Report of 24 May 2019 meeting
The Netherlands has a significant number of artist-in-residence programmes or AIRs. Of these AIRs — places where artists can, live, experiment and reflect — a great many are to be found in Brabant. Not every maker or policymaker knows where to find these places, the very reason for the creation of Artist in Residence platform Brabant. The brand-new website was the reason why AIR platform Brabant chose to present the entire platform to the public on 24 May, in the almost like new LocHal in Tilburg.
The origination story of the platform
A colourful crew is gathered on the stairs of LocHal for this event, which is moderated by Astrid Cats, the director of TAC Eindhoven and a member of the platform’s steering committee. Atty Bax, visual artist and consultant/curator at Kunstloc Brabant, provides the introduction. Kunstloc (formerly ‘BKKC’) organised the day in partnership with the recently established AIR platform Brabant. The platform’s history, however, stretches back to an earlier lecture by Pascal Gielen, who is slated to speak later in the day. It was this lecture that motivated Bax, along with TransArtists*, to explore the current state of affairs at the artist’s residency in Brabant in 2016. A course that concluded in March 2018 with Working on the margins, a working conference to discuss the position of AIRs in Brabant in relation to international artists’ residencies. The working conference was the starting shot for the formation of a network of Brabant AIRs who joined forces to strengthen their position and to profile themselves both locally and internationally, which led to the establishment of the AIR platform Brabant.
Although the network’s priority is to raise the profile of the Brabant AIRs, they also situate the participating residencies within a broader context. On the Air begins with this context. , Rebecca Nelemans, on behalf of the Mondriaan Fund, works as a ‘regional broker South’ to investigate the cultural developments in the provinces of Zeeland, North Brabant and Limburg. She kicks off today’s event and briefly explains the Mondriaan Fund’s policy on artists’ residencies by showing the schemes listed on the website of the Mondriaan Fund. From ‘talent development’ to ‘guest studios’, you can find information about guest studios — another name for AIRs — at home and abroad. The Mondriaan Fund has selected a limited number of studios for which artists can apply for a subsidy. At the end of presentation by Nelemans, Lex van Lith, director of the Beeldenstorm Foundation, recounts what it is like to participate as a guest studio with the Mondriaan Fund. His experience with Beeldenstorm was very positive, though considerable time passed before they were included in this scheme.
*TransArtists, a knowledge centre whose goal is to inform the cultural sector and makers in particular about AIRs located within the confines of the Netherlands and beyond, was founded in 1997.
The importance of residencies for artists
The next speaker is Marleen Kappe
who, following her 2018 residency at PARK Tilburg, tells us about her
experience with this guest studio. Kappe explains that her work, which
initially consisted mainly of figurative drawings with many human forms, has
undergone a significant development. She is increasingly expanding her
drawings, and installations are acquiring a larger share. With the PARK
residency, Kappe seized the opportunity to investigate her drawings and
installations within an area measuring 200m2.
Her enthusiasm contagious, Kappe’s presentation provides a clear picture of the importance of AIRs for artists. Above all, she talks about the crossroads she found herself at in her career, and the space and time the residency afforded her that gave direction to her work. During the question round, Cat notes, ‘What strikes me is that you feel like you’ve worked extremely hard. Sometimes, time in a studio space seems like a blissful rest, but that’s not what it is.’ Responding to a comment from Cats, Kappe explains that, as a beginning artist, you often hold down side jobs, so you are not able to work ‘intensively’. At PARK, she had two full months to focus solely on her art. Through PARK, Kappe has, in her own words, arrived at a completely different point while managing to progress a step further. Normally, these developments are far slower.’
In answer to a question from the audience about why exactly Kappe wished to do the residency, she answers that she wanted time to get stuck into her own work. For an exhibit, Cats explains, she normally has a week of set-up time, while the residency provided her with two months. This time allowed her to make mistakes, which are just as vital for the overall process. Another interesting element of the residency, Kappe emphasises, is the opening for the public. In consultation with PARK, the space was opened to the public for a few days during the construction of her work. The public were very engaging and initiated conversations with her. Kappe was also motivated by the fact that visitors were inspired by her work.
After Kappe’s turn at speaking, Esther van Rosmalen, a member of the platform’s steering committee, opens the conversation with Rob Moonen van Park, asking about his experience of the residency. He explains that it is difficult to attract enough members of the public during the summer months, but that he wants to use that time for the artists. As a solution, PARK has decided to have their space used as a residency space during the summer, which makes a nice addition to Park’s exhibition programme.
The third speaker of the day is Pascal Gielen, professor of cultural sociology at the Antwerp Research Institute for the Arts or ARIA. Gielen talks about the book Contemporary Artist Residencies, Reclaiming Time and Space, which he co-wrote with Finns Taru Elfving and Irmeli Kokko. Gielen explains that, in the book, he divided the AIRs into four ‘types’ or what he refers to as ‘chronotopies’: a concept taken from literary theory that refers to how situations in time and space are described in words. ‘As working people, we understand the world through time and space’, asserts Gielen. Therefore, a place in and of itself does not constitute a residency, he says. It only becomes a residency once a certain period of time has been defined for the use of the space. According to Gielen, these periods often fall between as short as two months and, occasionally, as long as 5 years.
Gielen calls the first chronotopy ‘My Chronotope’. This form is aimed at individualism; the artist can ‘do what he or she wants’. For this chronotopy, Gielen identifies the themes of ‘innate talent’ and ‘introspection’. For residencies, an artist seeks out the creativity ‘in him or herself’. In light of this, the residencies that correspond with this approach tend to be fairly isolated. The second chronotopy is the ‘Network Chronotope’, which also focuses on individualism, although thoroughly connected with the art world. As such, this type of artists’ residency is typified by many public moments. Gielen cites themes like ‘springboard’ and ‘exhibitionism’. These AIRs are about more than quality; the work produced must also be clearly visible to the public, so they can function as a catalyst for the artist’s career. By way of example, Gielen cites Amsterdam’s Rijksakademie. ‘Alter Chronotope’, the third chronotype, refers to artists who are looking for something else for their inspiration. For this chronotype, the dominant themes are ‘content’, ‘social engagement’ and ‘the artisanal’. This form is popular today, says Gielen, and it is fairly easily to receive subsidisation for it. The fourth and final form of AIR is the ‘Embedded Chronotope’, in which artists seek a sustainable relationship with the world. According to Gielen, artists look for these kinds of AIRs as escapism or in order to work outside of the system to shape their artistic practices in their own way. Gielen concludes with the observation that, during the 19th century, production was central everywhere, while the 20th century was distinguished by reflection. Gielen believes that this century will be dominated by ‘the practising person’.
After his presentation, several interesting questions are fielded from audience members, which Cats summarises with the following conclusion: ‘It sounds like artists themselves are developing a dynamic model in which they go from residency to residency.’ She then asks Gielen, ‘How do you see that?’ Gielen agrees with this point, believing that artists’ residencies increasingly form a kind of ‘private economic system’ with ‘professional residency artists’ who are entirely dependent on them. This, in turn, makes them dependent on what Gielen terms ‘biennial hysteria’. In his view, it is a good that these artists can escape from the marketplace. He adds, however, that residencies are not always optimal, referencing the financial aspects in particular, ‘These artists most likely lead a sober existence.’
After the break, Van Rosmalen unveils the AIR platform Brabant website. She explains the vision for the platform and the thirteen AIR programmes that have already joined. The AIRs all have their own page on the site for a clear overview not only about where they are located, but also what makes them unique. The website contains far more than practical information. It also has stories about the artists’ experience with residencies and, of course, the reports from the platform itself. Still under development, the website is currently being managed by the steering committee of the platform. In the near future, the goal is for the AIRs themselves to provide information about the artists in residence and their activities. The steering committee will be perform the final editing of the website. As part of the platform’s current development, the emphasis now lies on the visual arts, but the intention is to subsequently engage various disciplines that prioritise the autonomy of professional practice.
The visitors to On the Air, which is comprised of artists, policymakers and professionals, conclude the day by participating in three work sessions that are divided into four themes: talent development, internationalisation, financing and reciprocity. These sessions allow the visitors to sink their teeth into the themes, and they prove to be a suitable moment for artists and policymakers alike to dive into discussions with each other. New ideas take shape that will nourish the platform not only for their own improvement, but also for the role they occupy in relationship to the artists. The participants also pinpoint a need for more exchanges and greater coordination with what can be very abstract concepts. The lively discussions at the end of the afternoon testify to the substantial need to exchange information about AIRs while underlining the relevance of initiatives like AIR platform Brabant, a promise for the future.
Author: Veerle Driessen