From Alia Bilgrami

22 Dec 2019 - 31 Jan 2020 

Getting down to work, using egg tempera

Quiet. So quiet, that you can hear your own thoughts churning. The sprawling Jura Mountains engulf you and their beauty seeps into your skin, into your soul and you can just be. Part of the quietude means that you are confronted head-on by your own thoughts. It’s difficult to describe in words what the time in Trélex meant to me personally. There were a lot of discoveries – psychological, physical and conceptual. I finally made a breakthrough in my art practise and thought of a new idea/concept for my work. It seems to have all lead to this point after I worked through all of these feelings I didn’t quite realise needed to be put to rest. Part of being in a quiet place where you are able to just be, means that you have a lot of time to think. And thinking on this scale and depth leads to many fruitful discussions, research and art making. At Trélex, you are at no point pressurised into doing any of those things. You could do all of it, or none of it at all. Taking the pressure off perhaps works in the same way as keeping the pressure active. Everyone has a different way of working but somehow I’ve always worked better under pressure. To be left entirely to my own devices, with no deadline to meet and no particular goal in mind is always a little dangerous, nevertheless, I was finally able to find a way of setting my own deadlines – none! And somehow, I still managed to be productive despite the lack of boundaries and the elusiveness, with all the space we were given to just take a breather. The best part about this residency is the space that you are allowed to have: physically, mentally and metaphorically – the gunjaish that it lets you have. Almost unheard of in the fast paced life of an adult and much needed respite. 

Cyanotype landscape

The first week went by with no productivity whatsoever, which I was later told is totally natural. Not knowing this initially, I felt a little listless and unproductive. But it takes a little time to get a sense of the place, and to get used to being somewhat isolated after traversing a big city and having anything and everything available at your fingertips. More planning had to be done here, more effort had to be made. You can’t just go to a corner store and grab something if you run out. Doing groceries can be a bit of trek and so planning things out seemed to force me into being more mindful of what I was eating, how much I could carry and this coupled with the super complicated recycling system in Switzerland really made us or me think long and hard about what I was consuming and how I was disposing of it. Even though this is a very mundane aspect of the residency to write about, I feel that it is worth mentioning because it is very much part of the experience. It’s generally good to be more aware of one’s consumption and it’s consequences but since sustainability and our choices are so much in the forefront of most critical discourse these days, it seemed like an apt topic to mull over a little during my six week’s stay at Trélex. I tried to limit my trips to Nyon for supplies via the little red train to once a week.

Sharing our work

Having absolutely no idea who the other person is at the residency and what it will be like to share a space with them is an interesting learning experience. You will go from being complete strangers to interacting 24/7. I really lucked out because both of the practitioners I overlapped with were wonderful people, warm, engaging and generous. I spent the festive season and New Year’s Eve with Aleksandra. We really bonded – there were many shared meals and treats, life stories and pictures were exchanged and resolutions and wishes for one another were made. Not being with family and friends during the holidays would have been very difficult if it hadn’t been for the fact that we had each other’s company and we got along really well. I was sorry to see her go but got along equally well with Adrian, whom I also shared many meals with, each of us sharing, Pakistani and Austrian dishes with great enthusiasm! We had in depth conversations about life and our art and critiqued each other’s work and websites. We also did an interesting word exchange with Urdu and German that formed an important part of our discourse, with a particular emphasis on words that just cannot be translated properly in English no matter how hard we tried, starting off with gunjaish. We rounded this off with a show and tell session with tea and cake on our last evening with Nina, her adorable youngest, Alexander who I became rather attached to and an artist guest who came to visit the studio. I was hoping to have more time with Nina in the studio and learn the art of making artist’s books but she was very busy flitting between Trélex and Berlin where she had a solo show to set up. Nevertheless, I was happy to be able to spend snatches of quality time with her here and there. 

Season's greetings
Happy new year!

I must also mention Lulu, a turquoise little birdie who kept me company over many weekends when I was on my own at the residency. If you are used to having your partner around, sometimes you miss them a lot in such a beautiful and surreal setting but you also look forward to sharing how you have evolved and grown from such an experience on your own and it’s really important to do that from time to time if you are able to. Returning to them and your relationship with a fresh perspective can be very fulfilling. 

Rothko inspired cyanotype painting
Stream of consciousness painting

Coming to the work itself, after the initial rustiness, I worked on several cyanotypes that I had brought along to rework and ended up only using white gouache to create patterns that echo water in miniature paintings – a rhythmic pattern used extensively in Persian and South Asian miniatures as well as traditional Japanese and Chinese painting. The pattern keeps coming back in my work and the setting perhaps accentuated my craving for minimalism. I wrote a lot about what I was feeling. For me, writing has always been the way I sketch or work through ideas. I write notes or essays and don’t really keep a sketchbook for drawing, whenever I have; it just ends up being full of text! I did lots of photography and an exercise I conducted everyday religiously was to photograph the view from the window in the room I was staying in and then compare the different times of day, weather and cloud cover. I am sharing some of my photographs here but of course will not bombard readers of this blog with my photos from every single day! Before coming to Trélex, I had taken a basic course on egg tempera painting at the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts, London and during the residency I had the chance to work on the practise painting I had brought along to complete. I wasn’t able to finish the whole thing but certainly made some progress and also gained more confidence in the medium that has proven to be as time consuming as miniature painting, a genre that I am well versed in. I was pleased to be able to hone this new skill a little more by making two new works that I made using the premise of stream of consciousness but in painting. This was my break-through – to paint without planning and just make whatever forms develop naturally in my mind and put them down on paper or plywood supports without thinking. For a perfectionist miniature painter, this is much easier said than done! 

The last view from my window

I feel like I achieved a fair bit during the residency and cannot express in words how grateful I am to Nina and her family for their generosity. I was able to get a time-slot just in the nick of time when I was running out of options and in a nomadic state trying to figure out my residency status (immigration, not art!). So, for me, this residency was not only an amazing opportunity work-wise but in a way it was nothing short of a miracle! So, thank you once again, to the Rodin family, from the bottom of my heart for this much needed home away from home. I was not only able to contemplate my art practise and make new work, but it was also a time where many life-management logistics magically came together, some of which I attribute to the rainbows from my first couple of days at the residency as I am truly convinced that they brought me good luck. And on that positive note, I shall end this rather long blog post and wish all future Trélex residents much luck and pass on the torch.

To see more work and projects:

One of my tulips stayed in Trélex!

Gunjaish is an Urdu word that is very difficult to translate into English! In a literal sense it means vastness, space or roominess – physical or abstract that leaves room for something else to exist, take over or inhabit that space in the future. It could be the space between places, objects or thoughts. It is often used in a more poetic or metaphorical sense to describe abstract spaces or emotions in literature and poetry. In a colloquial sense it is used literally to describe space, flexibility, room for something that is to come later and it can also refer to a certain amount of flexibility in thought or tangible space. This is one of the first words Adrian and I discussed that simply could not be translated with a single word equivalent in English, thus making it complicated to articulate and explain.

From Adrian Gutzelnig

5 - 31 Jan 2020

It’s very silent here says a book lying on the way to the studio, Nina created it and indeed it’s very quiet here – in this big house, in the village of Trélex. And since I came in January, I guess even quieter during winter. That’s what I searched for. Coming from the city life of Berlin, I was searching for a time of reflection and space to think of new work. 

I got what I wanted. Sitting at my desk, looking out of the window and into the garden – the fields in the background, long walks and looking at the beautiful mountain on the other side of Lake Geneva. A share of Nina’s studio and a lot of time.

Finally, a month to create art, right? 

Just before I came, I had researched the traditions and beliefs of what is called Rauhnächte in Austria, where I come from. An equivalent of the Twelve Days of Christmas in England, this period between the years represents a gap – the darkest time of the year, a time of special connection between this world and the other in many cultures. It is reserved for activities such as prayer, future telling, purification rituals and scaring away the spirits of winter. 

It happened that my spirits were waiting for me in Trélex. No loud noises there, like those of the bells used in some Austrian regions to scare the spirits away. 

I was unable to achieve anything. The spirits would appear and disappear, flying around me, one suggesting one project, and another one trying to change my mind again. A third spirit would tell me to finally finish an old project, and a forth was pushing on me to believe that there are more important things to follow than art, questioning the very existence of my practice. 

The fighting was ongoing. I am a strong person, but they were tearing me into pieces. Two weeks of sitting in the studio. Two weeks without achievement. Even more arguments from the spirits. 

It was painful. 

Despite it being a silent place, there were still two people around, Alia my artist in residence colleague and Nina. In our conversations it became clear to me that these spirits are no problem, actually. They are everywhere throughout the year, hiding away usually, rather than invading the everyday. 

In my way of approaching Trélex, I created it as a gate between different worlds, a space to leave the everyday, to leave the city and to encounter an open process of seeing what would happen, rather than making judgments right away. I expected it to be a new piece of art, a sculpture or installation, something like that. However, in this moment it became more like a performance – I was playing ghost busters. 

So no matter what, I was still in this situation, being teased and pushed. Spirits were flying around me, and I was unable to get a grip on them. I don’t know where they came from, but understanding that it was me who invited them was changing the game. It was the beginning of my stay’s second chapter. 

“Come on in!” I said to them, “It was me who invited you, so come and stay with me.” I stopped trying to fight them. “Come here, don’t fly away; tell me your story! … What is it that you were going to say?” “How come? That’s a bit hard to believe, but if you think so…” 

I can proudly say, I was able to make them mine. 

The spirits became a part of me and after listening to them and wanting to hear more, they became silent and more silent, losing their words altogether. 

I was able to open myself and to feel them crawl in. After a bit, the only feeling that remained was a deep, warm, mesmerizing feeling – a deep glowing from my heart. 

The rest of my stay became gorgeous. After what I’ve been through I stopped caring. I started to see how amazing the resources are, that Nina is sharing so generously. And in the end it happened that I made quite a bit of progress with new work. 

My stay felt more like a trip. I was diving down into the unknown, coming back up with more strength and passion for my practice, an invaluable experience.

If you are curious to see some of my work, please check out my website:

From Anna Ferdenzi

20 Nov - 20 Dec 2019

I arrived in Trélex on the 20th of November. 

30 days to focus completely on my art work, the very thought was something of a dream for me. 

Back in 2012-2014 I had taken part in Crimson Boner’s ABC (Artist book Collaboration). Each artist made a book with a theme and posted their book to another artist, my theme was ‘Juxtaposition’, and the person I would send my book to and all subsequent books, was Nina Rodin, founder of the Trélex Residency. Seven years on I had finally managed to make it to the residency. 

On my arrival, I was greeted by Julio, Nina’s husband’s assistant and the families gorgeous Great Dane dog. Julio showed me to the studio space at the top of the house and the lovely room where I would be spending my residency. Apparently I would be sharing the space with one other artist, Mariana, a painter from Portugal. Mariana was in Berlin, as was Nina until Friday, which gave me a couple of days alone in the house. 

A movable white wall divided Mariana’s and my working space. I walked around to her side, I wanted to have a look at her set up. The space was filled with abstract shapes painted on canvas, brushes and earthy coloured pigments. I was looking forward to meeting her and discussing her work. An appealing part of this residency/social experiment, was to speak with other like minded artists. To talk about our process, share our work and experiences. I made myself a cup of tea and took a moment to take in my surroundings. Alone, upstairs in the attic of this very grand home with views of the Jura Mountains from almost every window, away from the distractions and responsibilities of living in the ‘real world’. Silence. 

Mariana arrived back on Friday, we made our introductions and that evening shared a meal and a glass of wine. It was nice to have a chat and get some insight into her work. Mariana had excellent English considering it wasn’t her first language, but she made me laugh because when I offered her a glass of wine her response was, “I accept”, this became somewhat of a joke between us, a great response to an offering, far better than, “that’s nice, thanks”, much more direct. I’m going to start using it myself, “I accept”! 

The dynamic of the working space obviously changes when a new artist arrives. Mindful, we gave each other space and naturally settled into a new routine. I wake early so tried to be respectful that I wasn’t making any noise before 9am. Behind the dividing wall, I could hear her work and she could hear me, the sound of us both working separately was amplified by the silence. We had some lovely chats around mealtimes, mainly about food and life, I’m half Italian, so food always comes into the conversation, it was nice to have company. Of course we spoke also about art. Andy Warhol said, “It is futile to verbalise art”, this quote resonates with me. The very reason I love creating art, is because it is non verbal. Why should you have to verbalise a non verbal process? Of course I understand that if a piece of art impacts you, your going to react. If you have someone with you, you’ll most likely talk about that piece of art. I’m not talking about that type of verbalising; I’m talking about the rhetoric that many art critics come out with when their analysing a work of art. This is ‘their’interpretation, not mine, nor yours. Art is subjective, each person’s interpretation is different. The art world, like many establishments, can be so patronising, so elitist, born from a place of privilege. It’s enough to put you off, it put me off. That’s what’s so great about being at the residency, there really is no judgement. 

I have always struggled to define what type of 'artist' I am. I would consider my art to be multi-faceted, using various styles and techniques. I studied graphic design and majored in illustration, my current work, the style I go for, is something in between. I don’t like labels, but am aware that I have to call myself something, I’m a graphic artist, that’s what I am…for now. I hadn’t selected a project to develop before I arrived, instead I wanted to see how I would feel when I started working in this new space. I did however have two dominant themes. The first was a silent story, a narrative based around a central character, for this theme I was experimenting with pencil. The second was, ‘the female form and sexual representation’. I made a start on both. Bit by bit and without any pressure it became clear that I felt more compelled to work uninhibited, with movement, flow and gesture, without the detail that pencil often lends itself to. So my decision was made, the pencil project, for the time being would have to be parked. The power of the female form prevailed and the empty white wall started to fill. 

Notebooks really help me; I always keep a notebook. Generally, it may be just a word, heading or phrase that can spark an interest. From this starting point I can develop my theme, sketch out some ideas. I took a lot of pleasure in the the experimental process, folding, cutting, tearing, line work, not really knowing where it would lead, but it all started to naturally unfold. I took photos of each stage of development and made little GIFs bringing my still images to life and giving me a bit of a laugh in the process. This movement added another dimension to my work. I made paper sculptures and scaled up my existing work. I wanted to paint and experiment with print, but didn’t, so like a 4 year old I used big chunky oil crayons and neon markers, I love neon. I would continue experimenting once I got home. 

I worked and walked every day discovering the many trails and beautiful scenery that this part of Switzerland has to offer. I really enjoyed the convenience of the little train, only about 300 metres from the house, the train takes about 7 minutes from Trélex to Nyon. I went to the flea market in Nyon, the last Sunday of every month, fabulous. The market was full of local treasures, little stalls lined up and down Lake Geneva, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and lots of Swiss army knives. I live in Ireland (the other half of me is Irish), but was brought up in South London and thought about all the markets and car boot sales I used to religiously go to in my teens. Camden, Portobello road, Spitalfield, Abbey Mills. I love markets, the smells, the sounds, the people. I treated myself to a beer and some pizza, heaven! 

Nyon has a lot to offer, I took lots of photos and sat in the Italian inspired gardens eating my lunch in the winter sunshine. I reflected on the manicured environment I was in, a very different place indeed to what I am used to, to what most people are used to. I visited the Roman Museum, one ticket allows entry to the Castle close by, as well as the Lake Geneva Museum, so very good value. For food supplies I took the little train again into Nyon, a couple of times a week to get shopping at Coop and Migros, Coop being cheaper and with very reasonably priced wine. 

One of the highlights for me was visiting the Collection de l’Art Brut, in Lausanne, an amazing permanent exhibition of art, drawings, paintings, sculptures, embroidery, created by people who were interned in psychiatric hospitals, prisons and institutions. I spent a couple of hours taking it all in. Reading the little bio’s and explanations of how the work came to be. From Nyon, I took a short train journey to Geneva to visit the International Red Cross Museum, which was very moving. A bonus was the extensive Poster Exhibition they had on show. Whilst in Geneva I also discovered that there was a small exhibition of Rodolphe Töpffer work. Rodolphe Töpffer was considered the father of the comic strip. My final year thesis was called, ‘The Universal Language of Comics’, and included examples of his work, so I was quite excited to see the original drawings. I love his line work and the exaggerated gesture used in his characters, in particular Monsieur Jabot, the humour and simplicity have always appealed to me. After the exhibition I walked through the lovely Christmas market and sat with a large cup of mulled hot wine, which perfectly completed my day out. 

It’s quite unusual for most of us past our 20s, to take 30 days off from ‘the real world stuff’ and dedicate it to our passions, whether that be a road trip, holiday with friends or family, exercise, or an artist residency. If you’re a parent, a single parent, a carer, or struggling internally, you rarely put yourself first. There’s little time, money or motivation to focus on your ‘art’, catch up with loved ones or arrange a day out with friends. But sometimes a little window opens just enough for an opportunity to present itself. Being in Trélex was my opportunity. Being almost forced to be so ‘present’ made me examine myself as an individual, as an artist and helped me understand what drives me and makes me feel fulfilled. The residency highlighted the benefits of spending time alone, but also the importance of being part of something bigger than yourself, working with others to make a difference, whatever that may be. 

In the final days I looked through all the work I had produced and reflected on my experiences. The experience of the residency has been a really positive one and has added a new dimension to my work. I had created a large body of work, which I was excited to develop and hope to keep up the momentum when I returned home. 

I really would like to thank Nina again and her family for giving me the space and time to grow. I value their hospitality and generosity, sharing their home is a very noble act! Thank you so much for a wonderful opportunity.