In any place that isn’t the otherworldly realm of the ACRE Residency, twelve days doesn’t feel like a long time away from one’s day-to-day life. Launched in 2010 by Nicholas Wylie and Emily Green, ACRE (short for Artists’ Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions) was founded with the mission of providing the arts community with an affordable, cooperative and dialogue-oriented residency. Set on 1,000 acres of Wisconsin farmland, in an area so remote that one can’t get cell phone reception and even the Internet flickers at times, ACRE staff runs three 12-day residencies every summer, hosting 25–30 residents at a time. This year I am a curator with ACRE–it was one of the main inspirations for this Art21 series that is now coming to an end.
In this final post, I talk with two-time ACRE resident Meg Leary, who attended in the summers of 2011 and 2012. Her multi-disciplinary practice incorporates sound, performance, and visual art for multisensory experiences that bring together her formal operatic and stage training. In her work, she explores the corporeal body of the diva and performer, questioning the relation of voice to the performative experience. And yes, Leary is interested in “diva” in that sense of the word. By applying strategies from music theory (such as repetition, harmony, and remixing) to her stage presence and performances, she forms an aesthetic that is entirely her own. From her two summers at ACRE (not to mention winning the Critical Fierceness Grant), Leary has been able to bend and shape her practice, forming it anew.
Alicia Eler: Tell me a bit about your practice. What are you working on now?
Meg Leary: My practice is fairly diverse…Right now, I am working on a performance that will take place in an underpass in Chicago. Since going to ACRE I have wanted to work in urban spaces that have amazing acoustical properties and reverberation potential. I am really spoiled at ACRE, where I’ve been singing in an empty grain silo, because everything sounds amazing in there. That is a really pleasurable experience for me—being surrounded by sound in a way that is almost physical. I’m looking forward to doing more site-specific performances.
AE: What made you decide to apply for the residency not once but twice?
ML: Another artist, Jenny Kendler, went to the ACRE residency in 2010, and when she returned she recommended that I check it out. ACRE has a sound program that includes a full music/sound studio and they have a lot of bands that participate in their programming. It was the first time I had gone to a residency, and having a sound program was really exciting for me. I assumed I would work in the studio but when I got there I ended up doing audio recordings in the empty grain silo.
When Stacia Yeapanis finished graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006, she did what many MFA grads do: moved her studio into her home. But soon thereafter Yeapanis found herself overwhelmed by an inability to separate her art practice from other areas of her life. Instead of fretting about it, she applied for the Chicago Artist Coalition’s first ever BOLT Residency, a program begun in 2011 to help local artists make solid, professional inroads in their practice.*
Yeapanis explores the emotional and existential experience of repetition in our daily lives. For instance, in her project My Life as a Sim (2005–2007), she mused on the idea of “winning” in a virtual reality that positioned life as a game. And in her series Everybody Hurts (2004–ongoing), she captures moments of heightened emotion in television shows, meticulously, obsessively, and meditatively creating cross stitches of them until what was fleeting becomes embroidered in time. She confronts and then transforms these moments in mass media into something nearly spiritual. Embracing emptiness in mediated culture, Yeapanis’s work transcends humdrum acts to create meaningful experiences out of what are otherwise empty signifiers.
Before starting the BOLT Residency, Yeapanis departed from video and cross stitching, transitioning into collage, though retaining the thread of remix culture already observable in her practice. In the following interview, Yeapanis and I discuss the process of applying for BOLT, how it changed her work, and why it’s essential for artists to do residencies both locally and nationally.
Alicia Eler: You participated in the BOLT Residency during its first year—what was that like?
Stacia Yeapanis: The program consists of a communal studio space in the basement of the Chicago Artists’ Coalition (there are nine studios) and offers studio visits with Chicago arts professionals, like curators, writers, other artists, and teachers. Although it doesn’t start immediately, you are getting to meet with these people at least once a month, maybe more, so you have at least twelve studio visits. Everyone gets a solo exhibition in the BOLT project space upstairs, so you’re preparing for that throughout the year.
Carrie Schneider arrived in Helsinki, Finland already feeling an an intrinsic, intuitive connection with artists from the region. Her one-year Fulbright fellowship (2007-2008) at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts only intensified her affinity to the style of Finnish women artists, which might be described as emotionally resonant yet visually sparse.
Schneider’s experience in Finland not only provided opportunities for dialogue with local artists, but also offered a release from the intense pressures presented by graduate school; she received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute in 2007.
“I was obsessed with the work of Finnish artist Salla Tykkä,” says Schneider. “When I was in graduate school, I was part of a visiting artist community that invited her to speak at the Art Institute of Chicago, and do public lectures and studio visits. I got to know her really well, and when I was in Helsinki, I got to work with her as one of my advisors on the Fulbright project.”
Schneider also had an opportunity to learn from Finnish filmmaker Eija Liisa-Ahtila, another artist she greatly admired.
Schneider is a master at capturing heightened emotional moments. This ability appears in one of her most recent bodies of work entitled Reading Women (2012) in which she documents her female friends—mostly writers, artists, and musicians—completely engrossed in a text. Schneider invites friends to read in her home for about two hours; she watches them in a curious, yet non-voyeuristic way, and snaps the photograph in the moment of complete immersion—when the subject is lost in the book.
“What initially compelled me to begin the project is mirrored in the portraits themselves: a young artist’s desire to connect with another creative voice in a way that resonates with her own art and life,” Schneider told Jessie Wender of the New Yorker.
Schneider’s fascination with building an art practice about intense psychological experiences, which are essentially agreements between two subjects or the subject and the artist, are very much rooted in the Finnish artists with whom she worked during her Fulbright fellowship.
Aspen Mays traveled to Chile, the astronomy capital of the world, to look at the stars through some of the world’s most advanced telescopes. But over time, the bright stars, possible planets and meteors weren’t actually what interested Mays. Inside Chilean observatories, Mays discovered the stars of yesteryear—those that had already been discovered and documented, printed out on paper, and filed away in archival bins. Besides shifting the scope of her Fulbright fellowship (2009-2010), Mays’s experience changed her creative practice in other more jarring ways—she was affected by an extreme sense of isolation, and an earthquake that shook the country five days after she arrived.
Mays’s original plan was to go to Chile and make work about the experience of stargazing in observatories. But as she’s done with past bodies of work, such as Every Leaf on a Tree and From the Offices of Scientists, in which she acts as a cultural anthropologist studying specific structures, she left the project open-ended. For her, this type of approach yields the most productive results.
“In Chile, I thought I would do something like the Larry video,” she says.
Her 2008 work Larry is based on the possibly true story of “Lawnchair Larry,” an ordinary man who was determined to reach the stratosphere by attaching helium balloons to his lawn chair and simply sailing on up. He tried this experiment in 1982, traveling 16,000 feet above the Earth before his balloons popped and he tumbled back to the ground.
To be on a reality television show, contestants voluntarily leave their familiar surroundings, home life, and regular routines to temporarily thrust themselves into a world dictated by short attention spans and video editors with their own agendas. While on the show, contestants usually cannot watch news, listen to the radio, or peruse the Internet. They can’t even use their mobile phones. It’s a “residency experience” in an entirely different sense of the phrase.
Nearly a year ago, Young Sun Han’s lust for adventure led him to participate in Season 2 of “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” the now-canceled reality TV show on BRAVO in which artists competed for the grand prize of $100,000 and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. Unlike a typical residency—where artists develop a single piece or body of work in a low-pressure environment and might casually form friendships—artists here quickly formed tight bonds and under the strain of constant competition and an omnipotent, mediated audience of judges and other art worlders.
Han’s experience on “Work of Art” not only pushed him to create work with unfamiliar materials, but also completely shifted his practice away from endurance-based performance to sculpture and works on paper.
“At the time I auditioned for ‘Work of Art,’ I was working almost solely in performance,” says Han. “I had abandoned an object-based practice because I was really interested in using the body as a sculptural element and as a live circuit for interactions that happen with an audience, so it somehow tied into this reality TV experience—I wasn’t only the creator of work but I became the thing being consumed on television.”
French-Canadian artist Julie Lequin consciously blurs personal history and fictionalized worlds in her videos, performances, drawings, and writings, creating new narratives in the process. Lequin’s real-life events become part of an ongoing, first-person storyline that, told humorously and from an unconsciously self-conscious point-of-view, makes the viewer privy to the steps of her creative process.
Lequin has completed six residencies (and counting) in Europe and the United States, including Art Omi (Ghent, NY), Macdowell Colony (New Hampshire), Yaddo, (Saratoga Springs, NY), Cow House Studio (Ireland), and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center Residency (southeastern Nebraska). Many of the odd, linguistic experiences she has while traveling make their way into her artwork.
In 2010, Lequin completed Les Récollets Artist Residency, run by Quebec Art Council though located in the middle of Paris. It’s supposed to be an artist’s dream come true.
“Who doesn’t want to get paid to be in the studio and be in Paris?,” Lequin says matter-of-factly.
And it’s true. What artist could resist the chance to work in the same city that inspired the likes of, to name just a few, Gustave Courbet, Suzanne Valadon, and Marcel DuChamp?
In Paris, Lequin continued working on her project Top 30, which gleans memories from the past 30 years of her life. Each chapter is presented as a three-channel video. Lequin’s watercolor drawings of the houses she’s lived in, and other memorabilia, appear in the videos and also, sometimes, alongside them. “The drawings in Top 30 were ‘props’ but they are always their own entity, too. I think when you see them displayed you can perhaps create your own narrative. In the video they work more as illustrations,” says Lequin.
Top 30 began in 2008, when the artist was “living in a suitcase,” traveling and moving between artist residences. The project has since been presented at 2nd Cannons in Los Angeles (2009), and the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum in St. Augustine, Florida (2011).
“I was hoping to continue filming for the Top 30 project [in Paris], which required me to find, coach, and then film young girls singing a pop song,” says Lequin. “I had worked on the same project in L.A. and Montreal, and it was pretty easy to recruit people, especially in L.A. where everybody secretly wished to be a star, I think.”
Even though Lequin speaks French (albeit with a different accent), the process of finding people in Paris to be in her videos proved difficult.
Christopher Meerdo Experiences the Icelandic Landscape Through the Body of a Decomposing Sperm Whale
Christopher Meerdo’s deep interest in Icelandic culture and geography led him to apply for the three-month SIM International Artist Residency in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he was based from February to April 2012. Now back in Chicago, Meerdo says the residency has changed his practice, jolting him out of the fast pace of his MFA program, and back into the natural landscape and rhythms of art making. “Iceland had such a natural draw for my practice, both ideologically and aesthetically speaking,” says Meerdo. “During my stay, I visited places, from the columnar basalt formations of the black sand beaches at Reynisfjara to Verne Global’s state-of-the-art carbon neutral data center housed in the post-military outpost at Keflavik.”
Before Meerdo left for Iceland, he was working on a project based on Wikileaks data—a perfect tie-in to Iceland, where individuals involved with Wikileaks were working to make the country an international, legal safe haven for corporate and governmental whistle-blowers. Meerdo was already researching the topic and making work about it before setting up his studio in Iceland.
In Cipher (2011) he utilizes data from a 1.5 GB file that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange released mid-2010, via website, to just a few people. Assange declared the site a “thermo-nuclear device” that would detonate and release the file’s passwords, if anything happened to him or the Wikileaks organization. The contents of the document are still unknown. Meerdo visualizes the file through a script, translating the raw binary data into pure black-and-white pixels, and then prints it onto one 350-inch-wide sheet of paper. This project was followed up by Meerdo’s multi-part piece Chinga La Migra (Fuck The Border Patrol) (2011), images based on data visualization of classified documents from the Arizona Border Patrol, supplied by an unnamed hacktivist group. Meerdo converted each file into a RGB visualization based on, again, its binary data. Through these images (available on the artist’s Tumblr blog chinga-la-migra.tumblr.com), Meerdo questions notions of illicit data.
These projects, and the culmination of grad school too, were at the forefront of Meerdo’s mind as he traveled to Iceland. But the ideas he brought with him were gone almost as soon as he set foot on this surreal island country. “Going abroad after completing my MFA was a really good move—like hitting some kind of reset button on my thought processes and creative outlook,” says Meerdo. “Being in the Icelandic landscape gave me a renewed sense of self, space and materiality.”
Peregrine Honig’s experience at the Proyecto Áce Residency in Buenos Aires, Argentina, attuned her senses to an unfamiliar culture as well as her American roots. This sentiment is reflected in the image she honed at the residency: Analogue Tendril, a silkscreen series of two blonde-haired, blue-eyed boys gazing vacantly into a nether space. Honig carried the first phase of this work with her from America to Argentina, multiplying and twinning the imagery before returning home to the United States. Working on this piece at Proyecto added to it cross-cultural meaning, reflecting both Argentina’s political turmoil and loss of wealth post-World War II, and a contemporary American culture rife with
Initially, Honig was drawn to an image of a boy in a fashion magazine, which she recreated, drawing a younger version of him. “I felt out of my element when I was working with this piece,” says Honig. She made the drawing in America, and quickly began noticing similar looking faces all around her. When the boy drawing arrived in Argentina, however, Honig noticed that he seemed out of place. ”The boys were almost extreme–blonde-haired, blue-eyed boys in Argentina where a lot of people were dark-haired with dark eyes.”
In a perfect world, every artist would have an opportunity to take time off and wander into that space outside of reality where creativity blossoms. Few artists make a living off of their work alone, and even so it’s difficult to constantly feel inspired and motivated to make work in your hometown and studio. This is where artist residencies come in. Residencies present a faction of a creative reality. They may be utopic, time-based experiences, romantic getaways to woodsy surroundings, or isolating and culturally revealing situations that an artist must adapt to with aplomb. But the fundamental purpose remains the same: to position the artist outside of their everyday life, and allow them to make work inspired by and reflecting their temporary surroundings.
More often than not, an artist’s work changes significantly after a residency experience. It also brings up many questions, some of which cannot be answered immediately. For example, how does this sort of experience alter an artist’s perception of their creative practice, both inside the studio and out in the art world proper? How are creative relationships between artists—which naturally occur in art school or through local, community gatherings—expedited through the residency experience? How can a sense of isolation resulting from a residency in a foreign country inspire an artist to travel inward, mining their own creative depths?
For my Art21 Blog series on how residencies change an artist’s practice, I will speak with eight American artists whose work has changed through a residency experience either abroad, in their hometown, on a reality television show, or through a short-term excursion to an idyllic landscape. Artists profiled in this series include Peregrine Honig, Christopher Meerdo, Julie Lequin, Young Sun Han, Aspen Mays, Carrie Schneider, Meg Leary, and Stacia Yeapanis. The series is divided into four distinct mini-sections, each featuring one to three artists.
Many thanks to our January blogger-in-residence, Michael Neault, who helped us kick off the new year with fresh perspectives on art and its relationship to cognitive science. In his final post, Neault provides an index of his series and a list of other articles, books, websites, and podcasts on the topic.
February is upon us and we’re delighted to have Alicia Eler as our next blogger-in-residence. For the next 21 days, Alicia will profile artists from across the United States and Canada. She takes as her focus one excellent question: How does a residency change an artist’s creative practice? Check back tomorrow for her first post.
Alicia is an art critic and curator whose projects focus on American pop and consumer culture, social networked identities, and the history of queer aesthetics. Her recent reviews examine our modern perception of the natural world. She is currently the Chicago Correspondent for Hyperallergic and Artforum.com; Writer/Editor for the OtherPeoplesPixels Blog; Curator for ACRE Projects; and Visual Arts Researcher for the Chicago Artists’ Resource. Her writing has published in Art Papers, RAW Vision Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Flavorpill, ReadWriteWeb, and Time Out Chicago.
You can browse Alicia’s portfolio on her website, www.aliciaeler.com. While you’re over there, notice her swanky logo in which an owl perches on the coiled tail of her first initial. “My family informed me that my first word was owl,” Alicia explains. “The word suits me. Owls are watchers, guardians and quiet flyers. We perch on branches and pay attention to the goings on of the forest. We are heavy hunters who consume quickly and digest later.” That reminds me—follow her on Twitter @aliciaeler.