From Stefan Orlowski

31.03.2014 - 30.06.2014

Trélex - An Odyssey

It was Anthony Burgess who said that 'to be left alone is the most precious thing one can ask of the modern world.' Indeed this may be true but for what reason? Solitude can be a wonderful experience in order to listen to your senses, to simply allow oneself the time to process ones thoughts.

Essentially 'an ivory tower is fine as long as the door is open'. That is how I will best remember my experience in my three month stay with Nina and her family in Trelex.

I remember waking to the tolling of the town bell, looking out of the small aperture window in the southerly direction towards the vastness of the French Alps. This is the first thing to adjust to: the magnificence of the location. To the other side of the property lies the rolling Terre verte quietude of the Jura foothills, which, in the early mornings are often to be found shrouded beneath a lingering diaphanous fog. This fog, and the mountains it obscures would be where I spent many of my days and evenings. The Jura can be accessed by foot from the residence, simply walking out towards the town of Gingin and following the winding roads that lead to the logging routes. As you make your way up the steep promontory, eventually piercing through the wet canopy of cloud, magnificent views await across the entirety of the Vaud Valley and beyond.

Evening Mist in the Jura, 30 x 40 cm, Oil on linen, 2014 by Stefan Orlowski
Evening Mist in the Jura, 30 x 40 cm, Oil on linen, 2014

However, in order to attain the full panorama, it is necessary to ascend La Dole. This summit lies just behind the imposing view from the studio window. The incongruous white dome which marks the summit of this peak can be seen from the studio, but belies the spectacle that awaits if one takes the short drive to the summit car park. I remember a particularly disquieting experience up on the summit of La Dole very early one morning. The fog was again loitering among the undulations and hills that ascend towards the summit. Though strangely at this altitude approaching 5000ft there was no trace of wind. At the summit the scale of the dome impressed upon me sublimely, and yet what hypnotized me further still was the absolute quiet, the lack of any discernible movement of a single blade of grass as the fog kissed the earth around me. I felt contained like a small specimen within a bell jar. I felt reduced, infinitesimal and yet completely at ease.

A painting from just below the summit of La Dole, 'Crucible' by Stefan Orlowski
A painting from just below the summit of La Dole: 'Crucible'

All of this was for me a perfect setting to explore a new found interest in Landscape painting. Together with Linda and subsequently Zahra and Denise – all fellow residents during my stay – I would enjoy walking the local country in search of whatever I was looking for.

The Walk from St Cergue to La Dole by Stefan Orlowski
The Walk from St Cergue to La Dole

The residency is a wonderful blend of open discourse and working privacy. Nina is willing to offer critical advice and technical knowledge when called upon and there always seemed to be a free flowing exchange of thoughts and feelings about painting regardless of style or subject matter. Painting was always open for discussion with Nina and Linda, and I found that to be a particularly nurturing environment. New residents are asked to give a small presentation of their influences and past work. Like many artists I find presentations daunting but rather than being in any way difficult or awkward I found it to be relaxed, informal and beneficial to the open environment of the studio.The studio itself I found to be well set out with a huge amount of space to lay out large expansive projects if necessary. The two large 16ft movable walls are particularly ingenious in so far as they allow residents to altar the layout of the studio to suit specific needs: whether it be the curating of an exhibition, the accommodation of an installation or anything else for that matter. The views across the garden from the rear of the studio, where residents are usually to be found, are beautiful. The atmosphere across the Jura, which can be seen from the window, is very rarely the same and always something to behold. In its quiet magnificence I found it more stirring than the more dramatically kitsch views of the French Alps in the other direction.

In terms of materials and equipment, Nina's generosity in this area cannot be overstated. The studio is a veritable Aladdin's Cave. If you are missing something from the tool box, rest assured Nina will have just the thing for you. This usage of materials goes within reason of course. There is an art supplies shop in both Nyon and Geneva to pick up gear as and when. Although remote in its setting, Trelex is placed equidistantly between Geneva and the series of towns and Villages that run along Lac Leman. For galleries and art collections Lausanne provides a real wealth and diversity of Contemporary Art as much as the lesser known but equally vital works to be found in the revelatory Collection de L'Art Brut.

Being a resident for three months the initial few weeks passed slowly and in keeping with the steady drifting fog beyond my studio window. There were periods where I felt as if I had fallen out of time, as time itself really had little relative meaning in my day to day working process. This really is a terrific feeling of boundless possibilities, whereby I felt emboldened and justified in allowing myself to accept mystery.

I feel privileged to have been a part of the Trelex residency programme. My work has grown and gone in directions I never imagined before my arrival. It is a rare thing to meet an individual such as Nina who believes so passionately in the open and free education and collaboration between arts practitioners and writers at all stages of their careers. It is philanthropy of the highest order and I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude to Nina and her family for their generosity and pure good will.

From Linda Hemmersbach

22.03.2014 - 05.05.2014

After arriving on a dark and rainy Saturday evening, I awoke the next morning to a beautiful view of the snow-covered Jura Mountains. Over the course of my residency, the view of both the Jura Mountains and the Alps, as well as the intensity of the changing colours and light would have a profound effect on my work.

What I liked most about the residency was its unique location; Trelex feels both remote and well connected to the many cities around Lake Geneva. It was possible to withdraw into nature and or stay in the studio for days, or to venture out and enjoy the many museums in Geneva or Lausanne. This allowed a freedom and spontaneity to my stay, and depending on the weather or my urge for adventure, I spent every week differently.

The Trelex Residency was my first residency, and with a painting practice that is mainly studio based, I spent as much time as possible making work and using the great facilities in the studio. Every morning I felt excited to be able to create freely, with no other commitments to think about, no deadlines, no expectations, and often found it hard to stop in the evenings. After a first week of settling in and letting the new environment sink in, I quickly started to stray from my initial plan of exclusively working on small pieces of paper (dictated by what I could squeeze into my suitcase!), instead spreading out into the large studio space. I experimented with paper folding, creating more three-dimensional pieces, which was an exciting new development in my work. Nina generously provided me with many materials such as offcut bits of paper, cardboard and canvas, which in turn inspired new avenues of exploration.  

Nina was very supportive and happy to offer technical advice as well as critical feedback on the work. Like many artists, I find talking about my work hard, but Nina asked me to discuss my work in the context of ten things that inspire me, which was a really helpful exercise in trying to formulate recurring themes and influences. I was fortunate enough to share my time with Sarah-Knill Jones (who was collaborating with Nina on a painting performance) and Stefan Orlowski, both painters, who I enjoyed many memorable conversations as well as day-trips with. The atmosphere in the studio was usually very focussed and quietly productive. I learned a lot from working alongside Nina, Sarah and Stefan who all pursue their individual, and very different painting practices with passion and sincerity.

My work draws on the experience of landscape, so I also spent a lot of time exploring. From the house, there are many beautiful walks in the nearby forest or mountains to be taken. They can be reached by foot or by taking the little train which connects Trelex with the other villages in the mountains, such as St.Cergue, from where you can hike up to La Dole. 

Nearby Nyon is quiet with many picturesque old houses and a small castle with a beautiful view across the lake; Geneva is only another ten minutes away. I spent many afternoons there walking around the free (and always deserted) Museum of Art and History with its adjacent Museum of Graphic Arts, as well as Mamco , with its changing contemporary art and photography exhibitions. Geneva can seem affluent and polished at first, but head for the artier district Quartier de Bains and you will find many galleries and cafes, which offer an insight into Geneva’s creative life. My favourite spot was café Remor from which you can soak up the sun and enjoy a view of the surrounding mountains. For other day trips I recommend visiting the Art Brut Museum in Lausanne, the vine-yards near Vevey, and Montreux, from where you can take a small cable car up to the Rochers-de-Naye in the Alps.  Stefan and I also went on a little road trip over the border to France to explore deserted villages and the many haunting war memorials around Pontarlier or Jougne. 

Over the weeks I began to find clarity in my ideas and the body of work I was producing to be more refined and confident. Six weeks was a good amount of time to test and refine ideas and allowed me to experiment in ways I would not have done otherwise. In my last week, I cleared the studio space and put together an exhibition, selecting pieces I was most content with and testing different arrangements. I was surprised to see so many people (local artists, villagers, and friends) attend the informal evening opening. The feedback I received still echoes with me now, giving me plenty to think about now that I am back in my studio in London.

I feel that my time in Trelex has significantly changed my focus and has made me feel more confident about what I am doing and what I aim for as an artist. I feel incredibly fortunate to have come across the Trelex Residency by chance, and want to thank Nina and her family for their hospitality and kindness and for starting such a rare and unique project that will hopefully inspire others to follow.

Reflections after 2 years and 40 artists

Most of the content of this website was generated in the first year of the residency when I was still worried at times that no one would come! While the motivations and focus of the residency haven't changed, I have learnt a lot and been given so much more than I expected which I would like to share with you.

No application forms?!

Much of the advice I received when I started pondering the format of the residency centred around how to attract 'the best artists'. It was implied that I should seek the knowledge and support of experts, ask museum directors to select residents for me, have stringent application criteria. I found this off putting because they were all criteria that would have excluded me as an applicant: as a recent graduate, I wasn't on anyone's radar or in any important networks, on paper I looked old, saddled with children and previous non-art careers, with a portfolio still very much in flux. And I detest writing about my work. Yet I am passionate about my practice and absolutely believe that I would be the best person for any residency, thank you very much.

My tutor Garry Woodley, ever the anarchist, suggested I have no application forms and advertise solely by word-of-mouth. I thought this was also a bit unfair as you would have to be 'in' to ever hear about this. But he pointed out that formal adverts for other residencies aren't posted on the Clapham Omnibus anyway: you have to subscribe to the newsletters, buy the magazines and you tend to do this on the recommendation of your peers.

And it turns out the advantages are many. There are no application deadlines and I have no piles of applications to deal with. An expression of interest is dealt with instantly: either there is space or there isn't. When people come, it isn't because I have selected them and so I haven't made any promises that this residency is particularly suited to their practice. Instead the responsibility is entirely the residents to decide that this is a good use of their time. As such, I place a immense amount of trust on the artists, and they have always risen to that challenge. To this end, I post as much as I can on the website about the facilities and encourage every artist who comes to share their experiences in a way that is helpful to future residents, through a blog entry of their own.

A productive time

Artists aren't tempted to outbid each other with outlandish claims of what they hope to achieve in advance of even getting here but can stay open minded about how best to use their time. I believe this is the main reason that every artist who has come has left with comments about how they have never been this productive before. Because they get to enjoy absolute artistic freedom while they are here which is the ultimate commodity I could possibly offer them. Some people decide to put on a full solo show, others take the opportunity to go right back to a point where the emphasis is on experimentation and failure rather than finished work. But what suits them is never dictated by external pressures, only by the desires of the artists themselves.

This means the residency with its very minimal administrative framework generates huge value added for a very wide range of artists. Other residencies put a lot of effort into selecting the most experienced capable artists who of course generate very good polished shows in the allotted time. At Trelex, artists invariably surprise themselves with what they manage to achieve because the residency trusts them entirely to work at their own pace.

And of course, a very significant selection bias occurs. Now that word of the residency has spread far and wide, it is more often than not booked up a good 6 months in advance. Thus, to come, an prospective artist has to be committed enough to buy a plane or train ticket very far in advance and feel sure that even in half a year's time, this is still what they will most want to do. This means they tend to research this rather carefully, and ask me a lot of questions. And often they come because someone else has chosen to tell them what a fantastic time they had. A good institution is not one able to select artists that are already brilliant (how do you define that anyway?) but one that is able to create value added for the artists it hosts.

Invariably this also tends to select for artists willing to take a risk, with a can-do attitude and a high level of independence, and those truly committed to their practice rather than to a commercial career (where 'star residencies'  are preferred on the CV), all of which makes it very easy for me to welcome them and very enjoyable!

A generous network

Artists also take the risk of sharing the studio with two strangers, one of which is me! On the website -which I insist applicants read through! - I strongly suggest that if they are not interested in exchange and discussion, in questioning their work and that of others, they might not enjoy being here very much. Again, I have felt humbled by the generosity in this respect of all who have come. I guess there is some risk in inviting complete strangers to share my studio but in the end these complete strangers are taking exactly the same risk as me, perhaps a bigger one as they travel away from friends and family and often don't speak French. And so a very strong bond develops whenever the experience, invariably, turns out to be a positive one.

Facebook has undoubtedly played a big role in getting to know each other, in spreading word about the residency and in staying in touch. It is particularly gratifying when I am able to put two artists in touch who have both been here, have a lot in common but might otherwise never have met. It seems that there are many possible shows that will come out of the residency and the success of it has also given me huge confidence in chasing opportunities for the residents, for myself and for the residency quite aggressively. I find it far easier to ask for support for others, than I do for myself and so the network grows to encompass local artists, arts professionals, craftspeople, gallerists that I would not have had the confidence to contact solely on the basis of my own emerging practice. As such I think it is well worthwhile for other young or emerging artists to think very specifically about what they can give and share to build such a network of their own and benefit from the generosity of strangers in return.

On a very personal level, I feel that the residency has kept my practice in a questioning mode, surrounded by the vibrancy and intellectual curiosity that I so treasured at Art school. It has also made me increasingly confident about my own ability to mentor younger artists and support even more established artists as I am continuously able to test my ideas about artists process, development and progress.

A model that can be replicated?

At this point, I am actively looking for partners to expand this no-application model of residency. This could be private individuals (artists or not) with even just a spare room where artists would have a chance to get away from their usual surroundings and take a fresh look at their practice in which case all you would need is a good room and working space which you can commit even just for 2 weeks a year. Or it could be with established residencies or other institutions excited about a different experiment in which case they might decide to open up a small part of their facilities on a first-come, first served basis for again even just a couple of weeks a year. In return, I feel able now to promise that they will give an artist an extremely productive time and that they might be very surprised by what comes out of it. And I don't think you need to be an art professional already for this to be a very interesting experience. Just be curious.

About Luuk Schroeder and Hesoo Kim

01.12.2013 - 07.02.2014

It has been a while since I have written about particular residents on this blog. I started out with the intention of honouring everyone of my guests with a short personal summary of their practice as I had experienced it in Trelex. But blog writing is quite time consuming,  and I can sense that it's a bit of hassle for  the residents too.

The intention of the blogs by residents and by me was also to give so many windows into what it is like to work and live in Trelex and of the variety of Artists that are welcomed (though we could do with more writers and musicians, it seems to me!).

Still, I wanted to share just two little pieces by Luuk and Hesoo who came for a few months to Trelex. You will have seen photos on the FaceBook page for the residency of the screen printing facilities they constructed: drying rack suspended on pulleys from the rafters, screen printing table with recycled bottle counterweight, and UV exposure box complete with storage for two screens.

And in between all this, Luuk and Hesoo managed to contribute to a group show in Fribourg and make a lot of work. 

For the first one, I am rather relieved I wasn't in the studio. Luuk is walking in a figure of eight on the rafters and the two 4m walls on caster wheels (!) giving us a very unusual view of the part of the studio which is double height. The piece is caller Measurement 3 and is consistent with previous works by Luuk (website here) in which he uses video to measure or pace out a space following an almost mathematical logic. Works like these are almost always shown as a loop: the artistic measurement is never complete somehow, has no obvious beginning or end, like more classical scientific measurements. And so the measurement becomes formally useless and perfectly absurd. 

The second piece, by Hesoo, you will hopefully be familiar with through the FaceBook page. It also graces the business cards I printed to give to those who are curious about this unique Residency model.

Hesoo shone a projector out of the window of the residency, onto the little copse in the garden, on a very foggy night. The intention was to experiment with creating one of her floating frames of illumination which she then photographs for works that are both dramatic and oddly mundane (see examples on her website here). Instead the mist was so thick that the light never quite reached the trees and just seem to hang in the air. On the floor below, my husband got out of bed to look for the moon that would give such strange light. It was a very special moment and one which feels emblematic to me now. The residency looks like a lighthouse, created wonder and curiosity. It has attracted many people who are cautiously curious about contemporary art and has been a forum for many a discussion about what it is all about. I can't help but hope that there will one day be a network of these places: safe havens for artists and guiding lights for everyone else.

From Kezia Pritchard and Kristoffer Henrikson

01.09.2013 - 08.10.2013

We arrived in Trélex on a sunny day in the beginning of September. The first two weeks were warm enough to go swimming in Lake Geneva but towards the end of our stay the leaves were beginning to turn and there were reports of snow expected in the mountains around us. 

We found that the living and working arrangements on the residency worked really well for a couple. The studio could be divided in various ways using movable walls. This was particularly useful as there was usually more than one artist working in the space at one time. We had two bedrooms to share between us so we chose to live in one room and use the other as a study. There is a great collection of art books in each room. 

Nina became very involved in our processes and interests which prompted many interesting discussions. She was very supportive and keen for us to realise our projects. She often helped us to find solutions to practical problems and generously provided us with much of our materials. For instance, she taught us book-binding skills and provided us with a printer and printing inks for our flick book project.

This residency allowed us the time and space to concentrate and reflect on our work. It gave us the opportunity to devote time to working on projects and ideas without the pressure of a deadline. This has since proven to be very beneficial as we continue today to develop many of the ideas that were created on the residency.

A small addendum from Nina Rodin: Sharing the studio with Kezia and Kristoffer was a true privilege. For those 5 weeks, their presence imbued the place with an incredible sense of calm productivity, considered discussion and a celebration of craftsmanship. Kezia and Kristoffer were incredibly generous to everyone they met here and many in the village continue to talk about their work. Together we learnt a lot about flip books and Kristoffer made charcoal in the garden, a skill I am sure he would be happy to communicate to future residents as well. I would like to share their websites with you here: