Project in a residence. Does it have limits?

“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, 2020 / Photo: Anastasia Bogomolova
Shishim Hill artists-in-residence, Yekaterinburg, 2020 / Photo: Anastasia Bogomolova

It quite often that a project is an essential prerequisite for participating in a residence. You may need to present it at the entrance: describe a project that you plan to focus on during the residence in the application; and at the exit: complete the residence with a more or less large-scale presentation of a project. In other words, the very word project can serve as a general term for everything that an artist plans to do, is doing or did in a residence. What exactly is hidden behind this project entirely depends on the terms of a particular residence.

Before analyzing the most common requirements, it is best to think about time. Typically, residencies last from two weeks to six months. What is the cycle of creating a project? Does a new project fit in a fortnight? And in six months? Every artist answers these questions in their own way, but more often contemporary artists tend to take more and more time for one project and split the work into research, search for material and means of expression, introduction of an idea, intermediate and final presentations. Is it possible that some stage of the process or just a part of it become the project of the residence?

In fact, this is most often the case. On the contrary, it is harder to imagine the opposite: that some project was completed in the residence from an idea to the final implementation. Such outcome is expected only in production-oriented residences, especially, those linked to a larger project. There, the project’s result must be presented without fail, and it must be unique. Such a task can only be accomplished with preliminary research, which — ideally — is conducted with the help of the residence team. In the best-case scenario, the idea was developed before the physical arrival at the residence, and by the time of arrival there is a clear plan, and the technical rider is already being worked upon. Thus, an artist devotes all the time to production. Obviously, if we return to the questions of time, we will see an important trick: the time of such a residence begins long before the residence itself.

Let’s imagine an opposite situation. Artists start to think about the project only after they arrive at the place provided for this. It is assumed that in the residence, their artistic thought starts from scratch. Perhaps, a new idea would be triggered by something, with which he or she meets for the first time or in a new way. Many residences, especially those that want artists to interpret their location, count on such a process. It may happen that terms of work (for example, enough time or no choice) allow to present a complete statement in the end. Can we claim that this project was created in the residence, or it ended together with it?

Shishim Hill artists-in-residence, Yekaterinburg, 2020 / Photo: Alyona Skala
Shishim Hill artists-in-residence, Yekaterinburg, 2020 / Photo: Alyona Skala

Moreover, experts who have been long working with this format conclude that residences are always a long game. Most of them agree that what an artist can take in a (properly working) residence is greater than what can be finished and shown in a given period of time. The ideas, which originated in the residence, leave with the artist and continue to develop. However, it is also true that artists don’t join a residence, having previously cleared themselves of ideas, skills and abilities. They bring all the richness of their artistic experience. And it is rather a will of chance when exactly — before, during or after a specific residence — an idea of ​​a project is born.

Let“s go back to specific requirements of residences at the application level. One of the most common is the following: propose an original idea for a project. In general, originality can hardly be objective, and rarely, what seems original and new for an artist will be considered so by the experts. There are two types of responses to this requirement. The first is to disregard it and write about the project that is most relevant and important for the artist”s current process, in fact, artists can nurture an idea for years and suddenly find a moment of perfect coincidence precisely in the environment of a particular residence. The second is to try to understand who chooses artists and by what criteria, and to come up with a new project based on the idea of ​​the organizers' expectations. Note that it is difficult to invent something from scratch, which has nothing to do with the previous practice, with topics that were explored earlier. “How is the new project related to the previous ones?” — this is a good test question to ask yourself. At least, because experts will raise it. Here, by the way, lies an explanation of why residences often do not ask for any projects, but select judging by portfolio: they work within the logic of internal coherence and consistency of an artistic process.

Another frequent requirement runs as follows: the proposed idea should be implemented for the first time. Though, it may not prohibit sending identical projects to different residences: the right of the first implementation will be received by the residence that chooses this project first. In this context, it’s important to be able to split large projects. For example, if a project demands a stage set, certain filming, collaboration with other specialists, complex printing and some kind of unique post-production, don’t present it as an indivisible whole. Imagine if a separate residence could help with each part, for example, one may print on hand-made paper, or facilitate contacts with scientists, or specialize in photo optics, or have workshops for making up decorations. Each component serves some particular idea, which means that an artist can introduce them as a set of independent ideas. In addition, there is nothing wrong if in the final large project, it is necessary to mention several residences at once: one residence will always be glad to coexist with another, especially since they are united by the main thing — the chosen artist.

Let’s look into one more requirement, the most stringent one: the project proposal must meet the specific terms of a residence: a special topic, a unique location, or predetermined production conditions. It is difficult for everyone involved in the process. For residences — because already at the stage of announcing the competition they need to present the topic in as much detail as possible, give a description of their location and define production facilities. It is fair to expect that artists will fully rely on the amount of information provided when drawing up their proposals. It is unfair to expect that artists will research the site specificity in advance. If you really need to have a uniquely oriented project before the artist arrives, then you should plan extensive preliminary work. You may even hold a competition in several stages (where the last one is a detailed project, which ideally should already be paid for to the artist), or, after all, count on several visits of the artist. For an artist, this requirement is strict, because it demands narrowing the project, in other words, you need to spend time preparing an application that is suitable only for one certain residence. It is even worse if the application passes the competition: the project must be completed in this residence by all means, since it is anchored in it.

Returning to the question of a project’s boundaries in a residence, we should say that each artist builds these boundaries independently by focusing on personal vision of the project deadlines, as well as defining what is a whole, and what makes up integral but still separate components of one project.

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

Translation: Anna Bubel Goldfarb


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