Residencies in the SW & beyond

This spring 2015, VASW partnered two events discussing the role of artist residencies in the South West.

The first event A Time and a Place symposium was held at New Brewery Arts on Thursday 19 March to coincide with an exhibition of the same name. The event was chaired by VASW Director Grace Davies, and has been captured in a report by the event organiser and exhibition curator Janice Botterill.

The second event, Making Time: Conversations About Residencies in the South West, was held at Porthmeor Studios in partnership with Tate St. Ives on Friday 27 March and asked come critical questions about residencies, for artists, for our region, and for the non-arts sectors. 

We invited Nancy J Clemance an artist and writer who has been engaged in different residencies to respond to the events. Below is an extract from her writing.

What you leave behind is not engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others. Pericles

A residency, for me, is being given permission to explore in a certain space, for a certain amount of time with or without money, people, materials or expectations. I’ve carried out residencies in Cambridge Registrar’s Office, the Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis, a university, a barn in Suffolk, a bach in New Zealand, a radio station and a shepherds’ hut, to name but a few. 

My time studying the subject of visual anthropology taught me the importance of gaining overt permission in the peopled places I like to explore. While acknowledging my own subjectivity, and committing respectfully to the culture, I work at holding a position of observer. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed, but getting too comfortable is usually a sign that more work needs to be done.

To be acknowledged and accepted-in as an artist, can be a blessing, a thrown gauntlet, or a rodeo ride on a loose cannon.

The matrix of possibility around the opportunities for residency is complex and can result in a damaging mismatch. I agree that failure, experimentation and tangents are all potential catalysts, but I’d like to see Britain’s non-arts sector entities viewing the artist on site as a norm, not as an exotic novelty. 

Sam Thorne, Artistic Director of Tate St Ives and co-founder of Open School East, an organisation with a central commitment to ‘foster cultural, intellectual and social exchanges between artists and the broader public,’ introduced some key questions at 'Making Time: Conversations About Residencies in the South West':

  • What can residencies offer to artists? And to communities?
  • What are the possible futures of residency programmes? What or where are the alternative models?
  • How can they address a given context, and span of time?
  • And how can we work together across the South West?

A presentation from Low Profile documented ways in which residencies develop artists and their ideas; from the freedom of a self-propelled camping residency, to a modestly funded ‘critical moment’ in the Forest of Dean, to funded, open-ended models which gave space for affiliation, self-reflection, confidence and relationships which led to commissions. Low Profile acknowledged residencies nurtured ‘sustained work and better work’ and called for artists to be consulted in regard to the development of residencies.

As a socially engaged artist I was particularly interested in the language Low Profile used to describe their practice which engages with communities and the public. It seems that there is still scope for improvement when socially engaged artists articulate their practice to other practitioners, a difficulty of language that was echoed at the 'A Time and a Place - Exhibition Symposium' where robust efforts to define ‘what a residency is’, produced endless individual and institutional computations and understandings.

Across the symposia, I heard supportive case studies and interesting developments from VASW, New Brewery Arts, Wiltshire Council, Kelmscott Manor, Fox Talbot Museum, Tate St Ives, Hauser & Wirth, Back Lane West, Kestle Barton, Cast, and Clawson & Ward (Studio 36). In addition, artists shared their experiences, which included the challenges, confusions, slowburns and unexpected triumphs and domino effects of being in particular spaces and places. 

It was said more than once by representatives from hosting organisations, that to tell an artist ‘to do nothing’ engendered a frenzy of activity. Artists were seen as industrious and capable of successful reciprocal relationships.

The expectations of non-arts organisations was raised as an issue in both Cirencester and St Ives. Personally I have no problem if robust advocacy and residency preparation work has been done on both sides, then it should be a win-win situation. But if my win is a development in practice and theirs is a prize for tourism, that’s fine by me. But this view is not universally shared, and dissenting voices were heard across the symposia. A residency can be an intimate relationship, and as such it requires prior, informed consent on both sides. 

For non-arts organisations to see any worth in hosting residencies, our professional sector needs to write a clear message regarding the potential for reciprocity and convey it consistently. 

The seductive south west of England has the greatest density of artists outside London. It also attracts tourists and their pounds. They pay for improvements in internet coverage, house renovations, food quality and commercial art. The region is clearly very good at hosting tourists, and at the sector level of arts organisations coupled with residency artists, we seem confident with our progress. So let’s send each of these successful strands out to our non-arts specific organisations, via our best advocates, and see what we can do in partnership with likeminded people in unlikely places.

Nancy J Clemance, April 2015


What's On

Family Saturdays

Aspex Gallery, The Vulcan, PO1 3BF

Monday 01 October 2018 – Thursday 31 October 2019

Craft Workshops

Various Venues

Friday 08 February 2019 – Tuesday 31 December 2019

Jon England: Hour Hands

Market House Museum, 32 Swain St, Watchet TA23 0AD

Wednesday 27 March 2019 – Friday 08 November 2019

Visual Arts South West

Working towards a South West where talented artists thrive, and a resilient and connected visual arts ecology that inspires more engaged and diverse audiences to value and advocate for its work.

Part of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network

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