Nowadays, the majority of artists draw inspiration and source their raw materials from the objects, forms and the issues in their immediate environment. Their research focuses on architecture, the city, the environment, landscape, history, public or private life by social, economic, political, cultural dimensions of the contexts they inhabit, depending on the unique approach of each artist. Artist residencies have also become significant milestones in their artistic career, offering opportunities for research and to create works in a range of situations. They also contribute towards the training of young artists and to building up a network of professional contacts. Furthermore, they allow the structures where they are in residence to accompany them as close as possible in the creative process and to imagine renewed exchanges with local audiences, through an extended residency of artists and the development of specific projects.
This is what led to collaborators The Spur coming on board to a European artists two-month programme, particularly intended for young artists, accompanied by a research grant, the provision of living and working quarters and with the support of a team of professionals.
Selection criteria, grants and terms and conditions
Common guidelines have been defined, without overlooking the particular features of each partner structure. This latter has been structured around the cities of residence, their geography, urbanity, their culture and their economy. All the cities involved have a rich heritage, a strong historic and cultural identity, harnessed by the tourist economy generated by the same. Artists were invited to present their work and their goals, based on these items, and to choose three residency structures in order of preference. This has allowed us to discern how suited they are to the directors’ artistic choices, the research areas of the structural institutional project and to verify the resources available to enable research and production under the best mutual conditions of interest and feasibility. Artists have also been asked to make a public presentation of their research, in association with the cultural services of the structures, adapted to their approach.
The application forms were initially distributed by the team in charge of leading the initiative, which in this case is le LAIT art centre in Albi, France. The drafting and follow-up of the contracts and the administrative and financial follow-up of the residency activity was performed in collaboration with Es Baluard, the La Palma Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of the Balearic Islands, under the supervision of Girona’s Bolit Centre of Contemporary Art. While each director received about forty artist applications, selected on the basis of the above-mentioned criteria, they could still access all the applications, numbering about 200 for each public bid. Each director submitted their choice to the jury, who announced their decision. Artists received a sum of €3,600 for a two-month residency, including accommodation and travel expenses. The structure includes a living and working space with the offer of professional support according to the wishes and needs of the artists. They were allocated a mentor to allow them better integrate into the city and its networks as well as to meet specific expectations.
The residencies have been organised to take place at the same time in the different locations. All artists came together at the end of each period to compare their experience during seminars or symposia attended by all the participants and external stakeholders on a range of selected themes.
Findings and avenues of reflection
The residencies proposed by The Spur and initially by ETAC (the cross-border contemporary art space) have been designated as a research residency, making it so special. The artists interviewed highlighted their satisfaction with being hosted to freely use their time to carry out research, without any obligation to produce anything or put on a final exhibition. Suspended time, away from any external pressure to produce a result. They have described this moment as unexpected and rare, something that has bolstered us in our approach.
Nevertheless, analysing these residencies in light of our experiences with the artists has led us to wonder if the time for pure research is really possible without any production output and if it is guaranteed under the proposed conditions?
We are firstly asking artists to tell us their intentions for the project at the application stage. This is very useful for the members of the jury, giving them a specific idea of the purpose of the research, to prepare them for when they come, to select the mentor, to communicate and to select the artists according to the technical and human resources of the structure. However, this can lead to specific expectations on our part and a commitment for the artist while they still have no experience of the context that could inspire them in ways they are not expecting or may not anticipate which is enriching for their approach. It is therefore important to emphasise the full liberty that the artists have and the opportunity to abandon an initially proposed project for research lines resulting from in-depth knowledge of the context.
Artists must publicly present their research before the end of their residency. This presentation is understood to be free in terms of its form, it can be adapted to each artist’s research, while the absence of a specific allocated budget often imposes the repetition of basic forms, the presentation of the project by the artist, with the aid of a few documents or objects, accompanied by images of the artist’s work, to provide information about it to the public. This is generally followed by a presentation in an open studio or an exhibition, transforming the research in production, without the benefit of the corresponding budgets. The residency structures have thus often supplemented the grants.
This is what makes artistic research unique and what differentiates it from a scientific or theoretical research. It is constructed and develops, embodied in artistic forms. It is usually determined by a project, a current production, the performance of shows, commissions or exhibitions. An artistic journey is rarely a result of a theoretical deduction, it does not illustrate a thesis, and is instead created as a result of circumstances, a space, by chance, through word, a film, a particular encounter, from all or nothing; it is created and its finishing touches are added during the practical stage. How do the imaginary and circumstances feed into research?
Does the artist’s work involve a series of steps and logical deductions or even revelations to create a form in a space? Does the context of a production feed into the research taking place or does it take it in a new direction? How do material conditions of the residencies and exhibitions influence research? Are they a creation of a work or a phase? Can artistic research can be separate to production? Can visual thinking develop outside the production or the simulation in a space? What is the ideal amount of time to carry out research? It will be useful to reconsider these questions to plan the next residencies closer to the needs of artists and their work.
We will finish off by sharing a Chinese tale: once upon a time, there was an emperor who was crazy about art, who went to see an artist to commission a painting containing a crab. The artist told him: give me a big house located in a beautiful setting, twelve servants and do not bother me for five years. The emperor accepted his conditions and arrived at the agreed date. The painter then told him that he needed five more years, which the emperor reluctantly agreed to. When the emperor returned, the painter said: wait for me here, I’m going to get my brush, then he sat down, and right there and then, drew the most beautiful crab in the world.