To the casual observer artist residencies or colonies can sound a bit pretentious (and in the old days they could sometimes be just that), where artists get to be Artists, or badly behaved solipsists. But the reality is nowadays that these places diverge enormously in terms of their demands, intentions, and environments they operate in. There’s a lot of them, all over the world. And they have helped so many artists generate new work.
Residencies are nearly all very competitive, often costing a lot of money to attend when you add up all the expenses, and still a large number of applicants. It’s an exhausting, but necessary, process to apply to multiple organizations, making sure you cross every t and dot every i. There are a ton of us out there, a little desperate to focus, relax and produce work without everyday anxieties.
In October I was accepted to attend the mighty Atlantic Center for the Arts, which has fantastic buildings, resources and staff, and has facilitated decades of work by well-regarded artists. I came to ACA to teach myself new skills in animation and cross-pollinate it with a music composition that I was regenerating. And also, specifically, to decide just how much self doubt was positive or crippling to the creation of new work. With the support of multi-disciplinary artist, Sook Jin Jo (a superb ally), and in only three weeks, I got a lot done.
I made a trailer to sum up a little of my research on the extraordinary Margaret Cavendish and 17th Century science and its fictions. The clip shows my mini-experiments in creating cut-out animation, and composition/recording of a sample soundtrack, using baroque flute, prepared piano, data sonifications from Orion star system and a black hole.
We (mostly visual artists) also created a collective performance installation, “Nocturne in Process” with Sook Jin Jo curating the work we each created directly for this project. I created the music, performing on prepared piano, and lured some other artists also into becoming musical performers.
Both experiences of my animation and the collective installation were liberating, and I went down any creative rabbit hole I pleased. The self-doubts took a holiday, and I stopped caring beyond the proscriptions of my project.
It was wonderful to exist in a hive, eat food prepared with depth and sensuality, and best of all, no fuss. ACA is situated in a lush Floridian jungle of animals and plants, the buildings sweating in the humidity – it’s unlike any other place I’ve visited. Inspired by the drawing studio I shared with the other visual artists, I have regenerated my music studio space at home to include working on visual media.
My second residency after ACA was in Berlin’s dark, cold, November, at the petite Willows Nest, run by trans-disciplinary composer, Renee Coulombe. I performed my “Box | Grown Men Sing” multimedia work (which has since developed since its premiere at the Oregon Fringe Festival), and in the second half of the concert, Renee and I collaborated to produce our multimedia improvisation. “11th Species Counterpoint” aptly complemented “Box” (which is about solitary confinement), as a kind of futurist dream. Like the counterpoint exercises of music theory, lines were created and interwoven, using recordings I had made in the South African bush, narrated dreams, processed video, and flute/keyboard improvisations.
I stayed in Paris for several weeks after that, rehearsing, performing and meeting with a number of musicians and composers, which will bear fruit over the next year or two. This also included recording with violist/composer Nigel Keay in a stunning, historically rich room (replete with the DNA of Balzac, Chopin, George Sand, numerous French painters and sculptors, and Karl Marx).
These past three months have shown me how to move forward in confident communion with others. It’s a calm and energizing experience. My 2020 is not just about my own individual expressions ie. a solo album, and a fully realized animation of “Blazing World”. It’s also about new work that will assemble beyond my own immediate skill-set, built within a larger hive of passionate colleagues.