Process in a residence. What is it and how to deal with it?

“Shishim Hill” publishes a series of texts, which provides insight into various components of the processes around an art residence.

Shishim Hill artists-in-residence, Yekaterinburg, 2021 / Photo: Alyona Skala
Shishim Hill artists-in-residence, Yekaterinburg, 2021 / Photo: Alyona Skala

Process is the heart of any art residence, the reason why it was initiated. Simultaneously, process is the main challenge for a residence. After all, it is precisely the accent on it that puts up a question: why can’t you do all the same at home? Most likely it is possible, but in the circumstances of a residence the process takes on special configurations. Below we will try to describe which ones.

Firstly, process becomes the subject of scrutiny. Simply put, doing art in a residence is like keeping a diary of your daily activities: until you start counting how many glasses of water you drink a day, you never know if there are more or less, than you need. The same applies to art: when one dedicates special time for it, it becomes evident how art practices fill your daily routine. Secondly, despite the fact that art residences are always entangled with household issues, in contrast to working at home, obligatory chores are reduced to a minimum here. Thus, there is more time to focus on the process.

Thus, we approach somewhat paradoxical features of the process. On the one hand, it stands in the center of attention and implies concentration. On the other hand, it is able to spill over the entire space and time of a residence and fill it completely. Pascal Gielen* uses the term chronotope, introduced by Mikhail Bakhtin for analyzing literary works almost a hundred years ago. Following Gielen in his attempt to transfer a concept, let’s try to understand whether it helps us to clarify any traits of the process.

Beyond the theory of literature, chronotope can describe a special spatio-temporal fusion related to some art state. The mix of ‘time’ and ‘space’ in one word emphasizes their interdependence in one original, author-made structure. Residence is not a novel, but the basic conditions of any residence make up some sort of space-n-time composition. In his work “the Forms of Time and Chronotope in a Novel” Mikhail Bakhtin says: “chronotope determines genre or genre varieties.” Perhaps a detailed study of the chronotope of residences would allow creating a “typology of residential genres”. However, for now let’s try to outline the spatio-temporal unity that is typical of art residences, as opposed to home, studio or exhibition.

Let’s say that space here is defined. It is no longer something that can be questioned every day, but a specific place dedicated to making art. This space is different from a usual, family household; it implies moving away from a familiar place. This does not mean that home should be on the other side of the world, it may be very close, but for a certain period of time it becomes deprived of its totality and necessity. The space of a residence is fundamentally comprehensible (the residence itself and its surroundings) and each artist defines his or her own boundaries of it. The residence as if removes the burden to work with the whole world and makes an artist focus on locality.

As for the time in a residence, it is also initially limited. Curious enough, when a residence is considered to be an artist’s job (for example, in the French official system), it is recognized that the efficiency of time in a residence cannot equal to the one in a usual context. Consequently, they suggest to regard two-thirds or maximum three-quarters of the usual time as the working time. For example, if an artist usually works eight hours, then in a residence one should count on a maximum of six hours of productivity. This is justified by the general principle of mastering new things: we should be aware that every day artists spend extra time adjusting to a simple fact: they are not at home.

However, this logic suggests that mastering the new can be independent from artistic (work) process. That claim contradicts the cornerstone of the most residences: site specificity. Work on the spot or “at site” involves active observation of the new environment and its meaningful inclusion in the artistic process. Therefore, a strict separation of “artistic time” from the time of adaptation is impossible. Moreover, time for household chores can hardly be excluded from the general logic of the process. Can we argue that the quality of sleep does not affect how the day develops, or the sun, which comes out to wake up the artist or not, does it belong to the new environment or not?

Time in a residence reminds a lot of the travel time — they both have an amazing capacity. Indeed, four hours in an office is another half day before lunchtime, and four hours on a plane is a trip to some new experience that itself becomes part of the anticipated adventure. As with travel, in a residence, time is not linear at all. It is hard to split it into the time of mundane actions and the time of unique impressions. Again, as in travel, this time is distributed between obligatory things (see this, not forget to see that), although real emotions can be stirred by transience, by minor details. Moreover, the artist’s authentic experience pulls these details, as if with fishhooks, out of the residential environment routine and picks up the focus on its process.

Due to the static nature of space, time in a residence reminds of a swelling dot. It expands like an inverted funnel. And the measure of effectiveness of this time lies in the stability of this funnel’s base. Extreme allegories for it would be a tornado, which carries you away into the unforeseen in gusts and then brings back to the starting point, but distraught and renewed; or an inverted kitchen funnel, which stands firmly on a cutting board and guarantees a stable complication of experience.

If we describe unique spatio-temporal characteristics of a residence as its specific chronotope, we have to recognize them as constituting, that are setting up the general logic of the course of events in a structure. If in a novel based on a spatio-temporal unity, the whole course of a book, including characters and set of actions, rely on it, then in a residence the artistic process is subject to its influence. After making the next logical move, we find that in an art residence, an artistic process outlined in space and time becomes a piece of art itself.

Text: Zhenya Chaika, curator, Shishim Hill artists-in-residence

Translation: Anna Bubel Goldfarb


* Time and Space to Create and to Be Human. A Brief Chronotope of Residencies. // Taru Elfving, Irmeli Kokko, Pascal Gielen (eds.), 2019.

em me

Building solidarity beyond borders. Everybody can contribute is a community-run multilingual media platform and translocal archive.
Since 2014, researchers, artists, collectives, and cultural institutions have been publishing their work here