14 May - 10 June 2018
It’s been two months plus since my residency in Trelex, Switzerland – enough time to settle into the familiar rhythms of my life on Canada’s comparatively wild and isolated west coat. As the gap between my time in Trelex and my re-entry into Vancouver widens, I find myself looking back on those idyllic six weeks with a sense of awe and gratitude.
Awe at the quality and quantity of work I accomplished in such a short time and gratitude to Nina Rodin for her generosity in providing me with a peaceful space to read, think and work.
If I close my eyes, I can still picture my large, light-filled studio at the top of the country house that I called home for six weeks.
I can see the wind in the slow movement of the leaves dancing on the fruit trees or in the swaying grasses that fill the open meadows and pasture land beyond my window.
If I concentrate I can still feel the silky, cool waters of Lake Leman against my hot skin on a cloudless spring day.
In my mind’s eye, I can still peek out my window at the fiery Jura Mountains set aglow by the setting sun.
If I block out the noise of everyday life, my ears fill with the early morning birdsong that pulls me gently from sleep.
For me the peace and tranquility of the Trelex Residency meant hours of uninterrupted writing, allowing me to return home with a completed manuscript ready for publication.
For a writer, for me, there is no greater gift. There are no rules at the Trelex Residency beyond those of civility and respect. Writers and artists are left to decide for themselves what interruptions they welcome, the level of social interaction they are comfortable with and the effort and time they want to put into their projects.
I chose to divide my days up with writing, reading, walking and exploring a country rich in language, history and culture. Sometimes I didn’t leave my studio for days on end, other times I put my writing aside and lost myself in long walks and bike rides, train trips and ferry boats.
On a few special occasions, I joined Nina’s family on weekend excursions to art galleries, chateaus and museums.
This little corner of Switzerland is now in my heart and for that I’m thankful.
But to be clear, The Trelex Residency is much more than a beautiful home in a lovely village. The Residency is the manifestation of Nina Rodin’s dream of creating a place where artists from around the world are able to work and to dream free of the restraints, both financial and personal familiar to so many creators. It’s a wonderful and generous gift that allowed me to turn an idea into a book, while making friends with artists from other corners of the globe.
28 Mar - 16 Apr 2018
The views near my home are stunning, the beach and the estuary.
The cost of living is such that I work and my husband works two jobs. We have two children and I spend my life juggling these commitments. I feel worried about money most days.
But, every day I walk across our beautiful bridge and allow myself a few minutes to enjoy the estuary. The mud is viscous and glossy, sometimes pricked by birds footprints; deep, tidy tridents in the gloop.
The materiality of the mud gives me great pleasure. I love the huge swoop of sky above the river, reflected in the glass bridge.
It's a tidal river, so the view changes all day, every day. It's my daily ritual; a moment of gratitude and of placing myself. I know many others who live here enjoy this too.
This bridge is a stunning piece of design, engineering and collaboration. Time was needed for all aspects of its conception and construction and it is appreciated every day by so many.
I was taught at SOAS that the flint axe, was the first piece of art, that we know of. I was taught that Egyptian culture was rich in artefacts because of the material richness of the Nile and consequent wealth of the civilisation. That art preserved for posterity was funded and bought by those with the time and money to do so. That financial inequality and the story of power is reflected in the story of art, and as such, that much is lost.
That art is an event; a ritual; a celebration. Art is a conduit and a vessel for ideas and practice, shaping and reflecting the community. Art is a conversation and artists need and long for community and discussion.
Trelex gave me the time to reflect on my place in the world and the place of art in the world. Time to reflect on time.
Trelex reminds me of working for Tom Morris, when he was Director of BAC. He knew that artists needed support and time; to play; to discuss; to innovate; to make mistakes and ultimately to make and develop work. He nurtured those processes and gave artists the time and space they needed. He created a dialogue between artists in different forums ('a Beer for an Idea') and got artists together to make unexpected work, e.g 'Jerry Springer The Opera'.
Trelex works on the same understanding, that artists may follow a thread intensively without knowing where it will lead. The process is to drift; to look; to read; to discuss; to make; to look again; to make mistakes; to make discoveries. And time and community are essential to the process.
You do not need to state your intention or objective in order to be accepted. You just have to be an artist, to apply and turn-up.
Cuts to arts funding sideline art in state schools. Artists, like everyone else, are coping with the pressures of meeting basic human needs. How can they make time to make work when they can barely afford to pay the rent and buy food?
As artists, young and old, we internalise these negative cultural messages about art; is art unnecessary, frivolous, an indulgence. Or perhaps art is an elite practice for the few who are wealthy enough to be able to indulge.
As a mother of two, it is extremely difficult for me to take time to myself. Instead, I worry that I should be earning money; looking after my children; and cleaning my house.
How do I justify pursuing a process with an outcome which is uncertain?
To make art is to make mistakes; to follow whims; to have accidental successes; joy found in drifting, discovery and losses.
Trelex helped me to see that without the artistic process, I am not a well person. I am not a fully functioning person. I am also failing my community.
What Nina has created is hugely generous and extraordinarily insightful.
This is a residency open to all artists of all media and all levels of professionalism. Acknowledging that all artists start somewhere. That all of us share common needs and that success in art is not necessarily chronological. That if you get a bunch of artists together, ideas will flourish. That artists are hugely influenced by each other.
It is an egalitarian approach and sidesteps the entrenched elitism of academia and the art world; an elitism which protects assets, but does not necessarily benefit the artistic process.
I had very little belief in myself and my practice when I arrived at Trelex. But what I found there was a community; and time. I was gifted time.
It was a shock at first, after 10 years of mothering. A real shock. To have time. To be important enough to be allowed time to myself. To drift. Not the usual dismiss and prioritisation of my thoughts, but just to observe them with curiosity and follow where theyed me.
Nina has an incredible library and so I carried a sack of books around for the whole time I was there. My beautiful, single accommodation was just off the huge shared studio. So I made work whenever I wanted to, without having to fit it into an allotted time slot. It came when it was ready and I purged and painted and drew, without a schedule, but I worked every day.
I sat in the garden and drew. I made films. I listened to music. I danced. I ate. I cried. I took long showers.
I talked intensively to the two other artists on the residency.
I listened to their processes and their obsessions and looked at their work. That was probably the most exciting time for me. I loved hearing about their fascinations and looking at their work.
We shared stories, supported and nurtured each other. We each expressed the value of this community; this time to share, the importance of having others look at and discuss our work.
I became alive again. I started to see paintings and images.
They moved more quickly through my mind than I could capture them. Washes of colours ; big, sloshy, brushmarks; ironies; insights; coincidences.
I began to see myself, my processes, my motivations, again. They weren't lost, they were thriving and wriggling and vital.It felt like just the beginning.
Perhaps it is the beginning?
I hope that I can keep this feeling. This way of working.
Can I justify putting time aside to make work, regardless of whether it sells or not. Regardless of its success and failure.
To believe that unforeseen things will come if I invest time in the process.
I hope that I can keep in contact with those artists, to keep the dialogue going.
Thank you to Nina, to Trelex. For understanding what an artist needs and for nurturing that and making it a reality. For accepting artists in all their guises. For allowing me to be part of it all. Me.
I have often felt disenfranchised as a mother, not relevant. Not a part of the dialogue. Not enough.
On a personal level it has been a very special experience.
For Nina to open her family home to accomplish this is incredible.
Nina I am humbled by your generosity ; grateful for your courage; in awe of your insight; and spurred on by your tenacity.
But in knowing you, I am not surprised that you have accomplished this.
Trelex in itself is a great leap of faith, a collaboration and a process that I am hugely grateful and proud to have been a part of.