian Kuan Wood (2012) reiterated the gallery as a confining space at dOCUMENTA (13) by suggesting that even the most political or socially engaged art has been suffocated by the stifling grasp of the gallery. This, Vidokle and Kuan Wood say,
has produced an entire generation of amazing artists who opt for hyper-formalism that borders on the arcane, because they know that the only option available to them is to advance the enclosure of the art context by adopting a museological format within their very own exhibition-ready works—employing plinths, shelves, and vitrines as artistic forms par excellence. They know, like Duchamp perhaps did, that their freedom must be bought using the currency of the regime that governs them. (2012, para 11)
In attempting to not fall back on easy habits of enlisting plinths and white cube gallery spaces to contextualise artwork, in my doctoral research project I engaged in the format of residency to think, make and show in; however, this task was challenged at multiple stages—by the location of where I undertook residency, to the institution I was researching through. I explored how asking interesting questions and following curiosity, supported by the openness of a residency, can help avoid the restrictive formalism Vidokle and Kuan Wood criticise because doing so can point towards manifestations of art research beyond restrictions.
O’Doherty, Brian. 2007. Studio and Cube: On the Relationship between Where Art is Made and Where Art is Displayed. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
Vidokle, Anton, and Brian Kuan Wood. 2012. “Breaking the Contract.” e-flux 37. https://www.e-flux.com/journal/37/61241/breaking-the-contract/
Voorhies, James. 2017. Beyond Objecthood. Cambridge: The MIT Press
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
Actions, like squeezing and tearing sponges or standing on disco balls, are driven by asking ‘what happens if…?’ and ‘what might I learn if…?’ However, outside the event in which such actions are occurring, these moments become at risk of being lost. Here, the residency has the potential to hold these actions animate and continuous through cycles of thinking, making, showing, thinking, making and so on—and unlike as can happen in gallery exhibitions, doesn’t become a performative act of an ‘artist at work’. While these types of questions are not wholly unusual in contemporary artistic practices, they are often undertaken in the act of working towards the creation of a finished artwork at the perceived end of the process. The notion of the residency as a dynamic space that can support the actions of thinking, making, and showing art (as they come together and move apart again) provide an alternative to the experience of encountering resolved art presented for the public and encourages ongoing questioning and curiosity through its format.
The artists’ studio is usually a specifically designated space for art production and creation. In some instances, it can reflect habits of working, go-to materials, and thought processes yet, it can also at times be a dynamic and changing space. Brian O-Doherty says that the studio “exist[s] under the sign of process, which in turn defines the nature of studio time, very different from the even, white, present tense of the gallery. Studio time is defined by this mobile cluster of tenses, quotas of past embodied in completed works, some abandoned, others waiting for resurrection, at least one in process occupying a nervous present” (2007 18). I find it particularly interesting that here in O’Doherty’s discussion of the studio there is no notion of a future—a progression forward of practice or ideas—but rather a definite past of dead and dying works at best barely holding on to the present. Preceding this, Daniel Buren in 1979 outlined the studio as a space where “we generally find finished work, work in progress, abandoned work, sketches—a collection of visible evidence viewed simultaneously that allows an understanding of process” (56). Although he sees this studio content as constituting a visible form of process it is not always this place where creation is constantly occurring. It can become stagnant, sterile, storage; a place where dust gathers, and admin is conducted. A place where projects began with momentum but were left for new ideas.
Reverence for the artist’s studio has hardly waned in the years since Buren. Earlier in 2022 there was an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London—A Century of the Artist’s Studio—that reified both the artist in a studio and the studio itself as a site of charged creativity. According to the gallery’s website “it is the artist’s studio where the great art of our time is conceived and created” (2022). While the show doesn’t demand that the artist’s studio be an explicitly demarcated room within which to make art, the content does largely recall this notion through the imagery of paintings, photographs and even recreations of some artist’s studios.
After Dieter Roth’s death in 1998 his son had packed up and catalogued every aspect of his studio with the intention of displaying it elsewhere. Having gone to Hauser & Wirth gallery in New York to see Roni Horn’s Water Double v.1 and Water Double v.2 (2013-15), encountering Roth’s studio recreation felt somewhat of an imposition to move through to reach the upstairs gallery that held Horn’s work. The idea of placing a studio in its fullness in a gallery is interesting for its juxtaposition of past and present, but as this recreation was unable to be interacted with it felt relegated to being a prop, a relic that reflected the finality of Roth’s practice following his death rather than a celebration of his studio practice. Considering I did not particularly enjoy it, I think of this work a lot. As I saw this show during my PhD when thinking about the idea of residency and its potential, this work is linked for me to the conclusion that the studio was not where I should be doing art practice.
While for some the studio may hold the potential to be a place where productivity flourishes, it is often a removed and mostly private space where completed artwork emigrates out of, sometimes returns to, yet always remains somewhat disconnected from. During my research a studio became a signifier of monotony. The familiarity that comes from spending large amounts of time in the same space locked me in to material engagements that were unchanging. Seeing the same materials, the same backdrop for creative practice made it increasingly difficult to approach anything with curiosity or see a path to thinking or doing otherwise. A residency, on the other hand, came to symbolise potential and yet to be discovered qualities about the subject matter—a fresh space, an unknown space, one that would require negotiation and consideration. A residency could embody the studio at its most vibrant but without the habitual baggage.
Whether it is Daniel Buren preferring to work beyond the studio, in situ, or Robert Smithson blurring the lines with his non-sites, or Bruce Nauman sitting in his space, the studio is charged with a long history from which it can be hard to locate oneself within. In a project where interaction and engagement are a focus, the location such encounters occur in becomes closely examined. During my doctoral art research project the studio was neither generative nor conducive to thinking again or otherwise about longstanding relationships with utilitarian and common materials, and as such the notion of residency became the format for working in which acts of engagement became framed by a cyclical process of thinking, making, showing. Though the artist’s studio can be, for some, a space of action in which they locate their practice and examine their intuitive process, my research project required intentional moments of explicit and undiluted observational and interactive engagement which the studio could not give me. This was partly due to the nature of the content I was engaging with—largely familiar, everyday mass production of objects, things and materials as a way to re-engage my material world and consider new or different relationships through practice. As a method of doing practice, residency enabled proximity to the subject matter in a context not reliant on exhibitable outcomes.
Buren, Daniel. 1979. “The Function of the Studio” Translated by Thomas Repensek. October 10:51-58. https://www.jstor.org/stable/778628
O’Doherty, Brian. 2007. Studio and Cube: On the Relationship between Where Art is Made and Where Art is Displayed. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.