In 2009, the European Commission began a two-year-long research program exploring the practices, outcomes, and influence of artist and curatorial residencies and assessing how such programs contribute to “artistic mobility.” The ultimate goal of the RE-tooling RESIDENCIES project was to compile an in-depth resource for artists and organizations involved—or thinking about getting involved—in the world of residencies, with a close eye cast specifically on Eastern Europe. The project culminated in a conference that brought together artists, curators, activists, managers, and theoreticians for a larger discussion of approaches to residencies. RE-tooling RESIDENCIES: A Closer Look at the Mobility of Art Professionals is a product of the project and conference.
The book itself is very creatively organized around the themes of Practices, Sites, and Networks. The first section is by far the most engaging. The opening essay, “Dream or Nightmare?” presents work commissioned from former resident artists at Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, each piece pertaining to an individual artist’s ideas and experiences of “residency.” Varying in media and content, these works offer a wonderful introduction to the world of the residency from a first-hand, personal, and artistic perspective. The rest of Part I: Practices presents the inspiring work of various artists accomplished during residency periods. Both the writing and the works draw out a deeper philosophy of “residency” in general: “Residency programmes aim to provide what Jean-Baptiste Joly…called ‘time without quality’ (referring to Robert Musil’s novel). We could also define this as ‘unconditional time.’” Various types of residency styles are discussed in philosophical terms. These musings on the meaning of residency are interspersed with longer, creative writing/visual art pieces on the
same theme. The best of these was Yeb Wiersma’s “Accidental Pleasures,” which uses words, visuals, and cultural references of all sorts (from Robert Frost to Joni Mitchell) to describe her time as a resident at Ujazdowski Castle. Part I: Practices is a real gem—at once enjoyable and enlightening to read.
The rest of the book is more straightforward and less creatively presented. Part II: Sites collects historical descriptions of specific residencies in places such as Bulgaria, Poland, and Lithuania, with a section devoted to curatorial versus artist residencies. Part III: Networks focuses on the international and intercultural exchanges that take place within periods of residency, both for residents and the host organization and culture. RE-tooling RESIDENCIES also includes a number of interesting interviews and transcripts of group discussions from the conference, which were dominated by considerations of the philosophy behind residency programs.
Available for free download in pdf form, RE-tooling RESIDENCIES is certainly worth a read, especially the first section. The book’s concentration on Eastern Europe, and especially Poland, does not at all detract from its insight into the meaning of a residency anywhere in the world. My favorite idea to come out of this book (and there are many) is that the residency is the new alternative to institutional life. For the resources section of the April Insider newsletter, I wrote about the ongoing debate over the value of art school as costs climb ever higher. One argument in support of art school is that it provides a rare opportunity for artists to develop and form a community with people whom they would have never met otherwise. Maybe residencies are the new art school.
RE-tooling RESIDENCIES: A Closer Look at the Mobility of Art Professionals
Edited by Anna Ptak
Warsaw: CCA Ujazdowski Castle, 2011
259 pages, available free on-line (www.re-tooling-residencies.org)