Saturday, March 27, 2021

Residency 1, Day 1: 'I personally feel that "defamiliarization" is found almost everywhere form is found' - Viktor Shklovsky

Not being able to travel to Uillinn, The West Cork Arts Centre, Ireland - which remains, understandably, closed due to the pandemic - it was agreed with director Ann Davoren that a planned artist's residency could be carried out remotely instead. This was to be the first of four engagements aimed at producing new work for a solo exhibition in Skibbereen in Autumn 2022. Typically when residencies do take place on site at Uillinn, a steady stream of gallery visitors wander past the three purpose built studios, because they are in the proximity of the main exhibition spaces. E
ntering the studios is encouraged when a studio door is left open. Bits of work might be on display or conversations conducted about other subjects. For this residency, a specific video conferencing (Zoom of course) link was publicised. At any time between 10am and 4pm, from 27th March to 10th April, people could visit, watch and potentially discuss. There is nothing ground breaking in having adopted this strategy: Lauren McCarthy had even livestreamed her datesIt was only done for reasons of expediency because travel was not possible. Nevertheless it was interesting to note that visitors sometimes presumed they were observing me in-situ in West Cork, and I, at times, forgot that I was not. The actual location was at APEC Studios, Hove, 'U'K but no stress had been placed on this fact.

No etiquette had really been worked out so Day 1 was exhausting. I found myself in a continuous state of conversation with between 2 and 7 people, from between 11am and 4.15pm. Some who turned up found it awkward, one even emailing later to complain that they 'didn't feel welcome... this wasn't a nice experience'. Certainly for me it was peculiar to have people I'd never met before, presenting themselves together with friends, family, other artists, the CEO of a global engineering firm, philosophers, political activists, chefs, comedians, curators, people from past lives - A certain Rob from Team Robbo responsible for this lately as far as I can work out had a chat with my nephew and sister - there were new acquaintances and a few frienemies too no doubt.

Following news of winning a Commissions Award from An Chomhairle Ealaíon, since January the typical methodology has been applied. This involves casting the net very wide to begin with and engaging with stuff that might not see its way into any final resolved project or exhibited work. I have for example been looking at ways of buying data for the West Cork area and interviewing farmers and artist-farmers about the technological aspects of agriculture. Technology in this case refers, not only to the usual suspects, the heavier machineries and infrastructure associated with farming historically (tractors for example), but also the plethora of new software tools, apps, robots, surveillance and monitoring equipment, the uses of data, the changes being made for environmental reasons, supply chain questions, the legal situation, bureaucracy, business models and broader systems related to agriculture, not to mention the social aspects and ways in which farmers interact with each other. Discussions and interviews were conducted with Miriam O'Connor, Laura Fitzgerald (both of whose artistry I admire bigtime) and my first cousin and namesake Michael O'Connell, who runs the historical family farm in Co. Waterford. At some point I believe the O'Connells were drovers or travellers, and probably got lucky after (i.e. survived) the famine period in the mid nineteenth century.

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